What is a phonetic component?

Natalie Hamilton is a writer, translator and lecturer in Translation Technology. She turned her focus to Japanese study while living and working in Japan’s rural Oita Prefecture on the JET Programme. She was awarded a Master of Japanese Translation in 2014, which included a linguistics dissertation entitled Cracking the ON Yomi Code. Her new kanji textbook The Kanji Code is a #1 Amazon Best Seller.

kanji phonetic componentPhonetic components such as 㑒 (KEN), 青 (SEI) and 亡 (BOU) are the parts of kanji characters that indicate their sound or pronunciation. In fact, 青 unlocks the ON reading of at least five kanji characters – so I call it a ‘power phonetic’. Most people know about the radicals, which give a hint to the meaning of a kanji, but phonetics are not as well known.

Some phonetics are also radicals, and some are kanji characters in their own right. Other phonetics are neither radicals nor kanji characters – these can be referred to simply as components.

For example, the following kanji all contain the 㑒 component, and they also have the ON reading KEN. So the phonetic component 㑒 can be said to indicate the ON reading KEN.

  • 検    examine
  • 険    danger
  • 験    verify

㑒 is neither a radical nor a Japanese kanji character, so it is referred to as a component. In fact, in order to write it, you need to use a Chinese font, as it does not exist as an individual character in Japanese character sets!

In Chinese, 㑒 means everyone or all. It is a simplification of the Chinese character 僉, which depicted two people under a roof, and the idea of all the people being in agreement – think of a town meeting.

ON-yomiIt may seem strange to be referring to the Chinese meaning of components when you are studying Japanese, but the fact remains that kanji were imported from China, and they still retain many links in meaning and sound. One study found that about 60% of Japanese kanji words have the same or a similar meaning and orthography as their modern Chinese equivalents.

The ON reading (onyomi /音読み ) or Chinese reading literally means ‘sound reading’, which seems to be a big hint to the phonetic nature of kanji.

Learning the phonetic components will give you an extra tool in your kanji study toolkit. The faster you can learn the kanji readings, the more time you will have to spend on all the other aspects of Japanese study, such as grammar, vocabulary and honorifics!

The Kanji Code: Japanese_phonetic componentsLearning the meaning of components is also quite fascinating, because kanji makes even more sense when you understand its origins.

Our new book The Kanji Code lists 150 phonetic components for you to learn at your own pace. Each component includes a meaning, ON reading, example kanji and kanji words that use that reading.

 Learn phonetic components with The Kanji Code book



P.S. If you love what we do let us know by voting for us in the Ausmumpreneur Awards Best Product category (Natalie Hamilton, 26th in the list).



CAT Got Your Tongue?

In the first two instalments of this 3 part series, I discussed why translators needn’t fear losing their jobs or downgrading their skills by adopting CAT Technology. In the third and final blog, I discuss another common fear.

Fear #3 I will be exploited by agencies if I use CAT

There is a perception among some translators that adopting a CAT tool will render them wage slaves to the translation agency, their per word rates slashed, forced to work for free.

It’s true that agencies that use a CAT tool often pay according to the percentage of phrases which are new, updates of existing translations (so-called “fuzzy matches”) or exact matches of previous translations. So if your usual rate is 5 cents per word, you might be paid say 5 cents per new word, 3 cents per fuzzy match, and 1.5 cents per exact match.

I can understand why people might find this dubious and wonder, “Hang on, why do you want to pay me only 60% of my usual rate for those sentences, and even LESS for those ones?!” But once you get used to working with CAT and the way it analyses the number of words in a document, you will realise that it’s actually a pretty fair deal.

If you or another translator has already translated one of the sentences in the document and it can be easily retrieved from the memory, it’s known as an exact match and the rate will accordingly be pretty low. For example, a document title, such as:

XYZ Software User Guide

The electronic package you receive will contain that phrase and it will be automatically populated on your screen, so all you need to do is check that it’s OK in this context and click OK. If it’s not right then of course you need to make a change, but that is fairly rare. Either way, it takes a lot less time than translating a sentence from scratch. It hardly seems fair that you would be paid your full rate to translate something that’s already done for you.

Likewise, if the sentence is a fuzzy match, you may only have to make a couple of tweaks to update the previous translation to match the new source text. For example, changing the main verb from opening to saving:

  • Opening a File
  • Saving a File

In such cases you can replicate the surrounding words, structure and style, making it much easier that starting from scratch. You’ll probably spend about two thirds of the time you’d spend on a new translation, and the rate is reflective of this.

In contrast, all the “new” phrases and sentences will show up completely blank and you will be left to your own devices to translate them. You are therefore paid your full rate as these are all new translations that require you to work harder.

After following this system for a while, I am pretty sure you will find that the pay structure is not exploitative but rather reflective of the amount of time, skill and effort required for each individual sentence.

There are other benefits too

While the string of statistics may be baffling at first, once you get used to it you will find it a handy way to get an overview of the project content.

For example, if you can see that 70% is new, 20% is fuzzy and 10% is an exact match, you’ll be able to estimate the time it will take you based on these stats – and it should take you around 85% of the time it would take for an all new project. This information helps you schedule your project and manage other offers that come in once you’ve started.

Then again, if 70% is fuzzy and 30% is new, you may come to the conclusion that the job is more hassle than it’s worth. That’s because in some cases, reworking existing translations is actually harder than creating your own – especially if you are asked to adhere to strict style guidelines, or conform to previous translations that vary greatly from your own style.

But if you see that 40% of the project is made up of exact matches, you may do a fist punch as you realise that this job is going to be largely review and will take around half the time of an all new translation job.

As you can see, CAT tool-based payment structures are not inherently bad, and they can even help you manage your workload. Problems only arise when you don’t understand the system.

The more you understand the analysis statistics and pay structures associated with CAT, the better a bargaining position you’ll be in when the next job offer arrives in your inbox. You’ll also gain an insight into your translation speed and the kind of sentences you enjoy or dislike translating.


Ocha Translations

Please Note: Due to teaching commitments, Natalie is only available for occasional translation jobs at this time. Please Contact Us to enquire about our availability.

Ocha Translation is a specialist provider of Japanese to English translations based in Sydney, Australia. Because we only provide Japanese to English translations, we can provide translations of a high quality.