Why not emphasize phonosemantics?

I read somewhere that over 85% of Japanese Kanji were phonosemantic compounds (形聲), as opposed to pictograms (象形) or even ideograms (會意). That is, a part of each character usually gives you the sound to pronounce, and another the meaning.

That surprised me and pulled me back from building false, “folk” etymologies as every beginner in Kanji is fond of doing. Now I run the Keisei 形声 Semantic-Phonetic Composition Script, which is great, and every new lesson is accompanied by a given character’s composition, when available.

Problem is: given time, I stopped focusing on WaniKani’s use of mnemonics (which work sort of like folk etymologies), realizing, for instance, that most characters built using “丁” sound alike, as do most characters built from 交 and so on. It proved to be a powerful tool not only to learn new readings but to recall readings and even guess readings of characters I haven’t learned yet.

So my question is: why not pair visual mnemonics with some phono semantic reading? WaniKani’s mnemonics are mighty powerful, and helped me through the psychological barrier that kept me from learning the Kanji. But phonetics are very helpful too.

Is it that we’re expected to realize compositions by ourselves as we advance towards level 60? Or is the concept of phono semantics too unsexy?


They do often indicate in the mnemonic if there is a radical that helps with the reading nearly 100% of the time. They very frequently say that words containing 工 are pronounced こう and words with 丁 are ちょう.

I think that for the other components, the reason they don’t bring this up is because there are a lot more exceptions, so they want people to focus on the mnemonics.


This topic was automatically closed 365 days after the last reply. New replies are no longer allowed.