Kanji Classification - Summary
Index of articles
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If you made it this far, congratulations. Either that, or you decided to skip ahead to the summary (which is also understandable). If so, welcome!
Here is a quick summary of the points mentioned in the previous series of articles. I’ll be as brief as I can.
There are 4 main typologies of kanji + 2 additional meta typologies. All six of them together are called 六書.
指事文字 are kanji whose shape represents abstract ideas or concepts:
- 一 is the number one because it’s just one line.
- 下 is an arrow pointing down.
象形文字 are kanji whose shape depicts a concrete object or natural phenomenon:
- 木 looks like a tree
- 目 looks like an eye
会意文字 are kanji that tell a story via its components:
- 休 is a man resting under a tree
- 森 is a forest made from a lot of trees
形声文字 are the most common (>90%) among all kanji and they are composed of one semantic and one phonetic component:
- 語 is a kanji that relates to speaking (言) and is pronounced ゴ (五)
- 泡 is a kanji that relates to water (氵) and is pronounced ホウ (包)
Among 形声文字 there are some groups of phonetic components that form perfect series that will let you predict the sound they make with 100% accuracy:
- 付 is read フ and so are all the following kanji: 付 府 符 腐 附
Not all 形声文字 are perfect series.
The last two meta-categories are:
- 楽 means music, but since music is pleasant to listen to and it makes us happy, it also acquired the meaning of happiness.
- 来 used to mean “wheat” and 麦 used to mean “coming”, but since they were read the same way (らい) they eventually swapped meaning. Now 来 means “coming” and 麦 means “wheat”.
That’s all! I hope you enjoyed this series of articles about kanji classification and I hope I was able to dispel a lot of myths and misconceptions you might have had about kanji.