青年 reading confusion

Hi all! I was having some trouble answering the correct reading of 青年 and I just found out why! The correct reading is せいねん, but I’ve answered しょうねん a couple of times in the reviews. しょう is one of the on’yomi readings of 青, so my brain must have thought “yeah! That sounds good, that must work”. Now, I suddenly remember that しょうねん is the reading of 少年, and both vocabs mean “youth”, so I figured out that that was the root of the problem.

Now, I’ll remember this from now on, but I’m really curious why しょうねん is not a valid reading of 青年. I think that I’m not “breaking” a reading rule because I’m using the on’yomi reading of the kanji, and the meaning is the same. So why is not valid? Maybe there is a nuance in the meaning? Is it because 少年 is “masculine”? Is there any context in which しょうねん can be accepted?

Edit: Just to be clear. I’m not just complaining that the reading is wrong because I like to complain. I am aware that vocabs are read in a certain way and have a certain meaning. The similarity between the meaning of both vocabs and the coincidence of the readings made me wonder if there was a deeper linguistic explanation, or if I just had to accept that things are as they are and that’s it. There are examples of words that have two correct versions of reading, sometimes one more frequent than the other or with a different historical origin. This type of discussion is what I was aiming for in my original post, not to complain for free.

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I think it’s important to remember that there’s an actual language behind all this - it’s not just fun symbols in a gamified flashcard system. しょうねん is a word that means a specific thing, and is generally written as 少年. せいねん is a different word which happens to be written as 青年. “青年” is just not how you spell しょうねん.

The “rule” you’re breaking is Section 1, Article 2, Clause (b): “that’s not how that word is written”

Edit: Yes, the meanings are similar, but you just wouldn’t pronounce 青年 as しょうねん. Maybe it could work if you wanted to make a pun or something, but that’s obviously not really what we’re talking about here.

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Well, it’s not that you can mix and match the on’yomi readings in a word in whichever way you like :slight_smile: Each word has its specific reading that you have to remember; that’s why there are vocab in WaniKani in the first place! So, the only valid way to read 青年 is せいねん and the only valid way to read 少年 is しょうねん.

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Think of it this way.

In English you could say young or youthful, but you wouldn’t say youngful, because it’s not how you spell either of those words, despite meaning more or less the same thing ^-^

You will begin to learn which readings are used by learning the words themselves, it’s one of the most frustrating and also most fun things I’ve found about learning the language.

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Because that’s not how the language works? :man_shrugging: It’s no different to how 人口 can’t be read as ひとこう, にんくち, etc.

Words have well-defined readings. You can’t just change them as you please.

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And then there are brain farts.

I read 真実 as じっしん a few times before I had that “DOH!” moment.

You’re rewiring your brain after all. Those moments are important.

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Of course! And maybe you misunderstood me, but I’m actually questioning if there was some kind of language explanation or deeper sense, and not taking the reading just because this flashcard game says so. Many times things are that way in languages and we just accept it… and sometimes not. I was just curious about the coincidence between meanings and the “apparent” sense in しょうねん. Thank you for your answer!

Well, yes! Of course I understand that! But I was also thinking about 毎月, where you can read it as まいつき or まいげつ. And I just thought how strange it was that my bad version of the reading also means youth (but from another kanji). Thank you for your answers!

I’m aware of that :), but the coincidence of meanings made me ask.

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Totally! “DOH!” moments are so meaningful! I think the things we learn that way stick with us for the rest of our lives :rofl:

There’s only a little bit of potential overlap in the mid-teens. A 10-year-old boy is definitely a 少年 and not a 青年. A college graduate is definitely a 青年 and not a 少年. A high school freshman might be called either.

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Thank you for your answer! I didn’t get that difference by reading the context sentences that WaniKani provides. But then I found on Google the difference between 少年漫画 and 青年漫画. As you say, there’s a little bit of overlap, but there’s a clear distinction!

Well, actually… That sort of thing was what I wanted to know. Maybe the reading was valid but it was an insult or pun because 少年 is for boys or something like that. My post was kind of random, but I wanted to know if there was something more to say about this pair of vocabs.

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The kanji with their readings were imported from China, as you probably know, and this happened three times. When the Chinese had changed their readings between these imports, the Japanese would import the new reading and add it to the existing one. That’s why many kanji have more than one on‘yomi reading. I guess the words were also introduced by and by, and they would get whatever reading was fashionable at the time? But I don’t know enough to say this for sure…
(there is an article at Tofugu about these kanji imports that might be interesting to you - sorry can’t search atm).

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I suspect there could be some historical explanation like the one you mention :thinking:, maybe someone knows. Although I do not know much about the subject at the moment, I find it very interesting! And I read the article you mention from Tofugu!

Lots of kanji with せい as a reading also have しょう or じょう as a secondary reading. Take a look at the list of kanji here: https://jisho.org/search/せい%20%23kanji

I don’t know anything about the etymology behind it, but it increases the chance of something like this happening, I suppose.

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Oh! I was aware of some of them but there are a lot, indeed! The similarity between meanings could be just a mere coincidence.

You must mean this one.

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It’s just a factor of similar Chinese readings getting imported to Japanese in a similar fashion over time. The Chinese pronunciations changed over time (as languages do), or the Japanese monks went to a different part of China to do their studying, etc… so generally speaking things changed in consistent ways. If readings were imported as しょう across the board the first time and hundreds of years later as せい the second time, it was still the same Chinese reading getting imported, it’s just that historical circumstances led to it being interpreted differently.

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Is there actually any common word where 青 is read しょう ? On the top of my head I can’t remember any.

群青? If we take “common” to mean “all Japanese people know it” and we take じょう to be just rendaku.

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Right :thinking:. You mean “it was still the same Chinese meaning getting imported”, do you?
Just to add a little about your previous answer, I think it is not taught on WaniKani, but I found that 青少年 means “teen” in Chinese and Japanese. I suppose it covers both age ranges you mentioned, but I’m not sure…