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Man, why does everyone say kanji are so difficult?
This one looks pretty easy.
So does this one.
And this one. It's not bad.
And how about the next one?
Oh my gosh. What the heck is that?
[♪ Peppy music with saxophone and percussion ♪]
Hello everyone, welcome to the Langfocus Channel,
and my name is Paul.

Today, we're going to talk about
the Japanese writing system.

Well, not the entire writing system.
Japanese is written with three different scripts:
hiragana, katakana, and kanji,
which is the one that we want to focus on today.
Hiragana and katakana were developed in Japan,
but kanji are actually Chinese characters that were
adapted to fit the Japanese language.

Kanji are logograms.
A logogram is a character that represents a word
or a meaningful part of a word.

Kanji are not characters that you read phonetically,
but rather each kanji represents a distinct idea
rather than a sound.

For example, this kanji on its own represents
the concept of a mountain,

but just from looking at it, there's no way to know
that it's pronounced as “yama.”

You have to remember how
the character is pronounced,

and when you see the character
you associate it with the sound.

But some kanji do also contain a phonetic element,
which is something we'll look at later.
Japan initially came into contact with Chinese
characters during diplomatic missions

between the Han dynasty and
the Yamato state of Japan,

which eventually led to the Japanese
adoption and adaptation of kanji.

I talk more about this in my video on the Japanese
language, which you can find right here.

If we include every kanji that has ever been used
in Japanese, there are tens of thousands of them.

But of course, that includes many
obscure or archaic kanji

that really aren't worth learning for the average person.
In 1946, the Japanese government
aimed to simplify orthography

by limiting the number of kanji
to a smaller list of 1,850 kanji,

known as the Tōyō kanji, or “common use” kanji.
That list has since been updated
to include 2,136 basic kanji,

which are referred to as the Jōyō kanji,
or “regular use” kanji.

This list determines what kanji students
are expected to learn at school

and what kanji are used
in official government documents.

With this part of the reform,
the Japanese government also simplified
some of the more complex kanji,

so that they could be read more easily.
These kanji are called “shinjitai,” which literally means
“new character forms.”

For example, this kanji, meaning “iron.”
The component on the right was simplified.
And this kanji, meaning “wide.”
Its inner component was simplified, like this.
You might be aware that such a simplification
also occurred

in the adoption of Simplified Chinese writing in China,
but shinjitai were much more limited in scope
and these changes only affected a limited
number of characters in Japanese.

Types of Kanji
Kanji can be divided into several categories of “moji,” or
“characters,” based on how each character is formed.
For example, there are Shōkei moji.
This refers to pictograph kanji,
such as this one, for “mountain,”
or this one, for “tree.”
These ones look something like
the objects that they represent.

Shiji moji and Kaii moji are ideographs,
characters that represent ideas rather than
visually representing an object.

For example, this kanji, meaning “up,”
and this one, meaning “rest.”
The difference between these two types of ideographs
is that Shiji moji are rather simple,
whereas Kaii moji are compound ideographs
that use multiple components

that combine together to create an overall meaning,
with each of the components also existing
as independent kanji.

The component on the left means “person”
and the component on the right means “tree.”
A person leaning against the tree is “rest”ing.
This is a good example of a Kaii moji.
Another example is this kanji.
Let's see if we can figure out what this one means
by looking at the components.

I see this character, which I know means “mountain,”
and I see this one, which means “up,”
and this one, which means “down.”
So I'm going to guess that this kanji has something
to do with traveling up or down a mountain,

like, maybe it's “hiking”?
Now if we look at the actual meaning of this kanji,
we'll see that it means “a path through the mountains,”
or a “mountain pass.”

So I'd say that's pretty close.
This type of kanji, that kind of tells a story, is a Kaii moji,
but only a small number of kanji
tell a comprehensible story like that.

By far, the largest grouping of kanji is Keisei moji.
These are kanji that combine semantic and phonetic
elements to make up a new character.

The phonetic element is derived from the Chinese
pronunciation of the kanji, the on-yomi,

which we'll talk about later.
A good example of Keisei moji is
“shi” which means “poem.”

If we look at the left side of the kanji,
we see this component,

which is most often used in characters that have
something to do with language or speaking,

such as this one, meaning “language,”
and this one, meaning “speaking.”
If we look at the component on the right side
of this kanji,

we see the kanji for “temple.”
This doesn't indicate any semantic
connection to temples,

but rather it serves as an indicator of
how to pronounce this kanji.

