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'Hanzi and kanji: distinctions in the Chinese and Japanese personality sets today



Within the last issue, we discussed the difference among spoken and written Chinese. This time, let us have a look at the relationship between written Chinese and Japanese.




Kanji Characters? A Writing System Shared by Japan and China
The Japanese and Chinese languages both use an extremely sophisticated writing system that uses kanji ideograms. Although the number of kanji characters that are actually used is overwhelmingly larger in Chinese than in Japanese, about 70-80% of the characters used in both languages are used to express the same meaning. Although the number is much smaller in comparison, let’s take a look at those kanji that have different meanings in both languages.

Kanji that Look the Same but Don’t Necessarily Have the Same Meaning
Many Japanese people think when traveling to a Chinese-speaking region that even if they do not speak Chinese, they may be able to get by if they communicate by writing. If you are trying to convey something simple, written communication might allow you to get by. However , it is important to remember that 20-30% of the kanji used have different meanings in Japanese and Chinese. What would happen if you wrote a succession of kanji, which look the same in Chinese, without being aware that they mean something different in Chinese? Not only would your meaning not get across, you may also bring about a misunderstanding. Therefore , much care must be taken when resorting to writing kanji to communicate with a Chinese-language speaker.

我孫子 (JA: Abiko; CN: Wo Sun Zi) = Place-name?
I once heard a Chinese student studying in Japan say, “ I reside in a place with a strange name. ” When I asked, “Where do you live? ” the student responded, “Abiko. ” Abiko, which is usually written 我孫子 in Japanese, is usually another correct noun in Japan simply, the real name of a location . However , whenever a native Chinese loudspeaker talks about the three kanji and reads it in the Chinese pronunciation (wo sunlight zi), the expressed phrases become an expression that means, “my grandchild. ” Why don't we guess that a Japanese person familiar to a specific level with Chinese writing understands that “自(Zi)” means “from”. So , he writes, “我来自我孫子” to state “I result from Abiko. ” Would that which means run into or would they end up being surprised to understand this person originated from his grandchild?

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