Update to phonetic series, and Kansai-ben

This is a dummy post, just to let feed readers know that the post on phonetic components was significantly updated, with more data, more tables, and (finally) a couple graphs.

If you’re even remotely interested in Kansai-ben (the Western dialect of Ōsaka and Kyōto, once the standard), I suppose you must already know of a site with a name like kansaiben.com. I don’t know how I didn’t notice it all this time. What a great compilation! Not just there are tons of examples and contrasts, but you can even play audio conveniently just by hovering the mouse cursor. The “other resources” section pointed me to Jarinko Chie (1981), oldschool anime entirely in Kansai-ben and currently available on youtube.

Speaking of Kansai-ben, I love how Afrirampo changes from -sanai to -sarehen when they’re into it:

Testing the predictive power of phonetic components in Japanese kanji

Most Chinese characters have a phonetic component—a hint that suggests their pronounciations. For example, 半 bàn “half” appears inside 伴 “companion” because the latter is also pronounced bàn; and further, it also suggests the approximate pronounciation of 判 pàn “judge”, 叛 pàn “rebel”, and 胖 pàng “fat”. Beginning readers often don’t notice this feature, but awareness of phonetic hints grows with proficiency. The rate of characters with a phonetic component reaches up to 90% – though that’s 90% of all characters, not 90% of what you’d stumble in actual use; nonphonetic characters (such as 木 or 人) are disproportionately more frequent.

However, this system was always imprecise, and grew ever looser as the spoken language changed and the characters were simplified in various ways. In many cases, it’s now unclear to what degree a component was originally added as a phonetic hint, a semantic mnemonic, both, or neither. For example, it’s conceivable that whoever first built the character for 判 “judge” decided to use 半 not just for its sound, but also because they thought “cutting 刂 in equal halves 半” makes sense as a mnemonic for “judging”.

When the characters are used to represent Japanese, the phonetic hints only work with Sino-Japanese readings, i.e. the on-yomi (…that’s kind of why they’re called on-yomi, “sound readings”). Moreover, even for on-yomi, the Japanese readings grew to be more imprecise than even Chinese. I wanted to try to measure their predictive power; this post report the results of a simple but quantitative experiment (for a quick summary, skip to results!).

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