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Semantics in Japanese Kanji 富士山 登山 [tozan] climbing 火山 [kazan] volcano Kanji Around 50 000 kanji 5th century from China 3000 in daily usage 200 kanji account 50 % 1000 kanji 90 % 2000 kanji 99% Varying pronunciations due to historical reasons: on-yomi (chinese reading)

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Semantics in Japanese Kanji

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semantics in japanese kanji
Semantics in Japanese Kanji








  • Around 50 000 kanji
          • 5th century from China
  • 3000 in daily usage
          • 200 kanji account 50 %
          • 1000 kanji 90 %
          • 2000 kanji 99%
      • Varying pronunciations due to historical reasons:
        • on-yomi (chinese reading)
        • kun-yomi (japanese reading)
o kuda sa shita shimo kun ka ge on under lower down inner inferior latter half
下 shita/shimo =under, down, below

下 moto = under

…下 ...ka = under..., below...

(-> 影響下 = under the influence)

下りる oriru = descend, get down

下ろす orosu = take/put down

下さい Kudasai = give to me, grant to me

下さる kudasaru = give, grant, bestow

下がる sagaru = hang down(vi), come down

下げる sageru = hang(vt), lower, move back

下町 shitamachi = downtown (+town)

下着 shitagi = underwear (+wear)

靴下 kutsushita = socks (shoe+)

下院 kain = Lower House (+House)

下記 kaki = below-mentioned (+describe)

下部 kabu = lower part (+part)

下落 geraku = fall, degradation (+fall)

下品 gehin = vulgar, unrefined (+quality)

下半期 shitahanki = latter half year


下旬 gejun = last ten days (+ tendays)

*下手 heta = unskillful, poor at (+hand)

下  o-, kuda-, sa-, shita, shimo (kun) ka, ge (on)= under, lower, down, inner, inferior, latter half
two sets of syllabary characters
Hiragana ひらがな

Transformed originally from Kanji in the 9thcentury


to represent readings of Kanji

to teach new Kanji

to represent grammatical features (particles, auxiliary verbs and the inflections of words)

Katakana カタカナ

Correspondent to hiragana (46 moras)


in foreign names

in loan words

in onomatopoemic words

Two sets of syllabary characters












topic particle



[ka-i-te a-ru]

is written


naming kanji slower than hiragana feldman turvey 1980
Naming Kanji slower than HiraganaFeldman & Turvey (1980)
  • Color words usually are written in Kanji

 frequency effect predicts that Kanji naming faster

















Kana was named faster

Kanji -> lexicon -> phonology?

saito 1981 abstract
Saito (1981)- abstract -
  • Reading-out task:
          • Kana words were read out faster than Kanji words
  • Silent reading:
          • Kanji were judged faster than Kana.
kanji words easier to identify than katakana words yamada mitarai yoshida 1991
Kanji words easier to identify than Katakana words(Yamada, Mitarai & Yoshida, 1991)






1-4 characters








Tachistoscopic study


Kanji words and their constituent characters were identified faster than katakana words of same lenght

  • The effect of script type disappeared in non-word condition
  • Not complexity but inferability

Whole word identification Constituent word identification

vocal inference only in kana kimura 1984
Vocal inference only in KanaKimura (1984)

Synonymity judgement of pairs of words in

  • Kanji
  • Hiragana,

with or without concurrent articulation (nro 1-5)

ichi, ni, san, yon, go, ichi, ni, san, yon, go, ichi, ni, san, yon, go, ...

  • CRITICS (Leong & Tamaoka, 1995)
  • Unfamiliarity of seeing words in Hiragana
  • Homonyms in Hiragana (7 of 30 pairs)
    • esim. kyoukai =church, association or border

結果 ー 実験

けっか ー じっけん

semantics and phonological access yamada 1998
Semantics and phonological access Yamada (1998)

かわ -> kawa

川 -> kawa

かわ ->river

川 -> river

1) Naming

faster than

2) Translation

faster than

reading kanji in lexical and semantic level semantics ortography and phonology morita tamaoka
Reading Kanji in lexical and semantic level:semantics, ortography and phonology(Morita & Tamaoka)

1) Lexical decision task

"To respond as quickly and as accurately as possible deciding if the item was correct japanese two-kanji compound word

2) Proofreading:

