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Japanese Lessons: Part 5

Posted January 18th, 2012 at 03:55 PM by Esper
Tags japanese

Lesson 1: hiragana
Lesson 2: katakana
Lesson 3: more kana
Lesson 4: grammar intro


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.

一二三四五六七八九十
千人口山上下小大日月
火水木金土入力子女川
手王犬中天文出左右玉
田石正生白本目立耳字
休年竹先早百名車花貝
見町男赤足村雨空青林
森音草校円学気糸虫

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.


History lesson

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.


Using Kanji

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:

: サンやま"mountain"


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:

: スイ、みず "water"

When put into a sentence we might see something like this:

これはです。
[This is water.]

It's standing alone and in this case we use the Japanese pronunciation: みず [mizu]

これはみずです。


If the kanji is part of a two-kanji pair you'll often, but not always, use the Chinese pronunciation. Example:

: ガク、まな.ぶ "study"
: コウ、キョウ、めん "school"

Put into a sentence we might see this:

です。
[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].

ガッコウです。


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:

: シュツ、スイ、で.る、だ.す "exit"
: 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.

これは白いです。
[This is white.]

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

これはしろです。


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:

: セイ、ショウ、い.きる、い.かす、い.ける、う.まれる、う.む、なま "life; birth"

a. 生ける
b. 生れる
c. 生む
d. 生きる


2. Which is not a possible reading for the following:

: カ、ケ、はな "flower"

a. ku
b. hana
c. ke
d. ka


3. Which is not a possible reading for the following:

: キン、コン、ゴン、かね、かな "gold"

a. kin
b. kana
c. gon
d. gana


4. Which of these is not in the 79 kanji listed at the beginning of this post?

a.
b.
c.
d.


5. Which of these is not in the 79 kanji listed at the beginning of this post?

a.
b.
c.
d.

Answers!

Spoiler:
1. Which is not a possible way of writing the following kanji:

: セイ、ショウ、い.きる、い.かす、い.ける、う.まれる、う.む、なま "life; birth"

a. 生ける
b. 生れる
c. 生む
d. 生きる


2. Which is not a possible reading for the following:

: カ、ケ、はな "flower"

a. ku
b. hana
c. ke
d. ka


3. Which is not a possible reading for the following:

: キン、コン、ゴン、かね、かな "gold"

a. kin
b. kana
c. gon
d. gana


4. Which of these is not in the 79 kanji listed at the beginning of this post?

a.
b.
c.
d.


5. Which of these is not in the 79 kanji listed at the beginning of this post?

a.
b.
c.
d.

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Comments

  1. Old Comment
    fenyx4's Avatar
    I stumbled across this by chance as it randomly appeared on PC's front page, but this kanji lesson actually looks pretty useful. :D I'm surprised that I was able to apparently recognize some of the numbers (thanks to several of the Captains from Bleach, and something about Yumichika Ayasegawa preferring one of the number kanji over another) and elements (thanks to the Rangers' helmets of Power Rangers Samurai, and especially thanks to the countless instances that I've had Blaziken use Fire Blast in Pokemon Sapphire/Emerald XD) just by a quick glance at the whole image. "Mountain" is a new one, though. Thanks for the kanji lesson, though; I'll be sure to look into it in detail later (and probably catch up on your past lessons as well, LOL). ;D
    Posted January 18th, 2012 at 05:03 PM by fenyx4 fenyx4 is offline
  2. Old Comment
    Hiidoran's Avatar
    As always, pretty great lesson. :] You're quite the sensei.
    Posted January 18th, 2012 at 08:55 PM by Hiidoran Hiidoran is offline
  3. Old Comment
    Esper's Avatar
    I'm glad this is helpful. Next one I'm gonna put together will be a bunch of kanji with definitions etc.
    Posted January 19th, 2012 at 09:38 AM by Esper Esper is offline
 

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