漢字 are Chinese characters used in writing Japanese, but the two languages are actually unrelated to each other. 漢字 have meaning(s) and sound(s) attributed to them, creating a complex puzzle of many meanings and many readings with exceptions. Each character also has a stroke order that you should memorize. This is because proper handwriting is highly valued.
This lesson will focus on what 漢字 are and how to address them, and the coverage will continue in later lessons.
*: Japanese has received major influence from Chinese, but it is believed to be in its own language family. This family is conveniently called the Japonic language family. Japanese is related to other Japanese languages spoken in Okinawa. Japanese is very similar to other world languages such as Korean and Turkish, but there is no agreement as to whether Japanese is related to them or not.
漢字 have meaning and sound. オン readings (音よみ) are pronunciations borrowed into Japanese from various stages of China over the course of several centuries. くんよみ are native readings attributed to characters by semantic association with native words.
Reading 漢字 is hard because there are often many potential readings. Despite the overall patterns that you will be introduced to, there are many exceptions. Educated guessing will be the best skill that you'll get out of analyzing how reading 漢字 works.
Spelling Note: オン readings are in カタカナ; くん readings are in ひらがな in this section. In reality readings are normally only given in ひらがな unless the word is a loan.
オン readings (音読み) came from China. All words with them are Chinese in origin except when the readings are used for phonetic reasons only. All 漢字 made in China have ON reading(s). Even some 国字 have オン読み. オン読み are usually in words with 2+ 漢字--熟語. オン読み are sometimes used in isolation, especially when the word doesn't have a native equivalent. It is possible for a character to have more than one オン読み. Usually, they have different meanings.
Examples of オン読み
|理由||リユウ||Reason||工場||コウジョウ|| Factory |
訓読みare generally native words applied to 漢字. 北 = north and its 音読みis ホク. The Japanese word for north is きた. So, it's the 訓読み. 漢字 may have many 訓読み, some that are 5 morae long. 訓読み are common in isolation, but many are used with 送りがな or in compounds.
オンくん & くんオン COMPOUNDS
At times オン and くん readings are used together to make a compound.These readings are called 重箱読み (オンくん) and 湯桶読み (くんオン) respectively. ジュウばこ and ゆトウ are examples themselves.
Classify the following words by reading: 音読み, 訓読み, 重箱読み, or 湯桶読み. As you have only been introduced to 漢字, use a dictionary resource like jisho.org to look up the readings of the words and of the individual characters. As you do this, if you find any peculiar things, take note of them as those notes may be helpful to you.
1. 漢字 are typically written top-down and left to right. This is largely simplified, but it can prevent frivolous errors. Use a dictionary resource like jisho.org to look up the following 漢字.
生 雨 長 金 風 中 円 魚 日 刀 土 小 上 山 女 男 子 海 耳
2. Write out the 漢字 above 10 times.
3. Write out the readings, meanings, and examples on another sheet of paper.
Radicals are the building blocks of characters. All 漢字 are composed somehow with one or more of 214 radicals. Kanji can be broken up into six kinds of characters. Some are pictographs, some are ideographs, and some have a mixture of meaning and sound parts. Although you don't need to know the six kinds of characters by heart, knowing they exist helps.
漢字 with the same radical usually have similar meaning. 語, 訳, 訓, and 許 have the radical for speech, 言, and have meanings related to it. Radicals are like building blocks, but they may or may not contribute to meaning and or sound.
Some radicals are used for phonetic purposes. In other words, there is a part of the character that hints at what the ON reading is supposed to be. So, 漢字 with the same phonetic often have similar ON readings. 時, 持, and 侍 have the reading ジ as the phonetic 寺's ON reading is ジ. There are exceptions. For example, 待 and 特 have the readings of タイ and トク. Phonetics themselves may not always play a semantic role and don't help with KUN readings.
Radicals do have names. However, it isn't essential for you to know what the names of the building blocks are. It is beneficial, though, to take note of what the components of the characters you learn are.
Curriculum Note: The 漢字 curriculum is still currently in its infancy, so there will eventually be more coverage concerning radicals.
Even as you reasonably progress in acquiring the 音読み 訓読み of 漢字, you will come across many words that have irregular meanings. There are different kinds of irregularities that you will come across, but for you as the beginner, you need to simply realize that there will be words that will not have readings corresponding to the given readings of the characters.
交ぜ書き is when a character not in the list is replaced with かな, leaving a world half 漢字-half かな. 書き換え is when 漢字 not in the list were replaced with a similar sounding one.