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Official Kanji Count Increasing Due To Electronics 284

Posted by timothy
from the switch-to-english-it's-easy dept.
JoshuaInNippon writes "Those who have studied Japanese know how imposing kanji, or Chinese characters, can be in learning the language. There is an official list of 1,945 characters that one is expected to understand to graduate from a Japanese high school or be considered fluent. For the first time in 29 years, that list is set to change — increasing by nearly 10% to 2,136 characters. 196 are being added, and five deleted. The added characters are ones believed to be found commonly in life use, but are considered to be harder to write by hand and therefore overlooked in previous editions of the official list. Japanese officials seem to have recognized that with the advent and spread of computers in daily life, writing in Japanese has simplified dramatically. Changing the phonetic spelling of a word to its correct kanji only requires a couple of presses of a button, rather than memorizing an elaborate series of brush strokes. At the same time, the barrage of words that people see has increased, thereby increasing the necessity to understand them. Computers have simplified the task of writing in Japanese, but inadvertently now complicated the lives of Japanese language learners. (If you read Japanese and are interested in more details on specific changes, Slashdot.jp has some information!)"
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Official Kanji Count Increasing Due To Electronics

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  • by Monkeedude1212 (1560403) on Wednesday June 09, 2010 @03:47PM (#32515888) Journal

    Have Meriam and Webster added
    Noob
    Leet
    Haxxor
    Lolcat
    pwned

    yet?

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      We're talking characters in a language not words in a dictionary...
      • by CecilPL (1258010) on Wednesday June 09, 2010 @03:52PM (#32515942)

        Kanji are words, they're just words whose "spelling" is entirely unrelated to their pronunciation.

        Hiragana or Katakana are the equivalent of English letters, and nobody's suggesting that those ever change.

        • by twoallbeefpatties (615632) on Wednesday June 09, 2010 @04:05PM (#32516124)
          ...they're just words whose "spelling" is entirely unrelated to their pronunciation.

          That is to say, it's the closest thing that they have to the English language. /drumroll
          • by Tetsujin (103070)

            ...they're just words whose "spelling" is entirely unrelated to their pronunciation.

            That is to say, it's the closest thing that they have to the English language. /drumroll

            I think the drum-related word you were looking for was "rimshot".

        • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 09, 2010 @04:09PM (#32516154)

          Not really, Kanji have "ON" and "KUN" readings. One is for full words, others is to mix with other kanjis and make other words. Forgot which is which, but in many cases kanji can serve the same use as kana.


          • Forgot which is which, but in many cases kanji can serve the same use as kana.

            Then you forgot to much. They can not serve the same use as Kanas.

            angel'o'sphere

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by Yuan-Lung (582630)

            Not really, Kanji have "ON" and "KUN" readings. One is for full words, others is to mix with other kanjis and make other words. Forgot which is which, but in many cases kanji can serve the same use as kana.

            Onyumi is the original pronouciation of the Chinese character. Usually used for proper names and nouns. Kunyumi is when the character retrofitted into a Japanese word, usually used as verbs. They don't really 'serve the same use as kana', Using the proper kanji instead of spelling it out with kana provides more definition, but hides the pronunciation.

          • by joggle (594025) on Wednesday June 09, 2010 @05:45PM (#32517400) Homepage Journal

            "KUN" is the Japanese reading, "ON" is the Chinese reading of the kanji. Originally, all kanji came from Chinese characters. As the Japanese adopted the characters, they would often add their own reading to each character (because the sounds of the Japanese language tend to be quite different from those in Chinese). They also adjusted the use of each character, so usually a character in Japanese doesn't have the same meaning as the character it is based on in Chinese.

            Usually (but now always) the Japanese "KUN" reading is used in words involving one kanji and some kana (such as atatakai where 'atata' is the kanji and 'kai' is written with hiragana). The same character, atata, could also be used in a compound word like onsen (hot spring) where 'on' is the same character as used in atatakai and 'sen' is another kanji, both using the Chinese "ON" reading.

