Creative Components

pineconeNatalie 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 an Amazon #1 Best Seller.

Sou… what’s all this about pine cones and Christmas trees?

When I was compiling the phonetics list last year I asked some Chinese students in a class if they could tell me the meaning of some of them.

‘They don’t have a meaning!’ replied one student, bemused. These students were well aware that certain kanji (well, hanzi to them) components have no meaning but indicate a certain sound. This system goes back to the origins of the kanji system in ancient China. I also worked with a well respected native-speaking Japanese translator to check that the names of the components I had selected were accurate. There was a small list that he confirmed had ‘no meaning’. Or had a meaning that was so obscure as to be not worth using. And 喿 was one of them.

That’s when I came up with the idea of naming them Creative Components and devising a memorable name for them. Because I think things are always easier to remember when you can put a name to them. I tried to link the names back to the radicals where possible, because I really believe that the radicals are the key to learning kanji meaning. I had a lot of fun coming up with the names and you might enjoy it too.

For example, appears in both 操 (operate) with the hand radical 才and 燥 (drying) with the fire radical 火, and they both have the ON reading, SOU. Clearly, the radicals point to the meaning (you operate something with your hand & fire dries things out). These are classic keisei moji (形成文字), or what I like to call form-sound kanji. That is, a kanji character in which the form provides a hint to the sound or pronunciation.

Form-sound kanji are said to make up 80-90% of the Joyo daily kanji, and are composed of a radical that hints at the meaning and a phonetic that hints at the sound.

If we look at some example words we can see how the SOU sound corresponds to the 喿 phonetic. So we are effectively reading the kanji compound words phonetically!

操作   SOUSA   to operate
乾燥   KANSOU   dry, arid

The component is made up of three mouth radicals 口 and a tree 木. I decided that the shape looks a bit like a pine cone. But you could also relate it to a Christmas tree – imagine a Christmas tree with three boxed gifts. The only difference is that rather than sitting in front of the tree, they are hovering above it.

Using this mnemonic helps me recognise the component when I see it, and I simply have to associate it with the sound SOU. 喿 = SOU This process is quite close to memorizing a hiragana symbol. It doesn’t take long, but it brings great benefits in terms of your reading and kanji lookup skills!

What do you think 喿 looks like? Do you have an idea for a creative component name? #thekanjicode #creativecomponents #kanjifun

View our List of Phonetic Components

Read about The Kanji Code

菜多梨

P.S. I need to credit Australian teacher Carolyne Thornton for the first creative component name mnemonic, which I’ve incorporated  into the introduction above:

‘Sou, what’s in the gift boxes!?!!’
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