re: Chinese and Japanese scripts

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re: Chinese and Japanese scripts

#1  Postby Tursas » Jun 09, 2010 11:46 am

Jbags wrote:As a Chinese learner, I find it fascinating spotting the traditional Chinese characters that I can recognise in Japanese script - I wonder how similar their meanings are? And how different their pronounciations are?

For example, 年 is the same in simplified Chinese (pronounced nián, meaning 'year' in Chinese), and 留学 (liú xué, meaning 'study abroad'), whereas some characters are different, like 間 is written as 间 ( jiān ) in simplified Chinese.

There are several others I recognise too, it makes for a fascinating exercise... could you tell me if these have the same meaning or not, and how they are pronounced? I would appreciate it

Hello,

the Chinese script was originally borrowed with the language itself for the educated elite of 4th-5th century Japan, and wasn't used to write Japanese. As Japanese literature increased, systems of using the script to also write Japanese (or rather, a mixture of classical Chinese and Japanese at first) emerged, and eventually, heavily modified , were developed into a full Japanese writing system.

As for the characters itself, many were borrowed as full loanwords and retained an approximation of the contemporary Chinese (Han) pronunciation (corrected into the Japanese phonotact), and most of today's characters also have a "Chinese" reading alongside a later, native Japanese reading. For example, the borrowed reading of 留 is "ryuu" and traces back to the same source as today's Chinese "liú". And the borrowed reading of 年 is "nen" (similar to "nián"). They also have other, native readings that are completely dissimilar, for example "tome" for 留 and "toshi" for 年.

Character meanings are in most cases the same or similar. They tell me that one proficient in Chinese can usually get a good general picture of a Japanese newspaper article just from the use of common characters. I looked over your introductory post in Chinese and can, with only Japanese, reasonably guess that your Chinese name is 白杰, you're an Englishman from London currently living in Shanghai, study Chinese but find it hard(?), and are wondering if there are others who study it. But I have no idea how to pronounce any of it.
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Re: re: Chinese and Japanese scripts

#2  Postby Jbags » Jun 10, 2010 1:19 am

Yeah that's a pretty good approximtion of what I wrote! I only know a little bit about the shared lingual history, its great to have a bit more of an in depth introduction from your side of the sea.

Its very interesting to see 留 read as "ryuu", which clearly has similarities with "liú" (especially given the fuzzy line between R and L), though I suspect differences of accent make it practically impossible to discern these similarities from speech; at least on paper you can see links to a common heritage.

Interesting they are borrowed and native readings also, what are the meanings for "tome" and "toshi"?

The similarities of course only carry over with kanji (hanzi), the other systems of writing Japanese are completely impenetrable for Chinese readers. I envy the Hiragana system, as it gives a phonetic link between written script and the spoken language, no such link exists in Chinese. This allows you to pronounce words you have never seen before / don't know the meaning of, which is impossible in Chinese.

I also find it interesting that although the simplified version of Chinese is used in the PRC, the traditional form of Chinese is still preserved elsewhere; Taiwan for example (if I have been informed correctly) has never officially adopted the simplified version; and now I can see that it is also the traditional versions that have been retained in Japanese. Makes for a fascinating comparison, but also means sometimes I'm unable to read words I actually know!

I have long been a fan of Japanese film, and so I'm familiar with Japanese patterns of speech - and the general sound of the language - which is a long way removed from Chinese. The spoken languages imo are even more dissimilar than English vs French or German. So its fascinating to see meaning preserved through written script.

谢谢!
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Re: re: Chinese and Japanese scripts

#3  Postby Tursas » Jun 12, 2010 2:51 pm

The meaning usually stays the same. For example, when the character 年 was introduced to Japan (with the meaning 'year' and a reading based on the contemporary Chinese pronunciation), the Japanese language already had their own word for 'year' ("toshi"). As the writing system developed to also cover Japanese words, the same character 年 was used also for the Japanese native word. So both "nen" and "toshi" mean the same thing ('year'). Which reading to use for the character just depends on the context and the history of the word or compound in question.

It's sort of similar how English has a layer of latinate words alongside native words--had Latin used a logographic writing system, in today's English there very well might exist a character for teeth that was read either "dent-", "tooth" or "teeth".

Edit: didn't realise the better example would be the above 年 having the readings "annu-" and "year".
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Re: re: Chinese and Japanese scripts

#4  Postby Roger Cooke » Jun 20, 2010 12:14 pm

Tursas wrote:The meaning usually stays the same. For example, when the character 年 was introduced to Japan (with the meaning 'year' and a reading based on the contemporary Chinese pronunciation), the Japanese language already had their own word for 'year' ("toshi"). As the writing system developed to also cover Japanese words, the same character 年 was used also for the Japanese native word. So both "nen" and "toshi" mean the same thing ('year'). Which reading to use for the character just depends on the context and the history of the word or compound in question.

It's sort of similar how English has a layer of latinate words alongside native words--had Latin used a logographic writing system, in today's English there very well might exist a character for teeth that was read either "dent-", "tooth" or "teeth".

Edit: didn't realise the better example would be the above 年 having the readings "annu-" and "year".


I've been studying Japanese for some years now (making a tiny amount of progress---at last!). I too found it fascinating that the Japanese took loan words from several dialects of Chinese and gave these words different names according to the dialect. Of course, probably the pronunciation of Chinese has changed, and the Japanese system of pitch doesn't resemble the Chinese tonal system at all.

Thanks for the extra information on "ryuu," for which I knew only the ON pronunciation, as in the phrase "ryuu gakusei" (foreign student). It is interesting to me that the same characters can be read as "suzukaze" or "ryoofu." I gather the ON pronunciation is regarded as more formal ("seppuku" rather than "hara-kiri"), but as yet I know very little about it.

As you say, the overlay of Latin and Greek is the closest analogy in English to the Chinese overlay in Japanese. ("The evil foe fought well" is Anglo-Saxon; "the malignant adversary contended valorously" is Latin, with close to the same meaning. I note that Latin tends to be polysyllabic and Anglo-Saxon monosyllabic, the exact reverse of the situation between Chinese and Japanese.)
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