            There can also be multiple ON and KUN readings for a single kanji--the reading would depend on the word in which the kanji is used (or it can be completely arbitrary and have the same meaning with different readings, such as the different generic ways of saying 'one').

            You can read more about it here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kanji#On.27yomi_.28Chinese_reading.29 [wikipedia.org]

        • by sanosuke001 (640243) on Wednesday June 09, 2010 @04:18PM (#32516296)
          Not quite. Yes, kanji have meaning where katakana and hiragana do not. However, each kanji can have multiple meanings and pronunciation which is only known through context or what other characters follow it. For example, the website here (http://www.saiga-jp.com/kanji_dictionary.html) has a lot of kanji with different meanings and readings. They aren't quite unique words, but they aren't characters only. They're more of a hybrid.

          Also, depending on context, the pronunciation of a word might be the same, but the spelling could be different. For example, the word "kami" can mean "God" or "paper". Both sound the same, but each has its own kanji character. So as for your statement that spelling is unrelated to pronunciation is somewhat incorrect.
          • by angus77 (1520151) on Wednesday June 09, 2010 @04:30PM (#32516446)

            Also, depending on context, the pronunciation of a word might be the same, but the spelling could be different. For example, the word "kami" can mean "God" or "paper". Both sound the same, but each has its own kanji character. So as for your statement that spelling is unrelated to pronunciation is somewhat incorrect.

            Uh...didn't you just actually show how pronunciation is unrelated to spelling?

          • However, each kanji can have multiple meanings and pronunciation which is only known through context or what other characters follow it.

            That is not really true.

            A Kanji usually only has one meaning. Only the attempt to translate it into a foreign language gives it several meanings.

            However, each kanji can have multiple meanings and pronunciation which is only known through context or what other characters follow it. That is completely wrong.

            Back to your Kami example. Yes, there are several Kanji which are pro

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by John Whitley (6067)

          Hiragana or Katakana are the equivalent of English letters, and nobody's suggesting that those ever change.

          To be pedantic, Hiragana [wikipedia.org] and Katakana [wikipedia.org] glyphs are the equivalent of English syllables. Kana generally represent consonant-vowel pairs, with a few exceptions, such as 'n' [wikipedia.org]. For example, this is what causes the additional ending "oh" vowel on many loan-words in Japanese. Even though the consonant sound exists, it's completely unnatural for a native Japanese speaker to "stop" mid-syllable.

          The syllables represented by these two syllabaries (akin to 'alphabets') are the same, with hiragana used for phonetic sp

        • Kanji are words, they're just words whose "spelling" is entirely unrelated to their pronunciation.

          Not entirely. For example, sensei, teacher. 'Sen' comes from the kanji for before, 'sei' comes from the kanji for birth/life. Gakusei, student. Gake comes from the kanji for 'study/learning', and again, 'sei' comes from the same kanji for life. 'Sui' is a sound associated with the kanji for water, 'hi' with the one for day, 'dai' with the one for big...it really isn't correct to say that the kanji are unrelated to their pronunciations, even though it is a bit more complicated that using kana. It's one

        • by Yuan-Lung (582630)

          Kanji are words, they're just words whose "spelling" is entirely unrelated to their pronunciation.

          It depends. Chinese characters are constructed in a number of ways, one group does contain pronunciation cues.
          Also, they are NOT words. Especially not the way they are used in Japanese. It takes a combination of kanji or kanji and kana to form a word.

          Hiragana or Katakana are the equivalent of English letters, and nobody's suggesting that those ever change.

          Except English contains irregular spelling variations and lots more pronounceable sounds. So there are many fewer homophone and they can be differentiated in writing. This is not the case if you were to write Japanese without kanji... they can be damn c

      • by AndrewNeo (979708)

        Actually, that's not really true. If they were adding more characters (i.e. sounds) to the language they'd be adding kana, kanji are usually used to represent words. However, IDNSJ (I do not speak Japanese)

        • by TheBig1 (966884) on Wednesday June 09, 2010 @04:16PM (#32516250) Homepage
          Characters do not necessarily map one-to-one to phonemes. For instance there are 12 vowels in English, but these are represented with only 5 characters.
          • by Tetsujin (103070)

            Characters do not necessarily map one-to-one to phonemes. For instance there are 12 vowels in English, but these are represented with only 5 characters.