The Chinese pronunciation of this kanji for temple
is “shi” or “ji,”

and when you see it as a component
within another kanji,

it indicates that that kanji is pronounced as “shi” or “ji.”
In the characters we looked at
in the previous example of Keisei moji,

the component on the left is the radical.
A radical is the main component of a kanji
that generally provides a clue about its root meaning.
Some people use the term “radical” to refer
to any component of a kanji,

like both of these,
but to be precise, only this element is the radical,
though both can be referred to as “components.”
Every kanji contains one radical.
Some radicals also exist as independent kanji,
such as this one, meaning “gold” or “money.”
It appears as a radical with the root meaning of “metal.”
Here we can see it in this kanji, meaning “iron,”
and in this one, meaning “copper.”
Other radicals only exist as an inseparable
component of a kanji — like this one,

which shows that the kanji has a meaning related to
“movement,” like in this kanji meaning “road,”

and this one meaning “pass” or “communicate.”
As for phonetic components, they don't
appear in all kanji,

but they appear in many of them, and can be
very useful in pronouncing kanji.

One example is this one, which we saw before
in the kanji for copper.

This kanji on its own is pronounced “dō”
and when you see it as a component in another kanji,
it indicates that the pronunciation is “dō” or “tō.”
As you can see, these kanji here have nothing
to do with each other semantically,

and the radicals are different.
They're only related in pronunciation.
Another quick example is this kanji,
meaning “opposition.”

It's pronounced “han.”
Now look at this kanji, meaning “cooked rice” or “meal.”
It's also pronounced “han” based on
that phonetic element,

and so is this one, meaning “sales,”
and this one, meaning “printing” or “publishing.”
They're all pronounced “han.”
... Well, they're sometimes pronounced “han.”
Sometimes? What do you mean sometimes?
The phonetic elements of kanji are based on
the Chinese reading of the kanji,

also known as the on-yomi reading.
And “yomi” just means “reading,” by the way.
On-yomi and Kun-yomi
If you remember from my previous video on Japanese,
there are two basic ways to pronounce kanji:
on-yomi, Chinese-derived readings,
and kun-yomi, native Japanese readings.

For example, this character has a native kun-reading
of “kata,”

while also having the on-reading “hen.”
When used in this word, “hahen,”
meaning a “broken piece,”

the on-yomi is used.
When used in this word “katamichi,”
meaning “each way,”

the native kun-yomi is used.
The real complexity comes with the kanji that have
multiple on-readings and multiple kun-readings,

requiring you to choose the correct reading
based on the context.

One example is this kanji meaning “life” or “birth.”
It has two on-yomi readings, “sei” and “shō,”
so we have this word, “jinsei,” meaning “human life,”
and this word, “chikushō,” which means
“beast” or “damn it.”

And it also has numerous kun-yomi readings.
Here are some examples.
There's “ikiru,” meaning “to live.”
There's “umu,” meaning “to give birth.”
There's “ou,” meaning “to grow” (archaic.)
There's “haeru,” meaning “to grow” or “spring up.”
There's “ki” meaning “pure” or “raw,”
and there's “nama” meaning “raw” or “uncooked.”
As you can see, it's not always a simple matter
of one kanji being equivalent to one word.

The kanji is used to represent
the core meaning of the word,

but when we use them for native Japanese verbs and
adjectives, a string of hiragana is attached to the end,

to represent the inflection of the word.
For example, let's look at
the adjective for “cold” — “samui.”

As you can see, there's a kanji,
and the additional hiragana, “i.”

The kanji carries the core meaning of the word,
while the inflection, shown in hiragana,

shows us that this word is in the non-past positive form
for an i-type adjective.

So we read this as “samui,” but when we inflect this word
in the negative it becomes “samukunai,”

where “-kunai” replaces “-i” to indicate
the non past negative form.

When we look at this word, we know
to read it as “samukunai,”

with the first two syllables represented by the kanji,
and the others placed after it to show inflection.
Kanji also work this way with verbs,
where the kanji will represent the core meaning of the
verb, and the hiragana represent the verb's conjugation.

Why bother using kanji if part of the writing
is in hiragana anyway?

Even though kanji take a lot of effort to learn, they
actually make the entire language easier to read.

Let's take a look at an example sentence,
first written without kanji and next, written with kanji.
The sentence means: “I eat Japanese food.”
“Boku wa washoku o tabemasu.”

Because Japanese is written without spaces,
without the kanji the words all blend together.
And it's sometimes difficult to quickly see where
one word ends and where the next word begins,

or it's difficult to see what part of speech, or where it is.
Kanji are not really read, but just recognized
like symbols, so they allow you

to quickly skim a sentence for meaning.
But while kanji make Japanese easier to read
once you know them,

they make Japanese much harder to write by hand.
As you can see, some kanji consist
of lots of different lines or “strokes.”

