I don't think they should be called "radicals"

Then I’m confused, you already speak japanese then?

If I already spoke Japanese, would I be level 8?

It means “someone who is learning Japanese whose native language is something else.”


You’ll have to clarify what definition you’re using if you want to make an argument by definition.


Then I don’t know why radicals not being the official ones would confuse you…
That’s why you saying you had japanese as a second language confused me, I thought you spoke japanese, therefore knew about official radicals and that made you be confused when it came to the WK ones. Obviously it doesn’t make sense for a japanese speaker to be here

“concerning the most basic and important parts of something”

Ask the endless people who get confused about it…

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Charitably, I’m going to assume that you honestly don’t understand. It’s simple. I’m not confused. However, there is a Chinese person on another thread who is. This suggestion came out of that thread. I knew better from the beginning, so I understood what I was getting, but many don’t.


That’s a stretch, given that that definition is for the term “radical” as an adjective, and the example sentences make it pretty clear that it’s being used in the sense of “thorough and complete” (the second half of the definition that you omitted), as in “radical change” or “radical difference.” It’s not a definition that’s particularly relevant to the way the term is used to talk about the Chinese writing system.

Unfortunately, the Oxford Learner’s Dictionary you linked has a pretty terrible definition of the noun “radical” that doesn’t include the relevant sense at all. Merriam-Webster’s definition is available online and is quite a bit more thorough. The noun equivalent of what you’re citing is “a root part, a basic principle”… which is not too unfair, I suppose. More specifically, MW’s definition 2a refers to a “radical” or “root” in a linguistic sense; see “root” 6a: “the simple element inferred as the basis from which a word is derived by phonetic change or by extension.” That’s where the term “radical” as used in talking about Chinese writing came from, as far as I understand.

Trouble is… that’s not actually what a 部首 is at all. See Wikipedia’s English explanation. Per Wikipedia, the original term basically means “section header,” which is a pretty good way of explaining what 部首 in the traditional sense actually do. They don’t necessarily have anything to do with the fundamental elements or basic principles of any kanji (sometimes they do, but often they don’t); they exist just because Chinese scribes decided to pick a piece of every character they knew about more or less arbitrarily as a way of organizing their first structured dictionaries.

The term “radical” as a translation of 部首 really only came about, apparently, because Western linguists had no idea what they were looking at when they started learning Chinese, and assumed that 腕 is etymologically derived from 月 in the same way that “personification” is derived from “person,” or whatever. It’s a terrible translation. Wikipedia suggests that some people prefer the term “classifier,” which is actually a better translation, but not very widely-used. So, unfortunately, we’re pretty stuck with “radical” as a translation of 部首.

But it just muddies things even further when well-intentioned learning sites start using “radical” to refer to all the constituent bits that make up a kanji. And, unfortunately, maybe part of why they do it is because the word “radical” can have that connotation in English; I don’t know. But that’s certainly not what a 部首 is. A 部首 is just an index in a dictionary; it makes no sense for a kanji to have more than one 部首. If “radical” is supposed to just mean 部首, then it makes no sense for a kanji to have more than one “radical” either.

So… yes, I guess you could defend the term “radical” to refer collectively to the constituent elements of a kanji by relying on the English definition of the term, and leaving aside the fact that plenty of Western writing uses “radical” to refer to the kanji’s 部首 instead. Honestly, I’d be mostly okay with that, since “radical” is such a mess of a term anyway. I do kind of wish WK wouldn’t give 部首 as the Japanese term for their library of “radicals,” though. They might be "radicals’ in some defensible sense, but they’re certainly not 部首.

(I will give credit to Tofugu for having a pretty good guide to how to understand and use kanji radicals in the traditional sense. They just consciously reuse the same term to mean something different for WK purposes.)


Okay, I just learned something, that was really interesting, thanks.


I’m one of those people who prefer to refer to them as components, too, and when I unlock a new “radical” which has a corresponding Kangxi radical or which has a fairly well-established etymology, I will add it as a synonym.

That being said, I think that calling them anything but radicals might make it a lot more difficult for people to discover WaniKani. People who are new to kanji and have heard that there is a method for learning them that revolves around radicals are going to type things like “learn kanji radicals”, and if WaniKani - and people mentioning WaniKani in articles - stop using that word, they’ might drop waaay down in the search rankings.

It might be better if they simply keep using the same terminology, but add a little infobox to the radical pages. There they can add some info about the correpsonding Kangxi radicals(s) if there are any, or a little not that there isn’t one if there isn’t.

Also, while this might be a bit of a stretch, you could argue that these radicals meet the condition of being graphical components used to look up characters in dictionaries. It just so happens that the “dictionary” here is WaniKani’s vocabulary list.


In Heisig’s remembering the Kanji he calls them primitive elements.

