The Writing of One-Fifth the World

 Yuki's Kanji Speaker began as a discovery project for how to teach a baseline familiarity of all of the symbols of the complex ("difficult") Chinese-Japanese writing system, and how the rich structures and formation principles of kanji characters might provide insight toward analyzing other complex symbolic systems — in particular, the Holy Bible.
 In my short book (link below), I present you with a challenge: Turn toward Life and study it!

 I became interested in finding out the general strategy a person may take to handle and overcome problems which distract, prevent, or discourage them from learning and growing. From my experience, a person benefits from foundational insight into how a structure is designed, so that they know they're correctly identifying and fitting the contents of it together. While boiling down the content into mnemonics may not help to unlock personal guiding insight, mapping out the structure with mnemonics well may. How can we best teach a complex and self-referential system or structure? We must honor that the mind of the learner herself is also a complex, self-referential system, whose powers of self-regulation can be called up and brought out.

 I wrote the Kanji Speaker (40 pages, free PDF), to share a 3-phase Strategy for understanding:

 "Incident, Rollback, Commit" (Push thinking out from Incidental, to Repairing, to Constructive i.e. proactive)

 "Revelation, Comprehension, Memorization" …
 Brothers & sisters who struggle to gain victory over emotional confusion and hopelessness about work or study:
 Maybe you believe you don’t have a future. Though, what is "a future"? Could a future be even just 1 year?
 Isn't 1 day a generous time to enjoy the earth? But trust that we have 7 days, and that we will see the
7th day.)

What are Kanji, and what is their legacy?

 Kan-ji refers to the Chinese or "Han" written characters, which are also called Sino-graphs. It is a logographic system of writing which resembles Shinar/Sumer cuneiform, and to some degree the Egyptian hieroglyphs, in both form and function. Those were both systems developed by Ham-itic peoples, and coincidentally the Chinese system is named after the Han people. It's interesting to note that there may be a direct connection, and not only in the visual form of the language but in the actual spoken language (Chinese and Sumerian, Charles Ball 1913). It is possible for logographs to convey information independent of any spoken language, but nevertheless, each kanji character is vested with a distinct 1-syllable sound, which is its original, ancient Chinese sound. Furthermore, every possible 1-syllable sound can and does have a 1-character representation, and non-Chinese syllable sounds as well each have an official 1-character approximation.

 The Classical Age of China (480BC ~ 220AD) saw a fully unified Chinese literary tradition. In the periods that followed, that classical written language, called Literary Chinese, remained rather constant, because of its use in official documents. As the spoken dialects of the North and South began to diverge, then a centralized pronunciation system was developed as a compromise for the reading (and rhyming) of Classical period texts, and it was named "Middle" Chinese (i.e. "the meeting of North and South"). Middle Chinese was an intentional codified system which happens to preserve the original Chinese language.

 The first dictionary of Middle Chinese was published at the end of the 6th century. During this time, Classical Chinese literature had great influence in neighboring countries. That literature, comprised of a clear set of vocabulary and curated system of pronunciation, was imported in full by Japan. Now, 1400 years later, 20% of regular Japanese speech is Sino-Japanese vocabulary, rooted in Middle Chinese (termed, the "phonetic" or "ōn" readings of kanji). This may be compared with the French influence on modern English, where a Latin-based English word (e.g. "feline") simultaneously calls to mind a native English synonym ("cat").

 In China, Literary Chinese was finally supplanted by Standard Chinese as the official written standard in 1919. In that year, the first complete Chinese translation of the Holy Bible was published as a pair of translations: the Literary CUV (Chinese Union Version) and the Standard CUV. This Bible translation is valuable for a study of the phonetics of kanji, because the Bible contains a great collection of Western names which are already familiar to us, transliterated using Chinese-Japanese characters purely for their Middle Chinese sound. We can read out those Greco-Roman- or Semitic- based names, and hear how the Chinese of 2,000 years ago may have spoken them.

How can Japanese help with learning Chinese Characters?

 Standard Chinese and Japanese are the 2 major languages which use kanji. When the Chinese language was adapted into Japanese, many linguistic features of it were dropped, which has resulted in a very great number of homophones. But incredibly enough, you encounter the same issue if you choose to start with Standard Chinese instead: Mandarin has lost about as many linguistic features as Japanese had discarded, though each language retains a different set of features. Both languages offer nearly the same number of unique spoken syllables: a mere 400 (before multiplying by the 4 Mandarin tones). This does create some monotony when learning kanji in either language, but more crucially, it makes it infeasible to transfer your kanji knowledge from one one language to another.

 Short of seeking out a completely different and minor Chinese language to learn instead (where more features are preserved), performing a light and pointed study of both Mandarin and Japanese together affords one a well rounded foundation in the kanji. I invented a "Pseudo- Middle Chinese", which is simply Japanese romaji with features of Mandarin Chinese "superimposed" (via extra diacritic marks, or varied spellings of the same sounds). With this, your beginning knowledge of kanji might then be generalized or elastic enough to be globally-extendable.

 Nearly all the sounds of Japanese resemble the sounds of Latin or Spanish. In contrast to varieties of Chinese, Japanese uses a simple scheme of voiced/unvoiced consonants (g/k, z/s, d/t, b/p, l) and five unchanging vowels (ah, ee, oo, eh, oh). When the Middle Chinese name-approximations are in turn approximated by Japanese sounds, it comes out maybe a bit stilted, yet English speakers may find it easier than Chinese to speak and to study kanji with.

Kanji as a tool for Bible Study

 In this project, I have organized and established logical rules, and I have assigned singular and sensible English meanings to not only each character but also to each kanji component (whereas, within academia, each are assigned manifold different interpretations). To an extent, this assignment of suitable names is a statistical game, depending on the particular range of kanji that one chooses to handle. Too large of a range, and the resultant interpretations become too spread out or nebulous to be useful; too small, and the result is too focused on one-off usages and lacks power of extension (the problem described above). Taking up, in one hand, the 3,080 Standard Chinese hanzi of the CUV Bible, and combining them with, in the other hand, the set of all 2,730 Standard Japanese kanji, the total of unique kanji is 3,720 (2,100 are held in common). We then add another 625 high-frequency Chinese hanzi to the sample, for a grand total of 4,345, excluding variants.

 Kanji reveal themselves to have multilayered internal complexity, and could potentially have greater use than an alphabet in indexing a large self-referencing corpus of symbols, like the Bible. In the final analysis, there is a continuous interplay of elements beginning from the grossest division, i.e. the 27 Letter forms (corresponding roughly to the 5x5 book-sections of the Bible), which then order the 360 Radical forms (corresponds with multi-chapter story arcs?), which generate the 1,260 Roots (corresponding to Bible chapters), which cross with Radicals again to make all 4,400 Kanji (average of 1 kanji per 7-verse paragraph), which conclude in making vocabulary words numbering in the tens of thousands (corresponding to Bible verses).

 My goal has been to dismantle a perceived difficult obstacle (and in doing so, to also make an example out of it), so that a person can get on with turning toward and studying other things important to them, whether that's learning or teaching a language which uses the Chinese characters, or any thing they see fit to do next.

2010–2022 Sean Tyler

Bellingham, WA

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License