Synonyms for a single kanji

Discussion in '日本語 (Japanese)' started by Sleptikal, Jul 2, 2013.

  1. Sleptikal

    Sleptikal Senior Member

    Español — Chileno
    Okay, so I'm learning japanese by myself and sometimes I got confused of the extremely complex way to write some words.

    For example: 撃 = geki, so I can write it as (using katakana or hiragana syllabary) ゲキ. Is this correct?
    Now, my question is, does 'geki' mean something in japanese? So from here I understand that you can use kanji because besides of meaning an entire word, they can be used to write in japanese.
  2. jamesh625 Senior Member

    Sydney, Australia
    Kanji are an integral part to the (written) Japanese language. Except for children's books they are always used (except perhaps for stylistic reasons).
    The kanji 撃 means "attack" or "fire (a gun etc.)". You can write its pronunciation as げき or ゲキ but this would give no indication of the sense as homophones are aplenty in Japanese (cf. 劇、激 which are also pronounced the same except perhaps for pitch-accent).
    One reason Japanese is written with kanji is to get rid of ambiguous words. 反撃 and 繁劇, both pronounced はんげき mean completely different things, but besides context and pitch-accent there is no way to distinguish them, especially if it were for example on an advertisement. This is why kanji are so useful!!! :D
    Authors sometimes employ weird or old kanji for stylistic effect, or even omit them for other effects. Compare Banana Yoshimoto's writing to Keiichirô Hirano's and you'll see that different effects are achieved depending on the individual kanji used and how many of them are used.

    There is nothing inherently wrong with writing げき、撃 or ゲキ but it's much more normal and usual for (literate) people to write with kanji. Only really children's books will write entirely in hiragana (or katakana for certain words).
  3. puny_god Member

    English - US
    Great point! I will have to get a copy of Hirano-san's work and compare. Thanks for the suggestion.

    Yes. And reading a chunk of paragraph that is written purely in hiragana will actually slow down your reading comprehension. As you have pointed out, only work targeted towards children will actually have 100% hiragana writing.
  4. Sleptikal

    Sleptikal Senior Member

    Español — Chileno
  5. Ceibita Member

    English USA; Spanish HN
    Yes, learn hiragana, then katakana, then kanji. Everything in Japanese can be written using only hiragana (for japanese words) and katakana (for loan words).

    A lot of people suggest that you do NOT learn kanji by Japanese grade school levels. Japanese kids go from simple kanji meanings to difficult kanji meanings. But as an adult, you already have a huge vocabulary in your own language. So it doesn't matter how complicated the meaning of a word is.

    As a non-native speaker, it makes more sense to go from most common and most simple kanji to least common and most complicated. Look up the JLPT kanji (you would start at level N5 and work up to N1). This is the best order, in my opinion, to learn kanji as a foreigner.

    JLPT N5:

    But when you're speaking, people know what you're talking about from context, and there's no need to write what a kanji looks like in mid-conversation to get your point across. So is kanji really all that necessary? I've had people ask me that, and I can't think of an answer to the question.
  6. jamesh625 Senior Member

    Sydney, Australia
    This reply took a long time coming - sorry for that! The difference is that in conversation there is always shared meaning between you and your partner(s). Ie, you both know *what* you're talking about. People don't usually jump around from topic to topic so if you say 柿, if you hear that sound in the next sentence it's probably going to be 柿 and not 夏季. Although, someone might make a joke and say something like 柿は夏季の果物だ!:D Even though, 柿は秋だろう?

    Furthermore, in writing this is not the same. Since Japanese has a relatively simple phonology, the chance for homophones being mistaken is high, *especially in highly context-dependent domains such as writing*. Imagine reading a poem and not knowing whether the poet was referencing summer or persimmons! Of course, it is also the writer's task to ensure that enough context or explanation is provided so that the reader will (most of the time) make the correct interpretation of the word. Since I can't come up with a Japanese example, here's a misunderstanding that I had recently:

    "Yeah, the place was so cheap! The napkins were black and gold!"

    Now this presents a contradiction. Why would napkins in a cheap restaurant have a pattern in gold (and black)? After a second I realised that the speaker meant the *brand* Black & Gold (Australian-only I'm pretty sure). If this had been written out as

    "The napkins were Black & Gold!"

    I would have had no trouble in coming to the right conclusion as to the meaning of the statement. Thus, it's very possible to have ambiguous meaning in conversation despite context!

    I think the problem here comes from the confusion between thinking that writing and speaking are more or less the same. Well, they're both communication, right? Wrong. Linguistically, they are very unique processes and you can't really judge one on terms of the other.

    As a counterexample, sometimes with Chinese and Japanese speakers, I'll have to mention another word that contains the word I'm trying to get across or even actually write it down for them to understand which thing I'm saying. While this may be a matter of my accent, it just goes to show you that context isn't infallible!

    Anyway, I'll stop there because it's getting quite rambly. Hope it helped to illuminate this a little!
  7. Ceibita Member

    English USA; Spanish HN
    jamesh625, ありがとう!You're not rambly at all--that was a really clear and interesting explanation. :):)

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