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Possible argument that favors the indispensability of Kanji

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Re: Possible argument that favors the indispensability of Kanji

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Fri 07.10.2009 9:08 pm

Writing must be a representation of speech or it is not language, it's just a code. Now, writing employs certain things that are not in speech, but there's a limit to how much they can differ. To say that kanji are the "soul of the language" is not strictly correct since kanji are a tool for representing language rather than being language in themselves.

When Japan borrowed Chinese characters, they also imported a large amount of vocabulary. It was this vocabulary, not the written characters, that had the impact on the Japanese language. If China had used an alphabet instead of Chinese characters, Japan probably still would have borrowed the writing system and a large amount of vocabulary. (i.e. the fact that China had writing at all was very important, but that fact that they used Chinese characters in particular was not.)
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Re: Possible argument that favors the indispensability of Kanji

Postby furrykef » Sat 07.11.2009 5:01 am

Bengal_Tiger234 wrote:Do you recognize the difference between me saying that kanji are indispensable to reading and comprehending modern Japanese and me saying that kanji are indispensable if one wants to preserve the relationship between words and etymology of the language? Because the latter is the only thing I've ever claimed here and numerous times have I said the former is false.


Kanji can hinder an understanding of a word's etymology as much as aid it, especially in the case of ateji. The word "baka" very likely doesn't come from anything to do with horses or deer, despite being written 馬鹿. These are not rare cases; they happen all the time.

Also, the use of kanji severely hinders our understanding of phonetic shifts over the centuries, which can make it difficult to discover a word's history. Two apparently unrelated words might have an etymological link that would be revealed through writings of the past 1000 years, if those writings had been phonetic.

BTW, in the thread title, you just say that kanji are indispensible, with no mention of anything like etymology; I think few people think knowledge of etymology is indispensible in any way unless you're a linguist to begin with, in which case you don't really need kanji to know the etymology and in fact you will know not to trust the kanji for etymology.

Yudan Taiteki wrote:Writing must be a representation of speech or it is not language, it's just a code.


I have to strongly disagree with this, unless you're using "speech" in a very broad sense. For instance, American Sign Language is as much of a language as English or Japanese. (So are other sign languages, of course; I only singled out ASL as an example because "sign language" isn't itself a language any more than "speech" or "writing" are.)

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Re: Possible argument that favors the indispensability of Kanji

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Sat 07.11.2009 9:39 am

Yeah, sorry -- sign languages count as well.

Kanji can hinder an understanding of a word's etymology as much as aid it


Right, I had meant to mention this earlier -- other examples aside from ateji are times when a single kanji was assigned to a word in a way that obscures its etymology. For instance, 湖(みずうみ) is 水(fresh water) + 海 (sea). 港(みなと) is 水(み)な門(と), and so on.
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Re: Possible argument that favors the indispensability of Kanji

Postby BetterSense » Sun 07.12.2009 11:42 pm

without kanji a japanese person wouljd still have no trouble at all knowing the meaning of suiei or the meaning of tounan or whatever other sino-japanese word there is, but my point is they might not always understand why the words are related.


So what? English speakers have no idea why different words are related for the most part, I would argue. Nobody is thinking about word etymologies when speaking. Who cares how "tooth" and "dentist" are related? How they are historically related is historical trivia. I do research with carbon nanotubes, and we talk about the "chirality" of carbon nanotubes. Is this root related to "chiropractor"? I don't know. Maybe. Does it matter? Consider the vocabulary of skateboard tricks, which are named randomly and seemingly prized for the opacity and randomness of their names. Still, any skateboarder could tell you the difference between a shuvit and an impossible.

The only thing I know about the kanji debate, is if Japanese was spelled with either or both of the wonderfully, nearly perfectly phonemic scripts that EVERYONE ALREADY KNOWS, then I could instantly read many times better than I do now; I could read and write any word in the language that I know, after hearing it once.

