L&L Kanji e-Learning
Kanji e-Learning
Writing Systems
kanji systems









Kanji Meaning

It is often considered that Japanese kanji represents an ideograph which encodes specific semantic indication. However, this is not always true. Many kanji instead carries several different meanings some of which may not have any immediate relationship of each other.
Taking an example of , it entails a number of meanings such as life, live, be born, occur, grow, raw, pure, and undiluted. Some of these meanings have apparent relationships of each other as in live and be born, yet others do not seem to have such close associations with each other. For instance, Is there any relationship between undiluted and live or be born? Is occur is somehow related to pure? As this example shows, the meaning of each kanji is not necessarily limited to a single meaning but it may include various semantic domains.
Following traditional views, several reasons can be considered as the causes of attachment of various meanings to a single kanji character. One major source is called ateji which can be literaly translated into English as a substitute or a phonological equivalence if it were translated in a more pricese manner. As an example, (kan) originally indicated a ceramic pot in ancient times. (kan) was later used to indicate a (tin) can because it had a similar reading to kan. In this way, has acquired a new meaning and it is still widely used as a part of the meaning of the particular kanji.
In another case, a Japanese original word is applied to a single kanji character because they had some semantic correspondences. Taking the previous example of , it was originally used to indicate to live as its primary meaning. In later times, a Japanese original word - nama - meaning raw was applied to because raw was somehow related to the state of being alive. As the result, raw has added to the meaning of although it may seem a little different from the original meaning.
Yet in another case, a certain kanji has acquired a new meaning just because of convention. For example, (sushi) originally meant fish guts pickled with salt. At some point in the history, was used to indicate vinegared rice topped with raw fish which is known as sushi simply because there was no other appropriate kanji which may represent that new food. As the result, has acquired 2 different meanings even though they are not closely associated to each other.
All these sources contributed to increment the number of meanings of individual kanji characters and they created semantic diversity to a single kanji character.

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