            You forgot "Y". Well, I assume you forgot "Y" 'cause it's hard to imagine you forgot one of "A", "E", "I", "O", or "U"...

        • by Goaway (82658)

          If you do not speak the language, maybe you should not give people advice about it. Kanji do not represent words.

          And even so, "characters (i.e. sounds)"? English doesn't have characters that correspond to sounds! Where did you get the insane idea that such a correspondence exists?

      • Umm... Maybe YOU are.

        WE are talking about Kanji, where a combination of WORDS make another word, and only rarely can they be used to sound out the word. (Kind of like if I said sound-emitter for stereo)

        Don't be a noob.

    • by jonbryce (703250)

      So far only leet.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by dbet (1607261)
      Hmm, how "official" are Meriam and Webster? Or any dictionary? These are guides that help people understand new words, they're not necessarily the boss of the English language. OTOH, what the Cultural Center is doing with Kanji does seem somewhat official.
  • by Locke2005 (849178) on Wednesday June 09, 2010 @03:50PM (#32515916)
    There is an official list of 1,945 characters that one is expected to understand to graduate from a Japanese high school or be considered fluent. That's nothing... there's a lot more than 1,945 characters that kids are now expected to be able to recognize in order to be considered fluent in Pokeman!
  • by RingDev (879105) on Wednesday June 09, 2010 @03:54PM (#32515962) Homepage Journal

    Is it just me, or is having your language based on a character set that requires computer rendering for most people to be able to communicate clearly somewhat asinine?

    No disrespect to those that practice the art of cartography, but for day to day communication... wow.

    -Rick

    • by rolfwind (528248)

      Kanji are asinine. Have always been. You don't know the kanji, you'll have no way to figure it out in most writing because there are no clues how to sound it out. Which is why so many manga have kana above the kanji.

      Western languages have many flaws, english grammar is inconsistent and english spelling is horribly inconsistent in some cases, but Kanji is such a pain that the Chinese even thought of dropping their own system decades back in favor of pinyin (romanization).

      Once you get beyond the mysticism

      • Actually manga do it because the people who write these things usually use awkward, or rare words. Title's of books, and people's names are especially guilty about this. They tend to write furigana above other Kanji because they write these things in the hopes that kids get into them. Not because they are shitastically hard (which they totally are). If they didn't do that, 4th graders working on 6-kyu level Kanji wouldn't have a chance with a book using 5-kyu Kanji. Plus it's an asset to kids since they end
      • I am a native Chinese speaker. The human mind has more than enough power to memorize the pronunciations of words even if the words give no clue of pronunciations. Eventually, when you look at the word the pronunciation just pops up in the mind automatically. The reverse is also true.

        I can see why adults would have problems learning Chinese characters. But from my experience learning English, it also feels overwhelming even if there is some association between words and pronunciations. There are so many othe

    • by Tumbleweed (3706) *

      Is it just me, or is having your language based on a character set that requires computer rendering for most people to be able to communicate clearly somewhat asinine?

      It's even more confusing than that. Japanese use two other character sets besides Kanji, and generally wind up using 2 or 3 character sets in every sentence.

      Kanji = words taken into Japanese from Chinese

      the 'kana' are made up of these two:

      Hiragana = native Japanese words for which they don't use kanji
      Katakana = wo

  • Kanji Test (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Dutchy Wutchy (547108)
    But we are left with a problem: the kanji test that people take to get a certificate showing what they have learned (taken by students and others in Japan) will now become more difficult. This technology has allowed people to become more exposed and use a wider variety of kanji, but it has also become a crutch. Many people can read a lot of kanji, but are hard pressed to remember it and write it by hand (which is required for the test).
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by ljgshkg (1223086)
      I'm Chinese migrated to foreign country for years. I can tell you that I do, in fact forget some words when it gets down to writing because I don't write it. But it just take a little bit of thinking to get the memory back.

