One thing I love about learning a new language, is that once you get past the basics, there is always something to discover. I’m still a beginner by all means, but I consider having learned hiragana and katakana, and getting to the point where I understand the language enough to actually discover things, to be “getting past the basics”.
Even though arguably I have not.
Yesterday, I encountered the word “大日本”, which means “greater Japan”. I found that it was pronounced “dai-nihon”. I knew the characters for “nihon” (日本), and I know that 大 means “big” and is pronounced おおき in on-yomi, but when I saw how 大 was pronounced in kun-yomi, the wheels in my brain started turning. Is this, I said to myself, the same character that is in 大好き, which means to love very much?
Yes! It is!
So I looked up 好き, and realized that both of those words mean love, but 大好き is something greater in scale, like “I love you” vs. “I love you very much”. And so now I know the kun-yomi pronunciation, or at least one of them.
So then I thought of the word 大人, which means “adult”, and I thought “why isn’t that pronounced “daijin”? Turns out, it’s not. Turns out I just stumbled on one of the few exceptions to the rule of compound words in Japanese. It’s pronounced “おとな”, and who knows why.
But, you know, I’m just pleased that I know enough to ask the questions!
I’m still studying kanji and vocabulary, but I think this kind of discovery is honestly the best way to learn. It’s just not a very quick way. But what you discover in this way, you’re probably never going to forget.