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Is there any visual clue that a word is a proper noun?

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Is there any visual clue that a word is a proper noun?

Postby Snowflake » Tue 09.27.2011 7:15 pm

As a general rule, in English, proper nouns are capitalized. Thus, when reading, if one comes across an unfamiliar word that starts with a capital, one can reasonably guess that there's a good chance it is a name (place name, person's name, company name, etc.). This is especially true if the word is inside the sentence/question as opposed to at the beginning. Is there any such visual clue in kanji? I was attempting to read a weather report the other day. It was only because I have seen the kanji for Tokyo before that I recognized it (although it took a moment to get past "East-something...? oh, wait, Tokyo!").

Do most readers simply memorize a list of common names?
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Re: Is there any visual clue that a word is a proper noun?

Postby micahcowan » Tue 09.27.2011 7:34 pm

Not any reliable clues, really. Of course, there are some patterns to names, and when you've encountered enough of them, it's not too hard to pick them out (being certain of how they should be read may be a different story). Obviously, if it's followed by くん、ちゃん、さん、etc, it's probably a person name (or in the case of さん, maybe a mountain).

For instance, there are many, many female given names that end in 子 (こ), so if you see an unfamiliar string of kanji ending with that character, you might suspect it's a name (naturally, there are a number of normal nouns that end in 子 as well).

There are a variety of kanji that occur relatively frequently in names, but don't occur as often outside of them. Obviously, this is going to be true of any of the kanji from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jinmeiy%C5%8D_kanji - but it's also true of many in the "general" Jōyō set as well. 田 (た or だ) might be an example (even though there are obviously cases where it appears outside of a name).

Also, the way the kanji are used can be a clue, as well. If you know the general meanings of the characters (for instance, if you've gone through Heisig's RTK), and they seem like odd meanings for characters that occur in the current context (such as, in a book about Computer History, seeing a sudden string of kanji with meanings referring to scenery, geographical objects (mountains/streams/lakes), general characteristics (bravery, beauty, quickness), etc, in quick succession), that may well be a clue that this is a proper noun of some sort.

Hope that helps somewhat...
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Re: Is there any visual clue that a word is a proper noun?

Postby Snowflake » Tue 09.27.2011 8:25 pm

Thank you, Micah! It was far more than "somewhat" helpful (from reading your posts, I'd say you're always more than "somewhat" helpful and for that I thank you!). Much appreciated. That link was scary, though :lol:, especially the entries for June 11 and June 24.

Anyway, as you mentioned, I was beginning to think that くん, ちゃん, and さん and the like might be my best clues. I hadn't thought about 子, but that makes sense. I generally recognize 田中 when I see it but not many more. And, as has been said so often, context is critical. I hope that most of the ones I encounter have furigana.

Thanks again!
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Re: Is there any visual clue that a word is a proper noun?

Postby micahcowan » Thu 09.29.2011 1:03 am

I should perhaps point out that I'm still working on getting a better grasp on the "General Use" kanji, and have not so much as glanced at the "Names" kanji. Just knew where to find them, and that's it. :)

As I come across names that I know I'll want to remember (say, 宮崎駿), I try to pay attention to it so I'll recognize it in the future. But I also haven't had to deal with them as much as I might... I read a lot of tech-related stuff, and Japanese translations of English fictional works, and so Japanese names don't crop up as often as they would with, say, newspapers in that sort of reading.
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