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Why are kanji the way they are?

Japanese, general discussion on the language

Why are kanji the way they are?

Postby Aaron94 » Tue 03.12.2013 8:01 pm

If one symbol is supposed to represent a word, why don't they look anything similar to the word? I know that it would be impossible to make them all look like the word, but at least some could. This doesn't look like a cat whatsoever 猫 This is a cat. =^.^=

Also, what's the point of kanji? Not only do you have to know what it is, but also how to say it. It makes it really hard to learn a new word if you don't even know how to say it.
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Re: Why are kanji the way they are?

Postby jimbreen » Wed 03.13.2013 6:31 am

Aaron94 wrote:If one symbol is supposed to represent a word, why don't they look anything similar to the word? I know that it would be impossible to make them all look like the word, but at least some could. This doesn't look like a cat whatsoever 猫 This is a cat. =^.^=


Except that a kanji rarely represents just a word.
You might like to look at a page I prepared a few years back on the various categories of kanji: http://www.csse.monash.edu.au/~jwb/kanjitypes.html

Also, what's the point of kanji? Not only do you have to know what it is, but also how to say it. It makes it really hard to learn a new word if you don't even know how to say it.


You're preaching to the wrong choir. Take it up with the Chinese and Japanese. Tell them they've got it all wrong. Bear in mind that people in Japan and China usually know a word long before they can read and write it, just like the rest of us. So for them it's a totally different learning experience.

Cheers

Jim
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Re: Why are kanji the way they are?

Postby sampaguita » Thu 03.14.2013 9:41 am

Ever wondered why the "a" in "lard" is not the same as that in "cater"? Or what's the difference between "rage", "plumage", and "mirage"?

That's how I think of kanji -- it's similar to how we spell words in English. You might have the same spelling, but you can have different pronunciations. And how do you learn the pronunciation? Well, there are some rules but, in general, you have to know the word to pronounce it.

In kanji, you have kunyomi and onyomi, which I relate to the different pronunciations we have in English for the same spelling (or for Japanese, the kanji).

So if you learned English, don't despair! English is a hard language, at least as hard as Japanese!

I used to think that kanji was useless, until I started listening to Japanese documentaries and found the subtitles to be extremely useful in differentiating homonyms (so in English, that would be something like "pail" and "pale"). Of course, the Koreans would object -- although they do have something similar to kanji (hanja), they rarely use it. For a while I regretted taking up Japanese instead of Korean...it is easier to be literate in Korean that to be literate in Japanese.
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