For example, this kanji, meaning “machine” or
“opportunity,” has 16 strokes.

This one, meaning “appraise,” has 23 strokes.
If we dig back into some historical kanji that are not
part of the current Jōyō kanji,

some of them have quite a high number of strokes.
This kanji, meaning “rough” or “crude,” has 33 strokes.
You can see that this one is actually created through
reduplication of the same component three times.

That component is the kanji meaning “deer.”
Here's another kanji meaning “dragons on the move,”
which has 48 strokes and consists of the kanji for
“dragon” reduplicated three times as components.

And this kanji features the same component
four times for a total of 64 strokes.

It means “verbose.”
The biggest freak show of a kanji is
this one, with 84 strokes.
It features this kanji as a component,
which is itself a reduplication of the kanji for “cloud,”
and it also features the “dragons on the move” kanji
as a component.

I don't think the origins or usage of this kanji are very
clear, but it may have been used in personal names.

These high stroke kanji are very rare.
They're not really used anymore.
But kanji of up to 20 strokes or even a little higher
are quite common.

Not only do you have to remember
the strokes themselves,

but you have to write them
in the correct order and the correct direction.

There are a series of rules that govern stroke order.
The most basic rule is top to bottom and left to right.
With the kanji for “river,” we can see that you
write a stroke from top to bottom,

then you move to the right and add two more strokes.
But the first stroke seems to go from right to left.
That's true, but here the top to bottom rule takes
precedence, so this is allowed.

Next, when vertical and horizontal strokes cross,
the horizontal line is usually written first.

We can see this in the kanji for “10.”
Next, vertical strokes that cross through other strokes
are written after the strokes they cross through.

We can see this in the kanji meaning “middle” or “in.”
Horizontal strokes that cross through
other strokes are written last.

We can see this in the kanji for “mother.”
Next, diagonal strokes are written
right-to-left before left-to-right,

as we can see in the kanji meaning “letter” or “writings.”
Next, central vertical strokes are written
before their “wings.”

We can see this in the kanji meaning “water.”
Next, left vertical strokes are written before
strokes that go across and down,

as we can see in the kanji meaning “mouth.”
This across and down stroke is quite common
and it's important not to mistake it for two strokes.
It's just one stroke.
Next, enclosures are normally written
before the components inside them.

We can see that in the kanji meaning “wide.”
An exception to that is some enclosures that have
a bottom stroke, which are written last.

We can see this in the kanji meaning “near.”
And short little strokes or dashes are often written last,
even if that contradicts the top to bottom rule.

We can see this in the kanji meaning “seek.”
Most of these stroke order rules become second nature
after a while if you practice,

but I must admit that I hardly ever
write kanji by hand these days.

These days people type on their smartphones and
computers a lot more than they write by hand.

When typing kanji on a smartphone or computer,
you type the phonetic pronunciation

and then a list of kanji with that pronunciation appears,
and you choose the appropriate one.

A well-known result of this reliance on technology
is that Japanese speakers' ability
to write kanji by hand has declined.

It's pretty common to see someone
filling out a form or something,

and then pull out a smartphone
to check how to write a certain kanji.

It's important to point out
that not every native speaker of Japanese
will be able to read every kanji character
that they encounter,

especially in place names or personal names.
It's not uncommon for me to ask a native speaker
how to pronounce the name of a place, for example,

and for them to tell me that they don't know.
But they can often give it a shot based on what looks like
a phonetic element in the kanji.

And if they don't know the meaning,
they might be able to guess the general meaning
based on the radical of the kanji.

While learning kanji is time-consuming
and may seem overwhelming,

remember that kanji are a part of
Japanese culture, history, and literature.

And if you treat them like a puzzle to solve
or a mystery to unravel,

then it becomes much more motivating
and the kanji seem much less intimidating.

The Question of the Day
For native speakers of Japanese:
Do you think kanji are necessary
for the Japanese language?

Would you be able to speak Japanese the same as
you do now if kanji were not a part of the language?

And for learners of Japanese:
How much of a challenge are kanji for you,
and how do you deal with the challenge?

Be sure to follow Langfocus on
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and once again, thank you to all of my
amazing Patreon supporters,

especially these ones right here on the screen,
who are my top tier Patreon supporters.

Thank you for watching and have a nice day.
[♪ Deep house-style/electronic music,
accented by an Asian stringed instrument ♪]



The Complexity of Kanji

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jigme.lee888 2018 年 8 月 22 日 に公開
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