Why do radicals sometimes appear differently in kanji? Why aren't those just... different radicals?

For instance, I just unlocked the “north” kanji (北) and it says it uses the “fingers” radical (扌), but it is slightly altered. So why isn’t this altered version considered a different radical? Are there just too many of these exceptions that aren’t used often enough to warrant being their own radicals? It doesn’t bother me or anything, I’m just curious.


If something is close enough visually that they can get away with a word you already learned, there’s no pressure to make it a separate radical. They’re not teaching linguistically accurate breakdowns of the kanji, so all that matters if you can remember the mnemonic.

The “true” original composition of 北 is that it’s a picture of two people with their backs to each other, with the original meaning of “back.” The words for back and north sounded similar enough in ancient Chinese that the shape was borrowed for the north meaning. Later they made a whole new kanji to mean back, combining the original shape with 肉, to make 背. (The 肉 shape is often simplified to 月 in body part kanji)


Seven years! Hello & welcome back :wave:


Haha, thank you :slight_smile: I got to level 7 previously, but it was so long ago that I forgot everything (except for all the stuff I learned way back in highschool, somehow!) so I restarted. Plan to really stick with it this time!


Language is really fascinating! Thanks for the history behind it. I guess as a follow-up: is there a reason to know radicals other than stroke order?

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Here on WaniKani they’re used more as mnemonic components to help you remember the kanji. It’s also useful to be able to distinguish them so that you can use search-by-radical in Jisho and other dictionaries.


In addition to what Belthazar said, they can also help you guess the pronunciation of a word. Often more complex kanji will have one part that indicates a category of meaning and another part that’s solely or mostly there to indicate sound (often the part on the right, if there are two radicals side-by-side). It’s not foolproof—it doesn’t necessarily apply to every kanji, and some sounds have changed over time so the “guide” is no longer correct. If you’re interested in learning more of these associations, it’s not perfect, but you might consider checking out the following userscript: https://community.wanikani.com/t/userscript-keisei-%E5%BD%A2%E5%A3%B0-semantic-phonetic-composition/21479 . You could probably find some more resources if you look around.


Ur a wizard


If a passion for language learning and a spooky ability to pull up grammatical and linguistic information seemingly instantly make him a wizard then… yes… he’s a wizard.


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