music, opinion and technology


My Japanese classes are getting serious: the more I learn about the language, the more of an effort I need to make to keep track of all the language’s homophones – words, or part thereof, that sound the same. Kanji are the core of meaning here, where written Japanese should be unambiguous, yet there are also multiple meanings for some of those, too.

A simple example: Japan.


It’s read as nihon, and its Kanji mean “sun” and “origin” – hence the description “the land of the rising sun”. However, a spoken nihon has a second meaning: two books or long things!


The first Kanji means “two”, but the second one is the same as that for “origin” – it’s a character with multiple discrete meanings. I’ll try to keep track of it mentally by remembering that a book is the “origin” of knowledge, and that books are long things.

A native speaker might not be tripped up by such a situation, since having a better grasp of the complete language means he or she has less difficulty putting the conversation in a wider context – you wouldn’t buy Japan, or go home to a pair of books, not unless you were seriously otaku. (otaku is derived from one way of describing one’s home, and came to mean someone who stayed at home a lot, reading magazines or playing on computers. Its meaning later expanded to mean geeks in general, even those who got out of the house to arcades or other geeky activities.)


Written by brian t

June 14, 2005 at 1:08 pm

Posted in japan, language

%d bloggers like this: