Re: 漢字の起源について考えている

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Jan 15, 2011 19:01
This is basically a response to Sarahu's recent question. Since my answer became long enough for a new entry, I decided to put this here.

The question was how we (Japanese) know about origin of each Kanji.

First of all, this Wikipedia article might be useful for English speakers.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_character_classification

Here is brief summaries.

1. 象形文字 しょうけいもじ
'Pictograms' were made from drawings by simplification. For example, 「象」 is made from a drawing of an elephant (and this is why they're called 象形, 'elephant shape'!), whereas 「山」 is derived from a drawing of mountains with three peaks. They are also called hieroglyphs.

2. 指事文字 しじもじ
'Ideographic characters' are like「上」 and 「下」, whose shapes themselves function as signs.

3. 会意文字 かいいもじ
'Ideogrammatic compounds' are formed by combination of (mostly) two basic characters, i.e., pictograms, or ideographic characters, and their meanings are also defined by the combination of those characters. For instance, 「休」 consists of two simple pictograms,「人」and「木」. A person (人) leaning to a tree (木) means that he or she is at rest. Thus, the character 「休」 means a rest. Other examples are 「林」,「森」,「炎」, and 「武」.

4. 形声文字 けいせいもじ
'Phono-semantic compounds' are formed by combination of one character which defines the pronunciation and the other character which tells you what category the resulting characters belong to. Phono-semantic compounds accounts for vast majority (~90%) of Kanji. For example, there are numerous characters which have a 魚 part, such as 「 鯉」, 「鯛」, 「鮫」, 「鯒」, 「鯨」, 「鮪」, 「鮭」, .... and most of them are phono-semantic compounds for fish names. No matter how smart you are, maybe you cannot work out why 「魚」 plus 「里」 equals to carp, because there seems to be few good reasons, if any. 「里」 was chosen to distinguish carp from other fish by pronunciation.

Thus, as a rule of thumb, you shouldn't bother pondering about origins of phono-semantic compounds. If you understand 「鯉」 is a kind of fish and how to pronounce it, that'll be enough. On the other hand, learning origins of pictograms, ideographic characters, and ideogrammatic compounds may help your understanding of Kanji. We learn some of them in school.

There are a few Kanji which were made in Japan, and they're called 国字(こくじ). Clearly, 国字 is only valid in Japan. 国字 includes 「峠」、「畑」、and 「辻」.