Kanji Radical 音 おと 暗闇意億憶臆 – “unclear”


History of Kanji 言(Frame)In the last post we saw that the kanji 言 and a bushu gonben originated from a tattooing needle with an ink reservoir and a large handle at the top, and a mouth at the bottom. To refresh our memory, its development is shown on the right. In all of the ancient styles each part was discernable if we looked for it. By the time it became a kanji, the needle was simplified into four straight lines. In this post, we are going to see that there is a kanji that retained its ten style shape – the kanji 音 and several kanji that contain 音 as its components 暗闇意億憶臆.

1. The kanji 音 “sound”

History of Kanji 音Shown on the left is the development of the kanji 音, in bronze ware style (green) and ten style (in red). (There is no oracle bone style available.) If we compare this with the development of 言, above right, we see that, in bronze ware style and ten style, the only difference was one short line inside the mouth in 音. This extra line in 音 signified that the mouth was not empty. Because there was something inside the mouth what was articulated did not become words, but became just “sound.” From that 音 meant “sound.”

Now we are going to look at the kanji that use 音 as a component. I have observed that a shape used as a bushu in general tended to keep the original meaning, often more closely than when it was used alone as kanji. We need to examine what 音 means beyond what it means as a kanji, that is “sound.” We will look at kanji with two meanings: 1) from something inside preventing clear words, it signified “unclear; dark”; and 2) from something confined inside a mouth, it signified “containment; something not going out.”

2. The kanji 暗 “dark; unclear”

History of Kanji 暗In ten style the left side of the kanji 暗 was 日, “the sun.” When the sun is not clearly out and not being seen, it is dark. So the kanji 暗 means “dark; not visible.” The meaning also extended to knowledge, thus “ignorant of.” The kun-yomi 暗い (/kurai/) means “dark” and 薄暗い (/usugurai/) means “dimly lit.” The expression that 道理に暗い (/doori’ni kura’i/) means “being ignorant of reasoning.” The on-yomi /an/ is in 暗示する (“to imply; suggest” /anji-suru/), 暗黙の了解 (“understanding without saying; tacit understanding” /anmoku no ryookai/) and 暗号 (“code” /angoo/).

History of Kanji 諳[暗 and 諳] In the current writing system the kanji 暗 is also used in place of the kanji 諳 (/a’n/) with a bushu gonben, “to recite words by heart,” because 諳 is not included in the Joyo kanji.  On the right the ten style of 諳 is shown. It is very interesting to see 言 and 音 next to each other in ten style of the kanji 諳 and then in kanji. In ten style there was only one short line difference and yet in kanji the two components do not look similar at all.

The word 暗記する (“to memorize by heart” /anki-suru/) and 暗譜で弾く (“to play without sheet music” /anpu de hiku/) would be written as 諳記 and 諳譜, with a bushu gonben, had the real kanji been included in the Joyo kanji.

3. The kanji 闇 “darkness”

History of Kanji 闇rThere is another kanji that uses 音 and means darkness. That is the kanji 闇 (“darkness” /yami’/).  Words such as 暗闇 (“darkness” /kurayami/) or the more emphatic version 真っ暗闇 (“total darkness; pitch dark” /makkurayami/) are not unusual words at all, but this kanji was just included among the Joyo kanji in the 2010 revision. In ten style, there were two closed doors with a latch above, 門, and the component 音 inside.  The closed doors hid things. The kanji 門 means a gate, but when used as a bushu mongamae in many kanji, 門 does not mean “a gate” but rather “something hidden; unclear.”

4. The kanji 意 “intent”

History of Kanji 意Now we are going to look at the kanji that are related to something confined within one’s heart, such as feeling, intent or reluctance. They all have the kanji 意, with a heart, 心, at the bottom.

In the ten style of the kanji 意, the top was 音 and the bottom was 心 “heart.” Together they meant what was confined within a heart, “intent.” There is no kun-yomi in Joyo kanji. The on-yomi /i/ is in 意見 (“opinion” /i’ken/), 意味 (“meaning” /i’mi/), 同意する (“to agree” /dooi-suru/), 意地悪な (“spiteful; malicious” /iji’waruna/) and 注意する (“to pay attention to; to warn” /chu’ui-suru/.)

5. The kanji 億 “100 million”

History of Kanji 億There are three kanji in the 2010 revision of the Joyo kanji that use 意 on the right side — 億 “hundred million,” 憶 “to recollect; inside one’s heart” and 臆 “timid; reluctant.” None has a kun-yomi and the on-yomi is all /o’ku./

For the kanji 億, with a bush ninben, two bronze ware style samples are available to us. In them, there was no person or a heart, 心. But something else was there – a circle or a circle with a dot in the middle, below the needle and above a mouth. The circle must have signified that something got confined within and the dot emphasized that it was not empty.* In ten style, it had a person on the left, and a heart was added at the bottom. Together they meant “thought contained inside the heart.” 億 was used to mean “hundred million,” a number so big that it existed only in the mind of a person. 億 is also used in 億劫な (“bothersome; annoying” /okku’una/) to mean reluctance, but in informal communication hiragana is perfectly acceptable.

6. The Kanji 憶 “to recollect; inside one’s heart” and 臆 “timid; reluctant”

History of Kanji 憶With a bushu risshinben “heart” added to 音, we get the kanji 憶. It is used in 記憶 (“memory” /kioku/), 憶測する (“to make a random guess” /okusoku-suru/).

History of Kanji 臆When a bushu nikuduki, 月, “body part,” that was used to mean “bosom; heart,” is added to 音, we get the kanji 臆 “timid; reluctant.” The verb 臆する/oku-su’ru/ means “to be hesitant; to feel timid.”  The use of this kanji in the words 臆病な (“timid” /okubyo’ona/) and 臆面無く (“shamelessly” /okumenna’ku/) are found only in Japanese, according to Shirakawa.

Sometimes what is a precursor to a particular kanji is not agreed upon among kanji scholars. Having laid out all the available ancient writings that I think are relevant to this week’s topic, I now notice that the ten style of 意 and of 億, 憶 and 臆 are different. I am using Shirakawa [2004] as primary reference (for his accounts, and Akai (2010) for ancient writing images.)  But the Kadokawa kanji dictionary lists the ten style of 億 to be the ten style of 意.  Those four kanji are closely related, and at one point in history some kanji were used interchangeably. During the time when the kanji 臆, with a bushu nikuzuki, had been excluded from the Joyo Kanji list (until the 2010 revision), the kanji 憶, with a bushu risshinben, was used instead in some words, just as we are now using the kanji 暗, with a bushu hihen, to make up for the absence of a non-Joyo kanji 諳, with a gonben.

A week ago I thought writing about 音 would be an easy job because the ancient writings themselves tell us a clear story of the difference and similarity to 言. But I bumped into a couple of snags once I started digging a little deeper. Well, that is the fun of sharing with you what I have discovered by writing a blog! Thank you for your interest in reading the Kanji Portraits blog. [11-9-2014]

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