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Recently I stumbled upon this passage:

[...] 最高執行責任者は変化の兆しを語る.

The dictionary reports four readings for 執行: しぎょう、しっこう、しゅうぎょう、 and しゅぎょう。

Moving on with the reading I also found the word 執行役員 that apparently is read しっこうやくいん. This makes me think that even in the above case しっこう could be the right choice.

Actually (instant edit) I just now found that 最高執行責任者 can be translated with COO and it is indeed read as さいこうしっこうせきにんしゃ. Somehow I answered my question by myself then, and しっこう seems a common reading.

Rather than deleting my post though, I got curious and I would like to know if someone could provide words where actually one of the other readings is used..otherwise why are they so many?

Also, let me to use this example in order to ask a more general question. I guess we all agree that the 読み方 of some kanji sometimes follows no special rules and you just "have to know it". However, is this really always the case? Are there any tricks that at least might increase the chances of guessing the correct/most appropriate reading? Thanks.

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    「guessing the correct/most appropriate reading」<- One way would be using 国語辞典. I just looked up しぎょう、しっこう、しゅうぎょう、しゅぎょう in 明鏡国語辞典, and found 執行 only in the entry of しっこう. – Chocolate May 16 '16 at 7:48
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    同じ国語辞典でも大型辞典になるとこういうふうに歴史的な用語も入ってくるので、中辞典の方が扱いやすいということでしょうね。 – broccoli forest May 16 '16 at 8:47
  • @chocolate Yeah sure the Japanese dictionary could help. Somehow I was wondering if there are some kind of "hidden rules" or "tricks" I might not be aware of that would not require a dictionary in first place. – Tommy May 16 '16 at 9:11
  • @broccoliforest 確かにそうですね。 – Tommy May 16 '16 at 9:11
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As for this word 執行, only しっこう is used in "execution; executive" sense, and all others belong to obsolete or traditional words (mainly for a clerical rank that may be comparable to Catholic "archdeacon", but I don't really know much about that).

I guess we all agree that the 読み方 of some kanji sometimes follows no special rules and you just "have to know it". However, is this really always the case? Are there any tricks that at least might increase the chances of guessing the correct/most appropriate reading?

Unfortunately, it is. Or in other words, the idea of "a kanji has multiple readings" is generally misleading; you should think it as "multiple words share the same kanji". Kanji associated with multiple 音読み are just like French doublets in English. English has been historically imported French vocabulary at least twice, so that we have chief and chef, catch and chase, or ward and guard as distinct words while they were of merely dialectal or temporal difference in French. If French were using ideographs, these pairs must have been written in same characters that pronounced in two different ways in English. But why doesn't chief mean chef, or catch mean chase, and vice versa? There's no real accounting for it.

So, if there's any trick to guess the reading of kanji, it'd be learning the meaning the reading suggests. When they have little semantic difference, try to see 呉音/漢音 distinction, usually represents older/newer or daily/technical context (but ultimately learning one by one). Basically, native speakers know many many Japanese words so that they're able to tell the kanji reading, and I don't think I can read a written word I've never come across in my previous life 100% correctly.

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    (もう一つを見つけたから、2回訂正したところになった) – virmaior May 16 '16 at 10:10
  • @virmaior ありがとうございます m(_ _)m – broccoli forest May 16 '16 at 10:12
  • いいえ、手伝ってくれている方に僕の方はありがたいですので... – virmaior May 16 '16 at 10:13
  • Wow thanks, very interesting point of view. I actually always thought about it that way myself (seeing it as multiple words sharing the same kanji). It's good to have a kind of confirmation that it's a good way to think about it. Sometimes I just wonder why using the same kanji for so many words rather than simply.. use more kanji. Somehow to me that would be much less confusing (think about kanji with so many readings such as 生 for example). Anyway, this is probably a different topic. – Tommy May 16 '16 at 23:24
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Yes, you can refer to 常用漢字表(Common Kanji Table) issued by 文部科学省(Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, Japan).

It shows you how certain words are pronounced together. After all, this is what they teach in Japanese schools.

Also, when you use any dictionary (for example, you can search "執行" on weblio.jp), if you see 呉音/古用 for a pronunciation, that means it's the old style. Think of it as a dialect, or a natural evolution of a living language. People living in different time and space are bound to have some difference in how they pronounce words.

Thirdly, I highly recommend listening to NHK news podcast. Once you hear how certain words are pronounced, you will KNOW it and can even guess how other combinations work.

  • Interesting. Thanks this is quite helpful. – Tommy May 16 '16 at 9:07

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