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Fun lesson on Japanese
Kanji characters were formed in several different ways. Knowing these forms may help with recognition.


Volume 4: Kanji Form Categories

六書: What is it? Today we will look at how etymology of kanji are categorized. That is, there are 6 ways the ancient Chinese used to explain how each kanji is put together. Some kanji may have more than one way. These 6 categories are called å…­æ›¸ pronounced ã‚Šãã—ょ (not ろく)

Why am I reading this? Well, probably because you have nothing better to do. But other than the obvious, knowing what these are can be very helpful when using a Japanese kanji dictionary since it will probably explain the kanji's origin.

象形 ã—ょうけい
Kanji that look like (or originally was supposed to look like) the object it represents

EXAMPLES:
日 sun - originally somewhat round with a dot in the middle - not sure what the dot was for (if you know please post a comment below)
月 moon, month
å±± mountain - a mountain ridge
木 tree - a tree with low hanging branches
人 person - a person with no arms doing a split
子 child - a child needs a hug

指事 ã—じ
These are kanji whose meaning is somewhat abstract and is expressed as a kind of code.

EXAMPLES:
上
 up, above - the small line is above ground level
天 heaven - the biggest line is above the man on earth
本 book - made from a tree (木)

会意 ã‹ã„い
This is where 2 characters are put together to create a new meaning.

EXAMPLES:
比 ratio, compare - two people(人)
看 watch, care for - hand (手) and (目)
å³  (mountain) pass - å±± (mountain), 上 (up) and 下 (down). This is a 和製漢字, for more click here

形声 ã‘いせい
These are kanji with 2 parts usually one for the pronunciation and one for the meaning.

EXAMPLES:
河 river - sound: 可 (permission) + meaning 水 (water - the three strokes on the left)
問 ask - sound: 門 (gate) + meaning: 口 (mouth)
枯 wither (as in a plant) - sound 古 (old) + meaning 木 (tree) & 古 (old)

転注 ã¦ã‚“ちゅう
These are kanji that have the original meanings changed (転) to new meanings.

EXAMPLES:
The common example (at least in dictionaries that I consulted!) is the æ¥½ in 音楽 (music) originally only dealt with music, but since listening to music is pleasurable, 楽 also took on that meaning -> 楽しい

仮借 ã‹ã—ゃ
These are kanji where the meaning is totally ignored. They are borrowed only for their sound.

This can also be called 当て字, ateji - which are kanji used usually for the pronunciation (but can rarely also have meaning like 倶楽部 for Club [together+fun+group = ku ra bu])

Examples of foreign words:
亜米利加
 ã‚めりか - America
亜細亜 ã‚¢ã‚¸ã‚¢ - Asia

Examples where a new meaning developed
もと「むぎ」の意味の「来」は、「ライ」という音から「くる」という意味に使われるようになりました。

「来」 kuru/rai (to come) originally meant "barley."The pronunciation 「らい」 was kept but the meaning was dropped and replaced with "to come"

*In both cases, the original meaning of each kanji is ignored and only the sound is used. With 転注 ten chuu, the original meaning is changed not totally ignored.

Note: I believe I have a handle on these last two forms (転注・仮借) but I should consult a few big kanji dictionaries to make sure. If you see something wrong or have anything to add, please leave a comment! - Thanks


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