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The Genius of Kanji

I think I understand now why kanji have lasted as long as it has.

Today, I saw a kanji pair.  気楽.  It means “relaxed” or some such.  The kanji by themselves mean “mood” and “comfort” (in this context).  I thought they were pronounced “kigaku”, but I looked it up and realized it was “kiraku”.

But here’s the thing – I haven’t forgotten how to pronounce the word!  I forgot several times, but then I just think of the two kanji, and then I know how to pronounce it.

So the genius of kanji is this:  as long as you remember what the kanji look like, then you can use that to extrapolate the readings of the kanji, but they are also a memory aid!  So, yes, there are two thousand kanji, but if you even remember a small fraction and their common readings, then you can use that as a building block to remember all sorts of different words – both the kanji, and the reading of the word.  I probably won’t forget “kiraku” again, because the kanji have given me a visual anchor to remember the concepts the reading is attached to.

Yes, it’s complicated and there’s a lot to remember, but if you look at it the right way, then you only have to really remember (by rote memorization) a small fraction of what you need, and the rest you can reconstruct by extrapolation.  Which is actually… pretty damn cool.


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