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Official Kanji Count Increasing Due To Electronics 284

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, has some information!)"
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Official Kanji Count Increasing Due To Electronics

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  • by CecilPL ( 1258010 ) on Wednesday June 09, 2010 @04:52PM (#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 Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 09, 2010 @04:58PM (#32516028)

    I know this is slashdot but you could at least RTFS. These characters already exist in the language. They just are not part of a list of required characters that someone must know to be considered fluent. The reason these characters were excluded was because they were not common in written Japanese. The reason those characters were not common is theorized to be because they were difficult to hand write. Now that a computer can automatically convert a hiragana word into the appropriate kanji, that limitation has been removed and these characters have become more common. The fact that these characters are more common means that to be considered fluent you must now know them. This has nothing to do with foreign loan words.

  • by CRCulver ( 715279 ) <> on Wednesday June 09, 2010 @05:00PM (#32516068) Homepage
    "Bombay" and "Mumbai" are actually two separate words, not the same word differing from transliteration principles. "Bombay" is from the Portuguese bom baia "good harbor", while "Mumbai" is from the Hindu goddess Mumba Devi, to whom a prominent temple in the city is dedicated.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 09, 2010 @05:09PM (#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.

  • by tepples ( 727027 ) <{tepples} {at} {}> on Wednesday June 09, 2010 @05:13PM (#32516198) Homepage Journal

    Why does 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 [], as well as Encyclopedia Dramatica's [].

  • by Moridineas ( 213502 ) on Wednesday June 09, 2010 @05:15PM (#32516244) Journal

    Boy, this is really going to blow your mind when you realize that the English alphabet you're typing in is a modified form of the Latin alphabet, which was a borrowed and changed form of the Etruscan alphabet. The Etruscans had of course borrowed and modified the Greek alphabet (get it, Alpha Beta??). The Greeks had taken the Phoenician Alphabet, "bastardized" and "basically copied" and "changed it at it's [sic] will." The Phoenicians were uncreative hacks as well, and starting from Egyptian hieroglyphics just changed it without any respect to the original creators.

    Now we're talking about 3000+ years of bastardization, copying, and changing at will (irony? no), so the evidence is a little shaky, but who knows who the Egyptians shamelessly copied from? Probably the Sumerians. Awful.

    Some information for you...truly independent creations of writing systems have been rather rare worldwide. Take for instance Mongolian script. It looks pretty unusual right? Pretty geographically isolated area, far from e.g. the Middle East. Possibly unique? Nope. The Mongols (an Altaic language) borrowed from the Uyghurs (a Turkic language) who borrowed from the Sogdians (an Indo-European language) who borrowed from Syriac (Semitic language) and Aramaic. And so on, further and further back.

    That process of bastardization, copying, and changing at will is how knowledge and language and culture throughout history has progressed. The total vast majority of people on the planet write their native language in a script that can be traced back to Phoenician or Chinese characters.

  • by TheBig1 ( 966884 ) on Wednesday June 09, 2010 @05:16PM (#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 sanosuke001 ( 640243 ) on Wednesday June 09, 2010 @05:18PM (#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 ( 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 Yuan-Lung ( 582630 ) on Wednesday June 09, 2010 @05:41PM (#32516584)

    As a non-Japanese-speaking-person-who-watches-anime-and-stuff I've always wondered why they have both (well, several) writing systems. They have katakana, and Kanji, and sometimes Kanji with furigana to help with pronunciation. Is it just because it takes less space to write in Kanji? Kind of like how we abbreviate things?

    Actually, 3 systems:

    • hiragana, which are based on cursive Chinese characters; used as phonetics to spell out words in native language
    • katakana, which are based on partial Chinese characters; used to spell out foreign words
    • kanji, Chinese characters integrated into the Japanese language; used as names, nouns or the root of verbs.

    IMO, Kanji are used partly due to the fact that Japanese has a limited set of pronounceable sounds (~70) which creates many ambiguous situations. Writing the kanji root out instead of having bare hiragana helps to remove some of that ambiguity... So it's actually the OPPOSITE to abbreviation as it provides more accurate information.

    Also there are those who consider it more 'elegant' as it's a time-consuming process to lean and use kanji, and even more time consuming to write them with elegance. (something even many Chinese people are struggling with).

  • Re:Kanji Test (Score:2, Informative)

    by ljgshkg ( 1223086 ) on Wednesday June 09, 2010 @05:47PM (#32516672)
    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 about the words than if you see them in real life.
  • by medv4380 ( 1604309 ) on Wednesday June 09, 2010 @06:26PM (#32517184)
    I think using the world spelling with kanji is misleading. Kanji are not letters and they do not represent sounds like Latin characters do but rather represent a word or concept like ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs.
  • by joggle ( 594025 ) on Wednesday June 09, 2010 @06:45PM (#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: []

  • by sanosuke001 ( 640243 ) on Wednesday June 09, 2010 @07:02PM (#32517608)
    It's both. Words can sound the same but have different kanji and then kanji can have multiple pronunciations that mean different things.
  • by srothroc ( 733160 ) on Wednesday June 09, 2010 @07:49PM (#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 @07:59PM (#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 article the characters mentioned there are a hidden reference to some dating sims titles (Or however you want to translate eroge).
  • Re:Oh Boo-Hoo (Score:5, Informative)

    by Jeeeb ( 1141117 ) on Wednesday June 09, 2010 @08:38PM (#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.
  • Re:Kanji Test (Score:3, Informative)

    by grouchomarxist ( 127479 ) on Wednesday June 09, 2010 @10:14PM (#32519200)

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

  • by thoughtsatthemoment ( 1687848 ) on Thursday June 10, 2010 @12:55AM (#32520110) Journal

    but how many new characters are being created

    Practically none. In Chinese, usually two (the most common case), three, or more characters form a word, which is equivalent to an English word. Chinese words are still being created by combining different characters. But new characters themselves are extremely rare nowadays as existing characters are already much more than necessary.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 10, 2010 @07:36AM (#32521948)

    Peking was pronounced Peking until very recently, it is also "pekin" in Japanese(the only way Chinese scholars have to know how their language was pronounced before the introduction of romanization).

    The Japanese currency the "en" was also pronounced Yen two centuries ago. For a time, romaji "e" was written as "ye" and learners of Japanese were asked to pronounce it as 'e'. I imagine the same happened with wade-giles.

    The spelling Beijing is pretty stupid as far as romanizations go.

    The P/B is an unvoiced bilabial plosive which all languages of the world write as 'p'. Many dialects of English pronounce it aspirated which is a different sound in Chinese. The English 'b' is a closer match to Chinese ears(Because they know shit about voiced consonants).

    Still many languages pronounce 'b' as a voiced approximant which doesn't sound like a 'p' at all. And 'q' for a 'tch'-like sound? Pinyin is a retarded system.

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