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









Kanji Reading

Different from alphabets in English which have one-to-one correspondences with particular phonological patterns, each Japanese kanji character commonly conveys more than two readings. Taking an example of , it has 12 different readings; ka, ge, shita, shimo, moto, sa-geru, sa-garu, kuda-ru, kuda-su, kuda-saru, o-rosu, and o-riru. Not every kanji has this many readings, yet they commonly convey several different readings.
Following traditional accounts of the Japanese language, the readings of kanji can be classified into 2 major categories. One of them is called kun-yomi meaning a Japanese reading. These readings were originally derived from Japanese original words which were developed in Japan before kanji was introduced from China. These Japanese original words was later applied to certain kanji when they had some semantic relationships and were used as a part of readings of the kanji. On the other hand, on-yomi refers to a Chinese reading which was originally developed in China and was later imported to Japan. Although Chinese readings have their roots in China, many of them have been transformed into Japanese styles amd some of them became quite away from the original Chinese readings.
Between the 2 types of readings, on-yomi can be further classified into 3 different categories - go-on, kan-on, and tou-on - according to the time when the kanji was introduced to Japan from China. Among the three, go-on was brought to Japan before the Nara era (5`6th century) and it is still used for many words that were derived from Buddhist terminologies. On the other hand, kan-on was introduced to Japan during the Nara era (7`8th century) and were mainly used for academic or official purposes. Kan-on is still widely used as the readings of many kanji characters but their usages are no longer limited to the specific areas. Finally, tou-on was imported to Japan after the 11th century . Tou-on is also used as the readings of kanji characters yet their number is much less comparing to go-on and kan-on readings.
Table 5 below provides an example of various readings of a single kanji character. In the table, is read either kou, gyou, an, i-ku, yu-ku, and okona-u. Among them, i-ku, yu-ku, and okona-u represent kun-yomi and each of them associates a sequence after a dash. The ones after a dash is called okurigana which is actually described as hiragana letters as in (i-ku) and it represents a conjugational/ declensional inflection.
The other readings of indicate on-yomi and they are further classified into 3 different categorizations as shown in the table. The selection of one of these on-yomi readings depend on the context in which each kanji is used as a part of jukugo; a word which is described as a sequence of kanji characters. For instance, is read kou in (kou-dou, action), (kou-i, deed), and (kou-shin, march), yet it is read gyou (gyou-retsu, a line of people), (gyou-ja, a practioner), and an in (an-gya, pilgrimage).

Table 5 : Various Types of Kanji Readings

As these examples show, a single kanji character may entail several different readings yet each of them has its specific usage according to the context in which the kanji appears.

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