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Types of kanji


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Hi everyone. Today I would like to talk about different types of kanji. I believe that if you familiar with the  history and the way kanji were created it would be easy for you to memorize them, dividing into different groups.

So, kanji developed through ages and historically they divided into four groups:

1) Pictographs (象形文字 - shookei moji) - hieroglyphic characters that schematically look what they mean: 一、二、三、人 [hito] - a man、大きい[ookii] - big、山[yama] - a mount、木[ki] - a tree、林[hayashi] - a bosket、森 [mori]  - a forest.

2) Ideographs (絵文字 - emoji) - These are the characters that represent things or phenomenon in visual way (reminds of some sort of a scheme or a rebus). They also divided into two subgroups:

      a) Simple ideographs (指事文字 - shijimoji) - 上 [ue] - up、下 [sita] - down

      B) Compound ideographs (会意文字 - kaiimoji) - 休み [yasumi] - rest (consist of pictographs 人 'man' and 木 'tree')

3) Semantic-phonetic combinations (形声文字 - keiseimoji) - These kanji combine two different characters into one kanji. The principal is - one kanji has a root meaning and the other kanji indicates the reading for a character.

It also must be said that characters can be devided by the way they are actually used:

1) Derivatives (転注文字 - tenchuumoji) - the character the meaning of which is either deriviative or extensive of its original meaning:

楽 [gaku/raku]. When you pronounce 'gaku' you mean 'music', but when you say  'raku' the meaning turns into 'enjoyment' or 'comfort'.

2) Phonetic loans (仮借文字 - kashamoji) - the characters from this category are used purely phonetically, ignoring the original meaning of the kanji:

来 [rai/kuru] - in modern Japanese this kanji translates as 'to come'. But originally (from Chinese language) it translated as 'wheat'. So even Chinese reading of this character remained unchanged, but the meaning totally differs from ancient Chinese meaning.

Ok, I hope this information was interesting and useful to you, guys. Ask questions if you have ones. グッドラック!

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  • 4 weeks later...

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Thank you for this breakdown! This is debated, but personally I find it extremely useful to have an understanding of the basic or root meaning of a kanji. Of course you'll come across kanji compounds whose meaning is indiscernible from their components, but I think it's important to have a deep understanding of the characters to remember them.

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I find ateji to be fascinating (and fiendishly irregular) like 寿司 for "sushi". I think most people write "sushi" in hiragana these days.

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  • 7 months later...

Thank you. I knew there were at least two kinds. However, I did not know there were four kinds of kanji. I think you are on to something about learning it too. I remember a lot of kanji by using the method involving derivatives.

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