" to decide as accurately as possible if the words in the sentence were correct"

in phonology: "if you find nonword in the sentence please press the button as soon as possible"

  • Semantic decision at the sentence level

"To read by meaning and decide whether the words in the sentence were correct/misspelling (in phonology)"

ortography of kanji morita and tamaoka 2001
Ortography of Kanji:Morita and Tamaoka (2001)
  • 予約booking, reservation
  • 矛約 orthographically similar nonword
  • 吐約 orthographically dissimilar nonword
semantics of kanji morita and tamaoka 2001
Semantics of Kanji:Morita and Tamaoka (2001)
  • 残額[zan-gaku] = The money left over (real word)
  • 余額semantically similar nonword (余~残= left over)
  • 乱額semantically dissimilar nonword (乱 = disorder)
phonology of kanji morita and tamaoka 2002
Phonology of Kanji:Morita and Tamaoka (2002)
  • 規則[kisoku] = rule regulation (real word)
  • 基則pseudo-homophone (nonword)
  • 想則[sou-soku] phonetically dissimilar (nonword)
reaction times comparison of 3 studies
Reaction times:Comparison of 3 studies

Experiment 1: Lexical decision

Experiment 2: Proofreading

Experiment 3: Semantic decision

error rates comparison of 3 studies
Error rates (%)Comparison of 3 studies

Experiment 1: Lexical decision

Experiment 2: Proofreading

Experiment 3: Semantic decision

not only semantics
Not only semantics
  • Leong & Tamaoka (1995)

” kanji are not always accessed directly through the visual or lexical route

      • difficult/rare kanji may be processed via phonetic recoding
      • chlidren and less skilled readers
        • more influence of concurrent articulation
another story
Another story
  • Parallel processing of semantics and phonology
  • For example:

Phonologically mediated access to meaning for Kanji: Is a rows still a rose in Japanese Kanji?  

(Wydell, Patterson and Humphreys, 1993)

parafoveal view
Parafoveal view

What can be extracted from paravovea in natural reading?

  • Word length information (Rayner, Fischer, & Pollatsek, 1998)
  • Orthographic features (Beauvillain & Doré, 1998)
  • Frequency (Kennedy, 1998; 2000; Hyönä & Bertram, 2004)
  • Phonology
  • Semantics

Text features Readers skills

Script type

semantics and parafoveal view in japanese
Semantics and parafoveal view in Japanese
  • The role of semantics in reading Kanji
    • Meaning entities
  • High information density
    • Semantic influence from parafoveal kanji?
boundary technique
Boundary technique

赤になった。 red

1) そしてその花は赤になった。red

2) そしてその花は血になった。blood

3) そしてその花は歩になった。walk

4) そしてその花は気になった。spirit

Then that flower became red.

赤になった。 red

赤になった。 red

赤になった。 red

important features
Important features
  • Natural reading condition
  • Frequency (word/character?)
  • Complexity
  • Number of strokes
  • Number of constituents
  • Familiarity and frequency
  • Age of Acquisition
  • Imageability
  • Reader skills
  • Feldman, L.B. & Turvey, M.T. (1980). Words written in kana are named faster than the same words written in kanji. Language and Speed 23, 141-147 (abstract only)
  • Flores d'Arcais, G. B. & Saito, H. (1993). Lexical decomposition of complex Kanji characters in Japanese readers. Psychological Research, 55, 52-63.
  • Flores d'Arcais, G. B., Saito, H., & Kawakami, M. (1995). Phonological and semantic activation in reading kanji characters. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition, 21, 34-42.
  • Kess, J. F. & Miyamoto, T. (1997). Accessing the japanese mental dictionary through the japanese writing system. ???
  • Kimura, Y. (1984). Concurrent vocal interference: Its effect on kana and kanji, Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 36 A, 117-131.
  • Leong, C. K. & Tamaoka, K. (1995). Use of phonological information in processingkanji and katakana by skilled and less skilled Japanese readers. Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 7, 377-393.
  • Saito, H. (1981). Japanese Journal of Psychology, 52, 266-273, in japanese (abstract only).
  • Yamada (1998). The time course of semantic and phonological access in naming kanji and kana words. Reading and Writing: an Interdisciplinary journal, 10, 425-437.
  • Yamada, J. Japanese kanji as a semantically based orthography. Psychological reports, 84, 637-642)