Kanji with Same Radical = Same On'yomi Reading Cases (Apparently Semantic-Phonetic Composition)


Okay I had no idea how to describe this phenomenon, so I’m just gonna do it here because the title is an absolute spaghetti mess.

So I noticed (sometimes in the description, sometimes by myself), that kanji with certain radicals have the same on’yomi reading every single time.

For example, I found that all kanji with the radical squid have the reading of けん. https://www.wanikani.com/radicals/squid

According to some descriptions, all kanji with the radical lifeguard have the reading of こう. https://www.wanikani.com/radicals/lifeguard

Obviously my only examples are from the WaniKani set of kanji, and I sincerely hope that all other kanji that have this fall in the same boat, but do you all know any other examples? Getting a list of this would make it very easy to learn a large set of readings.


It’s called Semantic-Phonetic Composition. :slightly_smiling_face:

But very well done to recognise that. WaniKani does not address it in the slightest - only one I’ve noticed is a “hint” in the reading mnemonic for tribute.


I believe that’s one of the main techniques that Heisig’s 2 uses for teaching readings. It doesn’t work all the time, of course. If I remember correctly, radicals are more likely to be used phonetically when they’re on the right side of the kanji.


I’ve also noticed this for a few radicals.


The kouichi one is in the hint section of the reading page a few times actually, but it’s not really consistent. If you go to the radical page, you will find that it is only valid for kanji where the construction radical is a separate floating part of the kanji.


I know all (or nearly all, but I don’t know exceptions) kanji with the “top hat” radical or whatever it’s called nowadays have the on’yomi そ. If you don’t know what radical I’m talking about, it’s the one on the right of 祖 and 組. That and an additional guess are what allowed me to read 齟齬 when I came across it without ever seeing either kanji (they’re probably only used on this word anyway).


I suspected this to be some sort of a phenomenon when I got to “research 究” on level 8 and reading was the same as for number 9. Thank you for confirming that.


I don’t know much about this phenomenon, but I believe/think there is a script for this:

Just in case you weren’t aware of it.
Essentially, in my understanding, when learning/reviewing a kanji, this script displays a number of kanji based on the same phonetic components and lists whether the reading is similar to/the same as the kanji you’re currently viewing.


This is so odd I just noticed this a few days ago with 新 and 親 both having しん as a onyomi reading. I didn’t realize that there was a pattern of this just thought that it was a weird coincidence.


I don’t know if that particular example has anything to do with that, though. Usually on kanji like these two the phonetic component goes on the right side, while the component on the left hints at the meaning. Could just be an exception, though, I’m no linguist :man_shrugging:


It could be a pattern. Only two other kanji use that left-side component as-is: 薪, which also has the on’yomi しん, and 噺, which is a Japanese-invented kanji and so has no on’yomi at all.

辛 (which forms part of the left side component) also has the on’yomi しん, but other kanji which use it as a radical tend not to, sooo… that one’s probably a coincidence.


I made a video about kanji composition, and of course this is one of the categories covered.


In that case, there’s probably something there :thinking:

Truth is, coincidence or not, it ends up being helpful.


What a great introduction to the concepts!


I was just mentioning it as a example to OPs original observation of Kanji’s that share the same radicals also sharing an onyomi reading.


My kanji composition dictionary has 新 as being composed of 辛 + 木 + 斤 and 親 as being composed of 辛 + 木 + 見.

斤 is the semantic component for 新 and 見 is the semantic component for 親.


When the radical (部首, the actual radical used for kanji indexing, not WK radical) is on the left side it is called 編 (へん).

The thing is 編 is the most common part to become the kanji radical, and usually the radical is meaning associated, so indeed [left = meaning; right = reading] is the most common pattern for 形声 kanji, but it is by no means exclusive.

As @Leebo pointed, the radical for 新 and 親 are their right parts. Since this 辛 + 木 combination is not very common it is a bit hard to say the しん is because of that, but there are several kanji that clearly have the reading part on the left.

功 攻 項
効 效
剣 験 (appearing on both sides)

The Japanese wikipedia for 形声 formation has examples for several arrangements (left, right, top, inside, etc)


There is a very clear hint as soon as level 2, in the new version of 丁: “So whenever you see the street radical, know that Mrs. Chou is probably going to show up!”


Watched this the other week, and even though I already got the gist of phono-semantic composition, I still felt like the video had good value.
This point in the video (linked below) stood out in particular because upon learning of phono-semantic composition for the first time I started to dismiss the semantic value of the phonetic radicals – or graphemes if you prefer – as likely coincidental. But, it was reassuring to learn that the phonetic portion can still contribute to semantic meaning of the kanji.


Isn’t it great when you notice something and then go on the hunt to see if your suspicions are right? I love it! :grin::+1:t5:

Just to add on, a few weeks ago I made 2 PDF files with some of the information from the Phonetic Components in Japanese Characters thesis paper. I hope they can help some of you with your Kanji study.

File #1

File #2