白人 uses on'yomi, but still has the same meaning as the kanji?


#1

Hey there,

so I’ve come across the infamous 白人 vocabulary and it really confuses me.
I’ve been under the assumption that the on’yomi that come from chinese are mostly used for comosites to make japanese words and don’t really line up with the meaning of the kanji and the kun’yomi is the original japanese word that lines up with the meaning of the kanji.
But this vocabulary uses the on’yomi and it still lines up perfectly with the meaning. If you know the meaning of 白 and 人 you know this composite. How can that be? はく and じん aren’t the original japanese words as far as I can tell that would be しろ and ひと.
What am I missing here? D:

Pp


#2

I could answer this, but @Leebo would do a far, far, better job. It’s a miracle I’ve beaten him to a post :joy:.


#3

Not true. There are instances of jukugo in which the meaning is unrelated to the kanji, but mostly there is a relation (in many cases, quite literally, such as 白人).

A quick look at the vocab from other levels will give you an idea.

As a matter of fact, there are jukugo on level 2 which you´ve already learned, such as 女子, 女王, 王女 and 火山, that exemplify this. 白人 is no different from these.


#4

白人 is a Chinese word as well as Japanese one, and it means the same thing.

The thing to understand is there’s a difference between compound kanji (two or more kanji put together to make a word) and compound words (two or more words put together to make a word). In English, “white person” is two words, but that’s not so in Chinese or Japanese: it’s one word.

When we have a compound kanji we normally use on’yomi (e.g. 白人 - はくじん - white person) and when we have a compound word, we normally use kun’yomi (e.g. 白黒 - しろくろ - black and white).


#5

Meaning that the original chinese reading was taken over and now means the same in japanese like a synonym? Are all on’yomi synonyms to the kun’yomi?

Nah I haven’t, yet, I just reached level 3 an hour ago or so and haven’t done a lot of vocabulary lessons from level 2 :3

Yeah, I get that, what confuses me are the words itself. Without the kanji. Japanese had words before they adopted the kanji I presume. To me this example tells me that they took over the original chinese meaning as a synonym.
I mean if はく and じん were originally from chinese, how is はくじん a japanese word that also aligns with the meaning of the kanji?


#6

I wouldn’t know much about etymology, there are others who might be able to give you a more complete and correct explanation.

However, don’t worry too much about about it now, as it will soon become clear as you start learning the vocab.

For example: 火山 (火 ka fire + 山 san mountain) > fire mountain > volcano (kazan).


#7

I don’t exactly understand what’s confusing you - are you saying that you expected kanji+kanji words to be pronounced with the kun’yomi (so, ‘shirohito’ in this case) because the separate kanji are words themselves in Japanese?

That’s not the case in Japanese; the on’yomi are possibly used more often than the kun’yomi in Japanese, and are just as functional. They’re not always synonyms of native Japanese words either, but rather the only word(s) for a concept. (see the word 本 =(ほん) for ‘book’; that’s the kanji’s on’yomi. If you use the kun’yomi pronunciation, you will be using an entirely different word.)


#8

You’re probably thinking of ateji, or phonetic kanji. Ateji are kanji that are used only for their reading and not their meaning. The classic example is 寿司 which is read as “sushi” although it has nothing to do with lifespan or director.

But the onyomi readings are usually not used this way. In other words, ateji is rather the exception than the rule. Which reading (on or kun) is used for a particular kanji in a word has no discernible rule (or if there are indeed rules, too many exceptions). You just have to memorize them case by case.


#9

So, they just took over the chinese reading and made it a japanese word? Then what was the word book before they adopted the kanji?

I get that. I’m just confused because the on’yomi is originally chinese, but they make up japanese words or even are japanese words sometimes it seems. The only logical explanation to me is that the on’yomi became part of the japanese vocabulary sometimes even replacing the original word they had.


#10

Yup, pretty much. Of course, this is not extraordinary at all. English is also full of words absorbed from Greek and Latin, not to mention French, German, Chinese, Dutch, etc. that we use every day without even knowing that they come from those languages.


#11

Yeah, historically Japan started getting words from Chinese in the late Kōfun period (5th-6th century AD). The first Europeans didn’t set foot in Japan until the 16th century, so Japanese would have been incorporating Chinese words long before they even knew what white people were. It’s very likely that Japanese people’s first experience of white people was through stories told to them by Chinese people.

History aside, though, often when you’re talking about what kind of person someone is, it’s a single word with a compound kanji (there are some exceptions that are compound words, like 恋人 - こいびと - lover, or 村人 - むらびと - villager, but they’re not that common). You’re talking about a person with a specific attribute, and that attribute is just folded into being part of the word. It’s kind of like how ‘fireman’ is one word in English, but admittedly that example glosses over what I already said about the difference between compound words and compound kanji.

Incidentally, when you have compound kanji ending in 人, if the ‘type’ you’re talking about is a permanent or not easily changeable state, then 人 is normally read as じん, and if it’s a temporary or easily changeable state (including but not limited to occupations), then it’s normally read as にん. I think a lot of people have trouble remembering when to use which one.


#12

From Wikipedia:

On’yomi primarily occur in multi-kanji compound words (熟語 jukugo) words, which are many of which are the result of the adoption, along with the kanji themselves, of Chinese words for concepts that either did not exist in Japanese or could not be articulated as elegantly using native words. This borrowing process is often compared to the English borrowings from Latin, Greek, and Norman French, since Chinese-borrowed terms are often more specialized, or considered to sound more erudite or formal, than their native counterparts (occupying a higher linguistic register).

This is also interesting.


#13

Okay, I think I get it now. Thank you very much for your answeres! :slight_smile:

And happy birthday @rodrigowaick :stuck_out_tongue:


#14

Yep. But you have to understand, that in the case of this 人 kanji, にん and じん carry the sense of meaning of ‘person’ as much as ひと. In Japanese. It’s just that in kanji-compounds, you’ll almost never see that kanji being read as ひと. What used to be Chinese (according to the Japanese, which means that the on’yomi sometimes sounds very very different than what the original Chinese pronunciation sounded like), is now purely a Japanese thing.

The Japanese also sometimes create their own jukugo compounds … using on’yomi. So Chinese might not even have certain words that use the ‘Chinese reading’ that the Japanese have made up; I think the word for ‘mobile phone’ is one of those (or, in other cases, the Chinese may have lifted that word from Japanese and Chinified them. Talk about Kan(ji)ception …).

(And considering how the Japanese had no written language before they adopted the Chinese characters, I doubt they had a native word for ‘book’ at all.)


#15

You can also note that the same happens currently with English words, there are tons of them in Japanese, most are Japanified to a degree that English speakers have no idea what it is supposed to mean (similarly, the “Chinese” readings are not related to actual Chinese anymore, if ever), and some English sounding words mean something different in Japanese.


#16

I have no idea why be was confused, so I’m not sure I could have helped.


#17

Ainu indigenous peoples have been described as very light, even white skinned. European/Caucasians not the only melanin-challenged groups.


#18

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