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Sino-japanese Charakters „The Canji”

03/08/2017|カテゴリー:About Japanコメント(0)

The Japanese script isn’t difficult, just turn the one1 from its vertical position to a horizontal one and you get the character for the number one 一, add one more stroke and there is the two, plus one and we are at three. From the number four四it gets a bit more complex, that’s why we leave it at that, this is just to show that there are Chinese characters for numbers.

The Chinese characters originated more than 3000 years ago as pictograms that means depictions of material phenomenon.stands for fire andfor mountain. If you combine the two 火山you get a fire-mountain or volcano.represents a tree and thus 森means forest. The characters used today received their shape a bit more than 2000 years ago. Emperor Quin Shi Huang (the one with the terracotta army in Xian) unified not only China for the first time in the 3rd century B.C. but also standardized the Chinese units of measurement such as weights and measures  the currency  and the Chinese script.

But the characters that resemble pictures are only a tiny fraction of tens of thousands of Kanji. means tree as we know already so now let’s add a stroke at the bottom . At the bottom of a tree is the root and if you abstract from this even further you get „origin“. Now combine the sunwith origin and you get 日本 that is the origin of the sun, in Japanese Nippon or Japan. These characters represent an idea and are therefore called ideograms. Here are some more examples of how to depict ideas. means high and it is still easy to recognize that a pagoda acted as a model for this character.consists of the sun and the moon. The two have in common to be bright and that’s what this character means. A women under a roof means peaceful, stable or inexpensive. Maybe the emphasis is here on one women. Traffic signs are ideograms as well and that answers the question which script can be read faster. The meaning of this sign can be conceived much faster than if it were written in alphabetic letters.

When you go to a public toilet you have to decide whether you enter through the door with this sign (male) or this one (female). The first character consists of the upper part(rice field) and (power) and together they mean male. The man is the one who applies his strength to the rice field. The women is depicted in a kneeling position. There is an anthropological theory  that male dominance or patriarchate started with agriculture about 10.000 years ago. It might be an over interpretation that this is portrayed in the character for male, but typical Chinese concepts and connotations always resonate with the characters. Another example for this is 貝meaning shell. In ancient times shells also served as shell money so even to this day many characters with a financial meaning like (fortune) contain the shell. We can also annotate that the characters aren’t just a random compilation of strokes but are a combination of some of the more than 200 radicals.

These traditional Chinese connotations transported through the script lead to the phenomenon, that any foreign ideology from Buddhism to Marxism turned into something typical Chinese as soon as it was translated into the Chinese script. The much renowned Chinese ability of assimilation is based on the inability of the language to adopt foreign thought systems. Something similar can be said of the Japanese. The western concept of „public“ for example was translated as おやけ(oyake). But the original meaning of Oyake is great household referring to the imperial household.

Now we had pictograms depicting material phenomenon and ideograms portraying certain concepts but the majority of characters are a combination of one part defining a category and a second one determining the pronunciation. To clarify this I will create a fantasy character rendering two English words the way Chinese characters work . Two pictures amount to one word. In the first one pronunciation is defined through the eye, but it should be in the category of man, thus becoming I (same pronunciation as eye). The second word`s reading is defined through the wave standing for sea, but should be in the category eye thus becoming the word see. The two together would be the sentence „I see“. Lets recall afore character (fortune). defines the category money and the right part the pronunciation zai. Just by changing the right part you get „Han“ meaning trade.

Here comes one feature of the Chinese language into play namely that Chinese is a so called monosyllabic language, meaning that a character`s reading is one syllable. Furthermore there are only 420 monosyllabic phoneme for thousands of characters resulting in many homonyms with different meanings. Thus we can conclude that the majority of sino-japanese Kanji are logograms which have incorporated phonetic features to a certain degree.

To master the Kanji quite a bit of perseverance is essential for Japanese and foreigners alike, but they can definitely turn into Canji.

Copyright Peter Link

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