Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Words That Don't Have Kanji in Japanese

In Japanese, most words are written with kanji, which might mislead you into thinking that all Japanese words can be written with kanji, and that there is a kanji for every word. This is not true. There are words in Japanese that simply do not have any kanji associated with them.

The most obvious case where this happens, for example, is with loaned words. When a word is loaned from Chinese, it may have kanji, because the kanji came from Chinese. But when a word is loaned from English, English doesn't have kanji, so the word doesn't get to have kanji in Japanese either.

Such words, loaned from the west, are called gairaigo 外来語, and they undergo a process called katakanization and are written with katakana instead. Because these words aren't associated with kanji but with katakana, they're sometimes called "katakana words," katakana-go カタカナ語.

Another case where words don't have kanji are the grammatical particles, such as ga が and wo を.

A number of basic words and adverbs also do not have kanji, for example: mou もう, "already." In this case the words are written with hiragana. On the other side, some onomatopoeic words have kanji, but some do not. For example: dokidoki ドキドキ, *thump thump*, does not have kanji, and gets written with katakana.

Lastly, slangs and neologisms, made-up words, frequently lack kanji, even when they originate from a word with kanji. For example: moteru モテる, "to be popular," does not have kanji, but it comes from motemote 持て持て, "popular," which does have kanji.

Note that there are some words that do have kanji, but often are not written with kanji. For example: koko ここ, "here," is normally written without kanji, but technically the word does have kanji: koko 此処. It's just that it's rarely written like that.

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