Japanese Lessons: Part 5
I've got a great topic for you today: Kanji. Let me start by throwing a bunch at you and scaring you away letting you familiarize yourself with what kanji look like.
Intimidating, yes, but we'll start with just the basics of what kanji are, how and where they get used, and how to recognize when to use one version or another.
Kanji literally means "Han characters," the Han being a large ethnic group from China (and the name of a 2000 year old dynasty). Japanese had no writing system when writing made its way to Japan via Korea in the first millenia.
Kanji are what's called logograms and each one represents a word or idea, as well as having specific pronunciations. Because Chinese and Japanese are very dissimilar kanji were originally only used for their sounds. So a word like 'sakura' would have likely taken three kanji that sounded (to Japanese ears) like 'sa' 'ku' and 'ra.' Eventually they simplified some kanji to form both hiragana and katakana, but kanji stayed around for their meanings as well. Japanese people gave many kanji new, Japanese pronunciations for the words they represented. Now most kanji have Chinese (roughly) and Japanese pronunciations.
The kanji I have at the beginning of this post are from a list of over 2000 that school kids are meant to memorize before leaving secondary school. The 79 I listed are the group that first graders memorize because they are some of the simplest, but also because they are fundamental to one's learning other kanji.
To use kanji there are a couple things you need to know. All kanji have a gloss, that is, a basic meaning or definition. Sometimes they have more than one, but usually it's just one basic idea. Kanji have a stroke order which is the specific order in which each line is written (and essential to making them not look sloppy when writing). They also have, of course, pronunciations.
Let's take one for example.
This kanji's gloss is "mountain." You can sort of see how it looks like a mountain so that's a help in remembering it (but sadly on a fewer are helpful like this). The stroke order goes like this:
(If the image looks different from the text that's just a matter of the font used.)
For the pronunciation we've got two things to consider: the Japanese and Chinese pronunciations. In this case it has both. Its Japanese pronunciation is やま [yama] and its Chinese pronunciation is サン [san]. To help sort out which is which the Japanese pronunciation (called kun'yomi) is normally written with hiragana while the Chinese pronunciation (on'yomi) is written in katakana.
So, for a simple entry into your mental dictionary you can have something like this:
So... how do I use this?
You might be thinking: how do I know which pronunciation to use? There's a trick for that.
In general, if the kanji is standing alone you use the Japanese pronunciation. Example kanji:
水: スイ、みず "water"
When put into a sentence we might see something like this:
It's standing alone and in this case we use the Japanese pronunciation: みず [mizu]
If the kanji is part of a two-kanji pair you'll often, but not always, use the Chinese pronunciation. Example:
学: ガク、まな.ぶ "study"
校: コウ、キョウ、めん "school"
Put into a sentence we might see this:
[This (place) is a school.]
In this instance the word for this two kanji pair uses the Chinese readings ガク [gaku] and コウ [kou] which merge in a special way to become ガッコウ [gakkou].
Sometimes the kanji will include extra hiragana hanging off the side. These are usually verbs or adjectives and will almost always use the Japanese pronunciation. Examples:
出: シュツ、スイ、で.る、だ.す "exit"
白: ハク、ビャク、しろ、しろ.い "white"
Note that some of the Japanese pronunciations in the definitions have a period [.] in the middle. This is to tell you that everything before it is replaced with kanji and everything after with hiragana.
Because it includes hiragana in its pronunciation it's safe to assume it's the Japanese pronunciation. If we look at the options we see two written in Japanese, but only one which includes the い we see in the above sentence, which is しろ.い
There's lots more to learn about kanji, but this should be good for now so let's end here. Oh, but not before...
... a quiz!
This will be a mishmash of questions so just roll with it.
1. Which is not a possible way of writing the following kanji:
生: セイ、ショウ、い.きる、い.かす、い.ける、う.まれる、う.む、なま "life; birth"
2. Which is not a possible reading for the following:
花: カ、ケ、はな "flower"
3. Which is not a possible reading for the following:
金: キン、コン、ゴン、かね、かな "gold"
4. Which of these is not in the 79 kanji listed at the beginning of this post?
5. Which of these is not in the 79 kanji listed at the beginning of this post?
Posted January 18th, 2012 at 5:03 PM by fenyx4
Posted January 18th, 2012 at 8:55 PM by Hiidoran
Posted January 19th, 2012 at 9:38 AM by Esper