      Now, if you write it or see it everyday, you shouldn't have the problem. If you're having problme, it's most likely that you're not seeing it everyday in real life but just on your book or computer screen. I find reading words from books/monitor every day give you less strong memory ab
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      I'm not sure what kanji test you're referring to, but if you mean the Kanji kentei ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kanji_kentei [wikipedia.org] ), then the pre-1 level version of this test includes 3000 kanji, which probably already include all the Kanji included in the new standard.

  • It's also contributed to many Japanese forgetting how to write many less common kanji because in their day-to-day life most of them rarely have to write by hand anymore. They type the sound and press "convert" and pick from a list on both their PCs and cell phones.

  • UTF-8 (Score:5, Funny)

    by JWSmythe (446288) <jwsmythe&jwsmythe,com> on Wednesday June 09, 2010 @03:59PM (#32516044) Homepage Journal

    The only thing I can think when I see this story is, WTF? Why does Slashdot.jp get UTF-8, and regular Slashdot gets ISO-8859-1? I know I've tried to post foreign characters before, as others have, and they just get ignored.

        I figured they were too lazy to implement it into Slashcode. Now it's obvious that they're avoiding it.

    • by tepples (727027) <<tepples> <at> <gmail.com>> on Wednesday June 09, 2010 @04:13PM (#32516198) Homepage Journal

      Why does Slashdot.jp get UTF-8, and regular Slashdot gets ISO-8859-1?

      One old crapflooding technique was to use characters intended for use with right-to-left scripts (Hebrew, Arabic, Syriac, Thaana) to spoof moderation and distort the layout of other comments to the article. See my earlier post on the topic [slashdot.org], as well as Encyclopedia Dramatica's [encycloped...matica.com].

      • by JWSmythe (446288)

            Nice. The Encyclopedia Dramatica page renders backwards. :)

           

      • And it is an epic fail, that this retarded excuse is used.
        The characters that cause such things are a well-known set. Like the control (<32) characters in ASCII.
        If you filter them, you’re good.
        And if you are smart, you can even check for RTL/LTR/etc characters, and add a character to the end that fixes it. Or do it like a pro, and just force LTR via CSS for the element surrounding UTF-8 user input. So people can comment in RTL languages too.

        There. Done.

        That lame excuse only works on non-professionals. If you can’t handle UTF-8 you’re not one.

        • The characters that cause such things are a well-known set.

          The set could be extended in a future version of Unicode.

          Like the control (<32) characters in ASCII.

          And like an additional block of control characters (0x80-0x9F) was added in the ISO 8859 encodings.

    • Re:UTF-8 (Score:5, Interesting)

      by JustinOpinion (1246824) on Wednesday June 09, 2010 @04:13PM (#32516206)
      The usual explanation given is that people were injecting unicode characters as part of trolling attempts to break Slashdot's layout. So trolls were doing things like using right-to-left control characters to spoof their comment score. See this comment [slashdot.org], which explains the situation and links to some examples. Slashdot reacted by blocking anything not in the basic character set.

      Frankly this is an unsatisfying answer. Or rather an unsatisfying solution. It seems like it wouldn't take that long for a developer to go through some of the unicode set and build a whitelist and/or blacklist that was comprehensive enough to allow us geeks to use useful symbols (currency, micro, greek letters, etc.) without allowing damaging characters.

      It seems like many of Slashdot's anti-trolling features (e.g. trying to prevent allcaps or ASCII art) are somewhat misguided. Nowadays the moderation is pretty good, such that troll comments are basically buried. You may as well let regular posters with good karma post in caps or use ASCII art if that's what their post requires (e.g. posting some calculations that uses lots of symbols and few words ends up being flagged unnecessarily).

