Karakuri Babble is a daily column by the editors of i360.com, usually on topics tangentially related to anime and cosplay.

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languages converge on a certain level of irreducible complexity.

So there was a Dino Comix about English, in particular about the obsolete English words "overmorrow" and "ereyesterday", which mean "day after tomorrow" and "day before yesterday" respectively.

Now, being myself, I have to point out that Japanese has such words. 明後日 and 一昨日. They're great, and it's a nice feature of the language. Agglutinate kanji for meaning, much like German. But, because this is Japanese, the implementation is incredibly annoying.


今, "now", generally read kon or ima. 日, "sun" or "day", usually read hi or nichi. Put them together for 今日, and you have kyou, "today". It's one of the first compounds anyone learns, partly because it's so easy and partly because it introduces the idea of completely unreasonable kanji readings, formed when kanji get substituted into a word for meaning without regard for how they would usually be read.

And if you write it like this 「今日は」 you get konnichiwa, except when it's not. A common greeting.

Moving on:

"Tomorrow" is 明日, composed of 明, for, I don't know, "bright" or "sunrise" maybe, and the aforementioned 日. Needless to say, it's pronounced ashita or asu, which are. . . at best tangentially related to the readings already introduced for 日. It gets worse, of course.

"Day after tomorrow" is a single common word, 明後日, which is nice because that 日 kanji just keeps acquiring more readings. In this case it's read asatte, and you can take the derivation to be something very much like the English phrase, only in reverse (dawn-after-day). At least we keep the "a" phoneme for 明. (Incidentally, the quickest way to enter that by itself in my IME is to spell it myou, because kanji.)

And there's a word for the day after that -- a perfectly common and everyday word -- 明々後日. The ditto mark 々, means, "repeat previous kanji". The wikipedia tells me it should only be used when the reading is the same, but I see no evidence that this rule exists. In this case the reading is shiasatte and you can plainly see that there is no repetition of sound whatsoever. I don't know why it's read that way either -- my dictionary doesn't even list shi as a pronunciation, even under "special cases." Whatever. It's an extra-special case.

There's a word for the day after that, too, but really I give up. I've never heard that one in reality, so I'm going to pretend it doesn't exist. I was planning on also writing about the "yestermorrow" equivalents and so forth, but I've found that just getting this far has seriously taxed my patience. Even the Japanese wikipedia has a certain amount of apologetic "this is totally out of control" explanation on the relevant pages.

In summary: Kanji have only the loosest relation to phonemes, and the only sensible approach as a student is to consider them solely in relation to words. Also, speech first, writing later.

words from chris, 2014-06-02 20:33:09, mountain view

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