March 07, 2004

Chinese Characters Don't All Come From China

kokuji Since Mark is off fishing in Japan, I thought I'd mention a bit more about Japanese writing. A little known fact is that not all Chinese characters come from China. The Japanese created a few characters themselves. An example is 畑 [hata(ke)], which denotes a dry field as opposed to 田 [ta] which denotes a paddy. It was formed by combining 火 "fire" with 田. Since 田 is a "real" Chinese character, it is read both [ta], its native Japanese reading, and [den], its Sino-Japanese reading. In contrast, 畑 has only the readings [hatake] and, in some compounds, [hata], because it represents only a native Japanese morpheme; there is no corresponding Chinese morpheme, so there is no Sino-Japanese reading. Such characters are known as 国字 [kokuji] "national characters".

Posted by Bill Poser at March 7, 2004 08:57 PM