Teach Yourself Japanese
Subject: Re: Mandarin and Cantonese
From: TAKASUGI Shinji (tssf.airnet.ne.jp)
Date: Thu, 22 Jan 2004 05:55:51 GMT
References: 1, 2, 3
> Firstly, why did the Japanese retain ancient Chinese usages and not the new ones?
Japanese began importing Han characters (漢字) in the 3rd or 4th century, and character usage in northern China was changed several times after that. It's well known that a language change occurs at the center and spreads to the periphery. It should be also noted that pictographs (象形文字) are always older than ideophonetic compounds (形声文字). Mandarin uses the latter more often than Japanese does.
> Secondly, why did they select different characters?
Because meanings of words change. For example, 眼睛 meant an iris and 耳朶 meant an earlobe in Chinese, and they still do in Japanese. Their meanings have been extended meronymically to an eye and an ear respectively. 脚 is an opposite example; it meant a leg and its meaning has been narrowed to a foot. 腿, which meant a thigh, came to fill the unoccupied space and means a leg now.
Another example is 狗. The phonetic radical 句 seems to have meant any young animal, as in 狗 (puppy), 駒 (foal), and 豿 (cub). 狗 began to mean dogs in general rather than just puppies, and replaced 犬. This process is called generalization, in which a word's meaning is extended hyponymically.
An English example of generalization is place, which meant a broad street. The opposite of generalization is specialization. Girl meant a young person and deer meant any animal. (This is quite off-topic but the latter reminds me of the animal god Shishigami in Princess Mononoke, which Americans translated to "the Deer God," unexpectedly showing the original meaning of deer.)
Meaning in Language
Glossary of linguistic terms
> And thirdly, what was the language that Confucius spoke? Which way did he speak/write??
Neither. Both Mandarin and Cantonese are different from ancient Chinese.
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