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Kanji: ON and KUN readings

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  • Kanji: ON and KUN readings


    I have a question about kanji, in particular ON and KUN readings. I am well aware that one needs to know both readings for every kanji. What I am wondering is whether it is necessary to know which reading of a kanji is ON, and which is KUN. Can I just learn the readings without bothering to remember which is ON and which is KUN?

    Sorry if it might seem a daft question, but I am only just beginning to learn kanji.

    Thanks a lot.


  • #2
    Re: Kanji: ON and KUN readings

    Interesting question! Remembering which is the "on" and which is the "kun" reading will help in deciding how to read a word because the "on" reading is used primarily when the Kanji is combined with other Kanji and the "kun" reading is used when the Kanji is used on its own.
    I personally don't remember which reading is which, I just remember the different readings according to the context because there is often more than one "on" reading


    • #3
      Re: Kanji: ON and KUN readings

      Yes, you need to know this since it determines which one is used quite often.


      • #4
        Re: Kanji: ON and KUN readings

        Most japanese can't tell you what is the KUN or ON reading for many kanji (believe me, I've asked them numerous times) . They don't seem to separate them that way, they just sort of learn to read them. However, if you're learning kanji I'd suggest separating the ON and KUN readings in your mind. After awhile it becomes rather automatic. The ON readings are generally shorter in length, and 1-2 mora, while KUN readings can also be short in length, they can also be quite long (like "omonpakaru", "natsukashimu", "hoshiimama"). Also some readings can be confusing as for some Kanji they are ON for others they are KUN (like "ma" for example). Also any reading that begins with RA/RU/RO/RE/RI is ON as no native Japanese words begin with "R" (so it's automatically derived from Chinese loan readings, which are the ON readings of course).

        KUN yomi do combine as well. Not quite as often as ON readings do, but quite a lot in their own right. However the "Rendaku" process applies, which is a voicing rule. For example, combine the KUN yomi of the Kanji "ao" ('blue') and "sora"('sky'), and you get "aozora" (the s>z voicing is due to Rendaku).

        There are also hybrid "on-kun" reading compound formations, such as "maiasa" (MAI is ON, ASA is KUN), which means "every morning". Though these aren't terribly common.

        Anyway, keep at the study. Kanji is very fascinating and you can study them a lifetime and learn something new every day. :-)


        • #5
          Re: Kanji: ON and KUN readings

          I am only an idiot, but I find it strange that foreigners learning Japanese and kanji focus on such things as "kun" and "on" readings. When you were a child learning English or your native language, did you think to yourself "this word has a Latin origin" or "this word is derived from Ancient Greek" or "this looks like an Old French root". You don't learn languages in this artificial. categorical way. For sure it is interesting to think about what Japanese words came from China, and which developed independently in Japan. It would definitely give you an advantage if you later want to study Chinese. But if your main motive is to learn Japanese, it only complicates things enormously to take this approach.
          In short -- learn the word, not the classification. And the best way is to learn word by word, not by using some kind of equation. That's why learning individual kanji can be a waste of time -- it is the compounds that really matter!
          For example: if you see 終わる (owaru) you know it means something will come to an end. If you see 終点 (shuuten) you know you have reached the end of the line. Which is "on" and which is "kun"? My theory is the Chinese reading is usually a noun (like shuuten) and the verb is usually Japanese. But unless you want to be scholar, you don't have to worry about these definitions -- the only thing that matters is whether you can communicate and understand Japanese.


          • #6
            Re: Kanji: ON and KUN readings

            Taking the time to distinguish between ON and KUN readings should by no means be considered a matter of arcane linguistic minutia best left to scholars. As you demonstrated, kanji usually possess two (or more) readings. The Japanese reading (KUN) is usually used for single character nouns, verbs, and adjectivals. The Chinese readings (ON) typically appear in words consisting of two or more kanji. There are exceptions, however, as uneksija thoughtfully pointed out. The reason for learning them is so that when you see that sign, 終点, you can know that it is pronounced 'shuuten' (and not 'oten' or 'owaten'...). You could just think of 'free-standing kanji pronunciation' and 'compound kanji pronunciation' and mentally assign the readings accordingly, but doesn't it make much more sense to call them ON and KUN, since those are the terms native speakers themselves use? (plus they're only two syllables...)


            • #7
              Re: Kanji: ON and KUN readings

              Well anyway, I decided that I didn't want to learn Japanese in this kind of methodical way. I've got more of a freestyle approach to learning -- an intuitive way. In time you get a feel for what sounds right and what sounds strange, even if you don't understand the rules. I guess everyone has their own technique, but I think focussing on grammar rules is a tedious way of learning. The best way -- the way children use to learn -- is to copy other people without trying to mentally figure out what the rules are. It is chaos, rather than rules and order, which lies at the heart of any language, even if rules are constantly trying to crystallise around that inner chaos.

              Anyway, my theory (which I developed myself, I didn't learn it from any book) -- is that Japanese verbs use only the kun readings. I wonder why this is so. Perhaps an analogy could be drawn with English, which is a mixture of Germanic and Latin words, among many other things. Have you noticed that words with a Germanic origin (for example, 'rain') have a folksy, down-to-earth feel, while Latin-derived words (as in 'condensation') have a high-brow, scientific feel. Even today the simple man, the average Joe will say 'It's been raining hard.' The scientest, on the other hand, will opt for the Latin-derived words: 'The condensation levels are high.'

              I think in Japanese, kun words have a folksy root, and were developed entirely in Japan. The on words are more scientific and high-brow, and were imported from China with kanji already assigned to them.


              • #8
                Re: Kanji: ON and KUN readings

                children and adults learn languages very differently...dont forget this or you will end up reaching a plateau quickly

                the point about the kun readings is something the japanese say as well...with the yamato kotoba that poetry tries to use...

                there are definitely verbs that use on readings, though.