Is kanji construction talked about much in beginner texts?

One thing that’s helped me a lot with learning and retaining vocab since starting Kanji Kentei studies is kanji construction. E.g., knowing that 岩石 is a synonym construction (both kanji have the same meaning), that 着席 is a subject-object construction (the first character acts on the second), etc.

Is this discussed in depth in beginner texts? I’m wondering if this is a piece of advice that’s not much emphasized, or if I just missed the boat early in my studies.

That sounds like nest0r’s Anki decks for word formation principles and morphological compounds.

To answer your question, no, I haven’t seen discussion of this topic in any mainstream materials for foreign language learners of Japanese.

I do think the formation principle could be very helpful for helping to memorize compounds. I always remember あいさつ as being composed of two characters having 扌 plus a phonetic component. I assume it’s an example of synonymous pairs but I don’t know where to look that up. Do you know?

I don’t know of a dictionary that defines these. And from the little I’ve seen, it seems the names for and numbers of these pairings vary from 4 to 6, depending on the source (e.g. this Benesse article lists five possible 漢字構成). I usually just look them up on 漢字辞典オンライン and scan their individual meanings. E.g., doing this for 挨拶 shows that you’re right - the characters are synonyms that both have the meaning せまる.

Some academics in Japan are working on a database of Japanese lexical properties (JLP) that includes word-formation principles data. Here’s an article from 2016. I am looking for the raw data but I haven’t found it yet. Please help, just don’t contact Hodošček because I already emailed him. :sweat_smile:

Separately, the topic “kanji construction” is a bit confusing, since we’re talking about jukugo construction.

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Bojinsha’s Intermediate Kanji Book may talk about this? I vaguely remember it describing compounds made of kanji with similar meanings, compounds where the first character modifies the second, etc. I don’t have the book on hand though, so I could be thinking of a different orange kanji book!

My impression, though, is that jukugo composition is not a common topic for Japanese learner texts. Maybe it’s seen as too academic? The Bojinsha book also presents phonetic compounds and kanji opposite pairs, and those aren’t often emphasized, either.

I don’t remember learning about this really until I took an introductory Chinese course where there was some explanation of the common formations. Suddenly the Verb-Object construction you see in compounds like 帰宅 or 入国 that are the reverse of Japanese grammatical order made a lot more sense knowing the Chinese grammatical roots.

I was wondering about Chinese, so I’m glad you mentioned it.

Here’s the NINJAL Compound Verb Lexicon. There’s a spreadsheet with 2759 records (as of Oct 2018) and it has translations into English.

Agreed - I was fumbling for a decent English translation here. Maybe “kanji compound construction”?

I find it interesting that Japanese retains the word order from Chinese in 2 character compounds, but often falls back to the Japanese word order for longer compounds (立入禁止 vs 禁止進入).

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@Taishi
I see this as being because a lot of 四字熟語 are sourced from Japanese literature and Japanese language directly, where as most shorter compounds (at least those that use 音読み) are sourced from China, or an era when Chinese influence was high. Even when the components of these longer compounds are Chinese derived, they’re built within the Japanese language.

[Unrelated, but one of those ‘wtf Google’ moments: using romaji input for Google IME, I type in ‘onyomi’ (forgetting that I need type ‘nn’ for ん, like always) and get お尿見 as the only suggestion… wtf Google…]