      All that to say that Slashdot could presumably fix these things, but apparently they have little interest in doing so.
      • by Tynin (634655)

        The usual explanation given is that people were injecting unicode characters as part of trolling attempts to break Slashdot's layout. So trolls were doing things like using right-to-left control characters to spoof their comment score. See this comment [slashdot.org], which explains the situation and links to some examples. Slashdot reacted by blocking anything not in the basic character set. Frankly this is an unsatisfying answer. Or rather an unsatisfying solution. It seems like it wouldn't take that long for a developer to go through some of the unicode set and build a whitelist and/or blacklist that was comprehensive enough to allow us geeks to use useful symbols (currency, micro, greek letters, etc.) without allowing damaging characters. It seems like many of Slashdot's anti-trolling features (e.g. trying to prevent allcaps or ASCII art) are somewhat misguided. Nowadays the moderation is pretty good, such that troll comments are basically buried. You may as well let regular posters with good karma post in caps or use ASCII art if that's what their post requires (e.g. posting some calculations that uses lots of symbols and few words ends up being flagged unnecessarily). All that to say that Slashdot could presumably fix these things, but apparently they have little interest in doing so.

        This is very good insight on the problems that plague /. and reasonable suggestions on how to fix them. The idea to whitelist/blacklist specific strings of unicode is really the best idea I've heard in a while. Then, as /. editors come across further unicode exploits they could refine their lists. Again, great post. I agree with everything wrote. I hope this gets read and enlightens some editor/slashcoder to bring about a better /. for us all.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by KiloByte (825081)

        There's absolutely no reason to not allow every single printable character, perhaps excluding RTL or combining chars if you're paranoid. A white/blacklist made by hand would be counterproductive, character classification functions are there for a reason.

  • I checked out the Slashdot.jp article, and got absolutely nothing out of it.

    Why would those who read a roman alphabet be directed to a site in Japanese for more information?

    • by vxice (1690200)
      If read the summary, just before where they send you to slashdot.jp, it says "if you read Japanese." You are not meant to be sent there if you don't read Japanese.
  • At first i thought they meant they were adding completely new kanji specifically dealing with modern electronics (presumably to replace older kanji that had previously been adapted to the task.) Which led to the thought that since originally a lot of kanji got their start as pictograms [wikipedia.org] that were them simplified to their current forms, wouldn't it be cool if new kanji for electronics were developed from simplified versions of circuit diagrams?

    Alas, it was not to be.
  • WTF (Score:5, Interesting)

    by NemosomeN (670035) on Wednesday June 09, 2010 @05:07PM (#32516930) Journal
    Ok, the characters listed aren't difficult, or uncommon, they just aren't "official." The real issue here is, why the hell does slashdot.jp have more features than slashdot.org? Click an external link, and there's an interstitial offering a direct, Google cache, and web archive (Way Back Machine) link. Seriously, bring this to .org. And add Coral cache to both, I know it's got an l AND an r in it, but it could still benefit .jp.
  • Does this trend have something to do with the shifting of the balance of power in the world?

    The Japanese language is well-known for absorbing foreign words and language concepts into its own domestic use, especially from cultures / societies it deems powerful or dominant. It was Chinese during the Ming dynasty, Portuguese/Spanish during the 1600s, German during the 1800s, English from WW2 onwards.

    Now that China is a relative economic superpower, maybe the trend is now to absorb Chinese words again?
  • So to be fluent, a high-school student must know about 2,000 characters?!

    I'm a Chinese minor (in the US at a university), and we only learn the most basic of topics (sports, food, family, transportation). My list of "you better know these" is about 5,000 characters long. And I use traditional characters too, because I prefer a 1:1 mapping of meaning to character.

    So a 10% increase shouldn't be a big deal if you're already (somewhat) used to writing them out.