If the syllabaries were used for spelling, after teaching Japanese children a very simple syllabary, the children could instantly spell and read EVERY word that they already know. One could possibly understand kanji's employment if there was no other, better script available. But there is such an overwhelming advantage of using the already existing and widely-understood and extremely effective phonemic writing, that the persistence of kanji in Japanese writing alongside this superior script truly boggles the mind with its magnitude as an epic human blunder. I really cannot think of its equal.
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Re: Possible argument that favors the indispensability of Kanji

Postby jcdietz03 » Wed 07.15.2009 7:27 pm

No, you really can't.
A kindergartner knows the alphabet. Can they spell every word they already know? No. It might be different with a syllabary, I don't know.

Japanese people think reading materials w/ kanji is easier than with hiragana. I don't know why they think that. My Japanese teacher tells me what it's like if you're really good at reading: "I just look at the kanji and katakana, and I skip all the hiragana." If it was hiragana WITH SPACES, I might be able to read it, but without spaces I'm lost. The word divisions are marked off by particles in between kanji - they would be harder to tell apart without the kanji.

There's more IPC (information per character) if you do use Kanji. English gets by just fine with low IPC though.
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Re: Possible argument that favors the indispensability of Kanji

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Wed 07.15.2009 8:11 pm

jcdietz03 wrote:No, you really can't.
A kindergartner knows the alphabet. Can they spell every word they already know? No. It might be different with a syllabary, I don't know.


That's because the English spelling system is so irregular. It has similar problems to kanji, although the problem is not quite as severe.

Japanese people think reading materials w/ kanji is easier than with hiragana. I don't know why they think that.


It's because reading is a learned skill, and you're always going to be best at reading what you are familiar with. They are completely correct that for them, reading kanji/kana is easier than all-kana. I find kana/kanji easier to read than all-kana. However, I am fairly certain that with only some practice, a native Japanese speaker could learn to read all-kana as well as kana/kanji.

My Japanese teacher tells me what it's like if you're really good at reading: "I just look at the kanji and katakana, and I skip all the hiragana."


I've heard native speakers say this, but the claim is patently absurd. The hiragana are the particles and verb inflections; it's impossible to skip them and comprehend a passage of Japanese. Native speakers will also claim that they skim for meaning by looking at the kanji, but this is also unlikely to be true -- they may think this is what they do, but there's no way that a skilled reader of Japanese could skim through a text and not see the hiragana as well as the kanji. It would be like trying to skim a passage of English and avoid capital letters.

What I think is going on is that skilled readers of any language read in chunks -- that is, they don't process a text symbol by symbol, but in groups of characters -- this is true whether the language is written alphabetically or not. To a native Japanese speaker, that may feel to them like they are only looking at the kanji.

If it was hiragana WITH SPACES, I might be able to read it, but without spaces I'm lost. The word divisions are marked off by particles in between kanji - they would be harder to tell apart without the kanji.


Yes. If all-kana were adopted, spaces would be a necessity -- there is already precedent for this in the all-kana writing in children's books, and old video games/computer systems that lacked the capacity to display kanji.
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Re: Possible argument that favors the indispensability of Kanji

Postby Hyperworm » Wed 07.15.2009 9:13 pm

Slightly off-topic
Yudan Taiteki wrote:times when a single kanji was assigned to a word in a way that obscures its etymology. For instance, 湖(みずうみ) is 水(fresh water) + 海 (sea). 港(みなと) is 水(み)な門(と), and so on.
I can also think of 掌(てのひら)、試みる(こころみる)、恣(ほしいまま)…
(I think those all count...)
Is there a list of these anywhere? They're interesting words :)
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Re: Possible argument that favors the indispensability of Kanji

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Wed 07.15.2009 9:17 pm

Hyperworm wrote:Slightly off-topic
Yudan Taiteki wrote:times when a single kanji was assigned to a word in a way that obscures its etymology. For instance, 湖(みずうみ) is 水(fresh water) + 海 (sea). 港(みなと) is 水(み)な門(と), and so on.
I can also think of 掌(てのひら)、試みる(こころみる)、恣(ほしいまま)…
(I think those all count...)
Is there a list of these anywhere? They're interesting words :)


I don't know of a list, but I can name some others: 政(まつりごと), 詔(みことのり), 鑑みる(かんがみる), 慮る(おもんぱかる), 省みる、顧る(かえりみる), 予め(あらかじめ), 改めて(あらためて)...
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