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I am trying to understand whether the ruby text in ancient scripture is essential to the meaning of a verse, or if the scripture can be understood without it. For instance, can this verse:

with ruby text

be understood equally well without the ruby text, like this:

enter image description here

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The ruby text adds nothing to that sentence for me. I don't know whether there are examples of sentences where the ruby text is important, but I sort of can't imagine so. Still, I'm not an expert on anything here, so I'll just leave this as a comment. – Billy Sep 29 '12 at 22:26
No, it's not essential. – oldergod Sep 30 '12 at 1:34
Is ruby text another word for furigana? – Ataraxia Sep 30 '12 at 2:21
I don't know about essential, but it may convey nuance/meaning as being slightly different if the ruby reading differs from the reading of the Kanji. See also japanese.stackexchange.com/questions/198 – cypher Sep 30 '12 at 2:27
@phoenixheart6 Yes. (Well, in the context of Japanese. More generally it just means pronunciation help next to a Chinese character. There are furigana-like systems in place in Chinese too, e.g. Pinyin and Zhuyin, which sometimes occur as ruby text. And in older Korean texts, you get hangul occurring as ruby text on hanja.) – Billy Sep 30 '12 at 16:20
up vote 6 down vote accepted

It's probably only essential for an unusual reading of kanji. Even then, if you know what the kanji means, it's only essential for the pronunciation and not the meaning.

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The ruby text doesn't change the meaning of the words in this case, but it's still useful as a reading aid. That is, the reader may expect unusual readings because of the unusual context (ancient scripture). The ruby text is an assurance that you can read in the usual way.

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