Left, right, meaning, reading?

I was just listening to the Tofugu Podcast about On’yomi and Kun’yomi and they mention something about the left side of kanji telling you something about the meaning and the right side about the reading? I don’t quite get what they mean and I didn’t find any info in the accompanying article.

Could someone explain this to me? I understand it’s about compound kanji and I get how the left one will tell you what the word is about but I don’t get what the right side will tell you about the reading means. Maybe someone could give me an example?

Thank youuuu!

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Many kanji contain a radical is this only there to give a clue to pronunciation.

For example:
羊 - よう - sheep
洋 - よう - Western style
Western style has nothing to do with sheep, but the kanji is used as a radical to show pronunciation.

It can get complicated:

養 - よう - foster . The sheep radical is stacked on top, but still gives the pronunciation for this word.

詳 - しょう - detailed. The sheep radical gives the pronunciation, but it’s an older or rarely used pronunciation


Just to be clear, it’s not always the left and right sides. They were generalizing. It’s a very common pattern, but there are others as well.

花 - upper part meaning, lower part reading
忠 - lower part meaning, upper part reading
功 - left side reading, right side meaning
症 - overhanging part meaning, underneath part reading
衛 - outer parts meaning, inner part reading
褒 - top and bottom parts meaning, inner part reading (if you can’t tell, 保 is getting sandwiched by 衣)

This just reflects the many ways that radicals can be used, though, basically. This isn’t an exhaustive list.


Thanks! I (kinda) get it :smiley:

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If you’re still not there 100%, it might help to think about how the ancient Chinese were developing the kanji. They had a spoken language in the first place. And you start with some basic kanji. As you go, you inevitably run into the situation where you don’t want to make a totally unique shape for every concept in existence. But you can use a shorthand.

These kanji are basically the Chinese way of saying “it’s the thing related to X that sounds like Y.”

Oh, flower… That’s the thing related to grass that sounds like 化. Boom, 花. The readings weren’t arbitrarily chosen, the kanji reflect what the spoken language was like.


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