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 has been an Amazon Top 10 Best Seller in Phonetics and Phonics since April 2019.
Chances are you’ve heard a lot about pictographs, ideographs and compound ideographs, but less about keisei moji – otherwise known as semasio-phonetic or form-sound kanji characters. So, it might surprise you to learn that keisei moji account for at least 80% of all kanji!
The four main types of kanji characters are pictograph, ideograph, compound ideograph and keisei moji.
- Pictograph: A kanji that looks like what it signifies. e.g.: 木 tree, 人 person
- Ideograph: A visual representation of a concept, often spatial. e.g. 上 up, 下 down
- Compound ideograph: A combination of pictographs or ideographs to create a third meaning. e.g. 休 to rest (a person sitting next to a tree)
- Keisei-moji: Characters with a radical that denotes the meaning category, and a phonetic component that denotes the sound. e.g. 訪 visit, 清 clear
|form, shape, appearance||sound, voice||character|
How does a form-sound character work?
The radical tells you the meaning category.
Radical: ⺡ (water)
Meaning category: water-related
And the phonetic tells you the pronunciation or ON reading.
Let’s look at the phonetics of the three characters listed above and the ON sounds they represent.
|Kanji character||Phonetic it contains||Sound phonetic indicates||ON reading|