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Major question on kanji combinations...

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Major question on kanji combinations...

Postby sakura » Wed 06.22.2005 2:59 pm

I was looking around in the kanji section and noticed that 世 means world, society, etc. And I noticed that 界 also means world.

And they were combined 世界 and the combination meant 'world'.

Okay, now what Im confused about is that theres 2 kanji that mean the same thing. Now why would you have 2 kanji that mean the same thing and have them be put together to create the word 'world' when you can just use one of them?

Another example:
家 and 族 both put together mean family. But 族 already means family so why do you need another kanji with it? Im very very confused on this. Please help out, thank you :)
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RE: Major question on kanji combinations...

Postby InsanityRanch » Wed 06.22.2005 5:17 pm

Hehehe. Synonyms are a problem aren't they?

First, kanji were imported from China more than a thousand years ago and fitted somewhat tortuously to the Japanese language. As a result, there are often synonymous terms where one is a kanji compound and one is a Japanese term.

(We have this same process in English, btw -- very often there is a Latinate and an English word for the same thing. Often the "imported" term is more formal than the native term, as with "cow" and "bovine".)

An example of this is two common words for the world, 世界(sekai) and 世 (yo). Both are used to mean the world in the metaphoric sense of "human society". 世界
seems to crop up more when referring to the physical globe. The differences between the two are subtle, and since I'm not a native speaker, I don't want to try to make the distinction clear because I'd probably get it wrong.

What about 界? Well, it doesn't stand alone as a word, or at least not a common one. It is often used as a suffix to mean "the world of --". For example, the natural world is 自然界. The same goes for 族 -- it is basically found only in compound words such as 部族(buzoku, clan) and 民族 (minzoku, race).

It is best to think of kanji as representing a chunk of meaning, somewhat vaguely related to pronunciation, and not necessarily comprising a lexical word.

So this leads to some practical questions, right? Such as, why learn the meanings of the kanji, if you cannot necessarily use them as words with a given meaning? The reason is that when you encounter new compounds, you can frequently guess the meaning if you know the meanings of the kanji involved. For instance, if you didn't know 家族, you could look at it and see "house / group of people" and figure out that it means family. It's similar to the way you were trained in high school to memorize Latin prefixes and suffixes, so that you can figure out the meaning of new words without looking them up. Unfortunately in Japanese, it's quite common to be able to guess the meaning but not the pronunciation of a newly-encountered compound!

Another question is how you KNOW whether a given kanji can be used as a word. Answer, it's just like other vocabulary questions. Look it up and memorize the useful words you find. You cannot generally DEDUCE the existence of words with that meaning. A lot of kanji study guides give useful compounds along with the kanji itself, to facilitate your vocabulary task.

HTH!

Shira
"Give me a fruitful error any time, full of seeds, bursting with its own corrections. You can keep your sterile truth for yourself." -- Vilfredo Pareto
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RE: Major question on kanji combinations...

Postby Mukade » Sat 06.25.2005 4:03 am

InsanityRanch has given a good explanation.

Just to add to it, think about English:
I can say "beautiful." I can also say "admirable, alluring, angelic, appealing, attractive, beauteous, bewitching, charming, classy, comely, cute, dazzling, delicate, delightful, divine, elegant, enticing, excellent, exquisite, fair, fascinating, fine, foxy, good-looking, gorgeous, graceful, grand, handsome, ideal, lovely, magnificent, marvelous, nice, pleasing, pretty, pulchritudinous, radiant, ravishing, refined, resplendent, shapely, sightly, splendid, statuesque, stunning, sublime, superb, symmetrical, taking, well-formed," or "wonderful."

Now, why would we have so many words that basically mean the same thing?

It's called "nuance of meaning," and it exists in every language. Believe me, I understand your pain. Just the other day I ran across several different words that all mean "cooperation."

共同、協同、恊働、協力、協調、連携、互助

The fun part is asking a Japanese person to explain the difference in nuance between these words. Imagine trying to explain to someone who doesn't speak English all the different synonyms for "beautiful." :o
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RE: Major question on kanji combinations...

Postby InsanityRanch » Sat 06.25.2005 2:29 pm

Also, synonyms divide up an area of experience (if that makes sense) differently in different languages.

The other day my Japanese teacher (who is also my English student) and I were dealing with the word "condemn", and got into the thicket of the difference between "accuse" and "blame". I finally got it across by saying that if someone *accuses* you of wrecking his car, your defense is "I didn't do it!" (Accusation has to do with facts.) If he *blames* you for wrecking his car, your defense is "But it wasn't my fault!" (Blame has to do with moral culpability.) She said that in Japanese, 非難する (hinan) is used in both cases, and sometimes also where we might choose "criticize".

The same is true in Japanese, especially in matters of describing human character. Try, for instance, to really understand terms like 遠慮 (enryo -- reserved, considerate, self-denying?) or 素直 (sunao -- accomodating, meek in dealing with superiors but also loyal and supportive in dealing with dependents).

What I do suggest is that as you begin to try to use Japanese you get yourself a dictionary FULL of reibun (example sentences.) Otherwise you are going to fall into the extremely frustrating situation of trying to express something, looking up the word you want in the dictionary and discovering when you try to use it that that word is never used in that way.

In my case, I have and love the Canon WordTank 3000, which includes the New Anchor J-E and Super Anchor E-J dictionaries. Both are very rich in reibun, which allows me to check that I have used the correct word. Heck, I even put some of the reibun on flashcards.

Good luck!

Shira
"Give me a fruitful error any time, full of seeds, bursting with its own corrections. You can keep your sterile truth for yourself." -- Vilfredo Pareto
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RE: Major question on kanji combinations...

Postby sakura » Thu 07.14.2005 1:39 pm

Wow! You two really went all out to explain this :) Thanks! I get what you guys are saying now :) But just so I have things clear in my mind... its ok to just have 世 to say world and to also use 界 alone for world too right, unless Im describing a type of world like you said earlier(natural world - 自然界)?
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RE: Major question on kanji combinations...

Postby Gakusha » Thu 07.14.2005 2:37 pm

I think they meant that 界 is used when describing a type of world, but 世 can stand on its own. So 界 probably would not be used to say "world."
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RE: Major question on kanji combinations...

Postby sakura » Thu 07.14.2005 2:57 pm

oh ok, thank you :)
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RE: Major question on kanji combinations...

Postby spin13 » Thu 07.14.2005 3:00 pm

I would recommend a site such as http://www.kanjisite.com/index.html that offers jukugo (kanji compounds) along with kanji study. For example, from this site, you will see that 世 has a meaning of 'period, world' and 界 has a meaning of 'world, bounds.' The jukogo lend a hand towards interpreting the various meanings of the ideograms.

And always remember, there exists no one to one mapping between words in different languages: http://www.everything2.com/index.pl?node_id=1166183&lastnode_id=416454

-Eric
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