Thursday, September 24, 2009

A beginner's guide to kanji

Of the three different writing systems used in Japanese, the most complex is the use of the Chinese characters known as kanji. Rather than a phonetic script, kanji characters represent concepts that are strung together to produce the larger meaning.

In many cases, the origin of the form of the kanji character can be seen from its meaning. For instance "木" is the kanji for tree and the shape is reminiscent of that object. Likewise, river (川), mountain (山), fire (火) and sun (日) all have obvious origins (Astronomers in particular will relate to the kanji for sun, since it is similar to the solar symbol ⊙ ... especially if you were making it on an old digital panel~).

Placing kanji characters along side each other can then lead to more complex meanings. An appropriate example for this week would be 火山, fire mountain or volcano.

Similarly, more complex kanji can be formed by combining characters (either in their full or an abbreviated form) into a single one. For instance, the combination of two of the characters for tree, 林, means "forest".

See? Simple, logical easy! Let's try some others...

If we take the kanji for "car" (車) and combine it with that for "fun" (楽), we get 轢 ... meaning "run over"!

Alternatively, add "grass" (草) to the top of "fun"(楽) and you get 薬; meaning "drugs"!

Never let it be said the Japanese do not have a sense of humour.

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