    • Re:Oh Boo-Hoo (Score:5, Informative)

      by Jeeeb (1141117) on Wednesday June 09, 2010 @07:38PM (#32518538)
      It's much easier to learn Chinese characters in Chinese than it is in Japanese because the phonetic portions for each character are maintained and the readings of the character is reflected in its structure. Furthermore you generally only have 1 reading per character.

      In Japanese most characters have a Sino reading and a Japanese reading. The Sino reading can sometimes be deduced from the structure of the character however the Japanese reading is completely arbitrary and often changes completely based on the phonetic characters that follow it or even simply based on context.

      For example the Japanese word for "to go" is "iku" and the Japanese word for "to hold" (a party, event .etc.) is "okonau". Both are written with the same character with the reading changing depending on the character following it. The past tense and conjunctive forms of the above verbs are written identically. However are of course read completely different. (itta / itte and okonatta / okonatte respectively). Furthermore the same character also has multiple Sino-readings associated with it. The main ones being "kou", "gou", and "gyou". These are used when the character is used as part of a "jukugo" (Nouns constructed with Chinese morphemes). Finally on top of that you have exceptional readings. For example the same character is used to write the "an" in "anka" (foot warmer).

      The worst by far though is names. Often Japanee people themselves can't read names correctly without knowing beforehand what the place is called. A favourite example of mine is the place name "Kasuga". It's written with the characters for spring and day. Now the Japanese words for spring and day are "haru" and "hi" respectively. So you would think when combined they would be read "haruhi" (And when used for people's names they are read "haruhi" when combined). If not "haruhi" another logical reading would be "shunjitsu" (using the Chinese readings of the character) and indeed there is a noun in Japanese read "Shunjitsu" which means spring day. However in place names for whatever reason when those two characters combine their reading changes to the completely arbitrary "Kasuga".

      Now try learning that for several thousand characters and that's not to count the 1000 odd characters which aren't on the list but you need to know anyway if you want to be literate.
  • by srothroc (733160) on Wednesday June 09, 2010 @06:49PM (#32518100) Homepage
    I live in Japan and I've talked to Japanese teachers about this; I've also seen the kanji they're adding. It's not "because of computers" or "because they need computers to write kanji" -- the kanji they took out are very, very rarely used, with one being an archaic form of measurement equal to around 350 grams or something. A lot of the kanji they added are kanji that ARE common-use kanji as a matter of fact, just not officially. Many of the ones they added are simple ones that show up in a ton of names. Another example is the kanji for "turtle" -- something that comes up often enough that you'd think it would have been in the original set to begin with. It's not some gigantic "Oh god nobody speaks our language and everyone's stuck on computers" deal; it's just MEXT updating their "official" set to reflect the changing times and vocabulary... and fix some mistakes from the past.

    People forgetting how to write kanji due to always using cell phones or computers IS a problem, but unrelated to the update to the Joyo Kanji.
  • by Jeeeb (1141117) on Wednesday June 09, 2010 @06:59PM (#32518194)
    I've been learning Japanese for 4 years and have level 1 of the JLPT and I can say with confidence that this doesn't complicate anything for learners at all. If you're at all serious about learning Japanese you'll need to accept that the Jouyou-Kanji-Hyou (the list being discussed here) is not the definitive guide and you have to know lots of characters beyond that list. Most people would say about 3000 characters at least for literacy.

    Government agencies might choose to avoid using kanji not on it. However they often ignore it. Some newspapers now days pay attention to it and replace characters not on it with katakana. For example 'hatan' is often written in newspapers with the character for 'yaburu' (i.e. 'ha') followed by tan written in katakana. Although even government agencies and newspapers use some characters which aren't on it. Everyone else just ignores it and uses whatever characters they see fit.

    It was never designed to assist Japanese learners and (at least previously) contained some extremely rare characters which you seldom see used which omitting extremely common characters that you'd expect even a 8 year old to be able to read. (An 8 year old Japanese kid that is obviously)

    P.s. According to the comments on the slashdot.jp article the characters mentioned there are a hidden reference to some dating sims titles (Or however you want to translate eroge).

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