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That’s… not a bad point. I’d never thought to do it, but I guess one thing you could do if you see an unknown kanji containing a 月 component, you could just type “moon” in WaniKani’s search and look for it. I’m not sure what your success rate with that strategy would be, since WK is a bit haphazard about what “radicals” in includes in what kanji sometimes, but it’s at least a reasonable start.

The funny thing is, we have a lot more ways of indexing kanji now than those Chinese scribes who came up with the original 部首 did, especially in Japanese. Even Japanese paper dictionaries now make it pretty easy to look up kanji phonetically, as long as you know the reading; the original Chinese dictionaries just didn’t have a great way of organizing their characters that way. And, of course, modern software gives us many ways of searching a database of words, like handwriting recognition or the SKIP method or whatever. So there are lots of properties of a kanji that could be considered a “classifier” in that sense, I guess.

Really, though, however one might parse definitions out, what’s important is being able to communicate with other people. The way WK and lots of other kanji learning resources use the term “radical” is great for communicating with other English-speaking learners of Japanese, but not so great for communicating with actual Japanese people. I don’t communicate with actual Japanese people enough to have a great sense of how important that disparity is, myself.

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You can go to the page for the 月 radical and pick a list of kanji that includes it … but, yeah, it’s not the best method.

As a side note, 月 is an interesting example, because in a lot of kanji, something that looks like ⽉ could really be ⺼ (meat), or ⾈ (ship), or even 丹 (cinnabar).

In my (admittedly rather limited) experience, Japanese people tend to describe kanji components by example. For example, to describe 阝, they might say things like “the left side of いん; いん of 病院”, rather than calling it … (checks Wikipedia) … 阜偏.

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I have no skin in the game here- what the term is or isn’t… That said, I get the argument that “radical” isn’t the best way to describe the components of kanji, BUT at the same time it is such a standard term for English learners that I don’t necessarily see the benefit of alternate terminology unless a majority of widely used kanji resources followed suit. And for that, I don’t see WK leading the charge.

For better or for worse, sometimes we’re just stuck with the words or terms that people from times before decided upon (but that’s a part of the murky history of language), unless there is a widespread push for change- like Genki would need to change their wording… :upside_down_face:

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Yeah, I’m more thinking of WK’s decisions about when to fuse two pieces into a new bigger piece. Like, if I happened to not recognize 義 for some reason and wanted to find it on WK, I’d probably try searching for “sheep” or “ego,” but neither of those would actually help because 義 is actually its own “radical” in the WK sense.

…What even is the “official” 部首 for 義? Apparently, it’s 羊. Another interesting example… WK doesn’t even use 羊 as a “radical” for a bunch of kanji that the dictionaries probably do classify under 羊の部首. WK prefers to describe that shape as “king” plus “horns” most of the time, for some reason.

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… which is quite a shame, because using 羊 makes perfect sense for mnemonics (I sacrifice sheep because I am righteous, and it isn’t even my real brother; it’s just my in-law), and is more true to the kanji’s etymology (semantic 羊, because you sacrifice sheep, and phonetic 我 because … because a bunch of Chinese happened a long time ago).

On the flipside, that kanji is also a pain to look up using kangxi radicals. According to Jisho.org, they are: 一 亅 并 手 戈 王 羊

Similarly with anything that includes the 其 component (“crab radical”), which becomes: 一 ハ 甘

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Well, Jisho is actually nice in categorizing all of those as “parts,” not radicals. It still identifies the “radical” as 羊 and nothing else. The other “parts” are more just for indexing in Jisho itself; I doubt they’re reflected in exactly that way in any other dictionary.

Just going by WK’s collection, every kanji that contains 其 as a component also has another, much more common, component. The scribes who compiled this list originally probably observed that, and didn’t choose to create a whole section just for the fairly complex component 其 when they had simpler ways to categorize them. (Unlike Jisho, they didn’t have the option of just referencing it from both components, because paper was expensive.)

Certainly, I won’t fault early lexicographers for not having the luxuries we have today, but it doesn’t really change the fact that looking up kanji with a 其 component is kind of a pain. If I see an uncommon kanji like 麒, it would be nice to be able to find it by just putting 鹿 and 其 together.

(Speaking of which, I will henceforth remember that a the kanji 麒 by imagining somebody going “Hey, look at 其の鹿 (that deer)!”, only for me to turn around and find that it was some sort of weird half-deer, half-crab. I really need to lay off the Kirin.)

I imagine “crabideer” is free…

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Wow, apparently 鹿 was common enough to qualify as a 部首? I’ll take your word for it, ancient Chinese scribes…

(My New Nelson dictionary notes that 鹿 can be written as a top left enclosure, so it may have been chosen as a 部首 for that reason. I don’t think any of the kanji in the New Nelson listed under that 部首 use it in the enclosure form, though. Maybe it made more sense in ancient Chinese.)

I’ve discovered that many things that do not make sense in Japanese made sense in Chinese, at least at one time. It’s an unfortunate fact, but a fact nonetheless. The worst thing is, I don’t think the Japanese realize this for the most part.

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