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I just started learning and I was wondering what is the difference between the kanji 聲 and 声. They both mean voice when I looked it up in the dictionary and are said the same way too. When would you use each one or are they interchangeable?

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    What dictionary did you use? Were there any remarks besides 聲? – macraf Mar 3 '17 at 0:03
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聲 is the traditional version of 声, that was in common use (and indeed the sole character) prior to language reforms that took place after WW2. It is now used very uncommonly, although you might see it occasionally in art or literature for aesthetic purposes (for example there is a recent animated film that uses it).

Functionally (ie, in meaning and reading), there is no difference; it is essentially the same character. However, you should stick to using 声 as it is what will be used 99% of the time by native Japanese speakers, and using 聲 will probably make you seem pretentious, as it is entirely unnecessary, unless you are trying to replicate an archaic style of Japanese.

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聲 (on-yomi: sei/shou, kun-yomi: koe) is part of collectively-called "旧字体" (kyujitai) form, in other words it is pre-simplified version of 声 (see complete list here, some even originated from 略字 or abbreviated form commonly used in handwriting).

Since currently there was no rule to ban former characters due to historical reasons, they're still continue to use in archaical sense of literature and interchangeable in certain situations (e.g. to make emphasis). However as Ciaran said, kyujitai forms are rarely in use for modern Japanese texts, hence 声 become most common to be used nowadays.

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「 聲{こえ} 」 is the old form of 「声{こえ}」, so the former is currently not taught in school.

「 聲 」 can be found in creative writing such as poetry if the author's sense of aesthetics calls for it, but it is not a kanji people use in their daily lives at all.

The two kanji have the same meaning but they are hardly "interchangeable" for the reason discussed above. Frankly, I wonder how you even encounter old kanji like that if you have just started learning kanji.

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Strictly speaking, 「聲」 is 「こえ」, while 「声」 was originally a depiction of stone chimes*** that is now written 「磬」. Since 「声」 was no longer used for its original meaning, Kanji simplification efforts have redefined 「声」 as 「こえ」 and 「聲」 is no longer used as the standard form of 「こえ」.


***「聲」 means sound as a compounded character comprised of 「声」 (stone chimes), 「殳」 (a striking motion), and 「耳」 (an ear), indicating the meaning the sound made from hitting stone chimes.

  • Unless you are living in a time warp, Strictly speaking, 「聲」 is 「こえ」 is wrong. Right now, strictly speaking 声 is こえ in contemporary Japanese. – virmaior Jan 7 '18 at 3:39
  • @virmaior If 「聲」 is 「こえ」 is wrong, then titles like 映画 聲の形 cannot be interpreted at all..so you're wrong. As others have said, it is merely a bit old fashioned and quaint. Your comment is misleading..and incorrect. – droooze Jan 7 '18 at 8:48
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    As you both know, 声 is the official 常用漢字 and 聲 is its official 旧字体. The discussion now boils down to determining the role of 旧字体 in contemporary Japanese, which is probably too complex to be resolved here in the comments section. – Earthliŋ Jan 7 '18 at 9:11

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