Friday, December 22, 2017

How to Read Kanji

The Japanese characters known as kanji, unlike our alphabet characters, and even unlike the Japanese characters known as kana, have multiple, different readings.

This means that a single kanji can be read in different ways.

For example, the verb "to read" in Japanese is yomu 読む. In this word, the kanji is read as yo 読. But in another word, "reader," dokusha 読者, the same kanji is read as doku 読.

So a single kanji may not have a single "reading," yomi 読み, but multiple. And these multiple readings can even be classified as kun'yomi 訓読み and on'yomi 音読み depending on their origin, although they also have other differences, like on'yomi being more associated with morphemes instead of words.

Most words use the standard readings associated with their kanji, but sometimes they aren't pronounced exactly the same. This mostly happens because of rendaku 連濁 and sokuonbin 促音便.

Furthermore, there are non-standard readings called gikun 義訓, and readings which aren't associated to a single kanji but a compound, the jukujikun 熟字訓.

Given this myriad of readings a kanji may have, the Japanese writing system has features such as furigana and okurigana which can be used to tell how to correctly read the kanji in a word. Also, in rare cases, the radical of a kanji may hint how it's read.

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