I have read the questions that kind of talk about this already:

What is the radical of 全? 人 or 入?


Why are there different names for the same kanji radical?

However, I would like to ask about how Japanese people would most likely refer to this radical, or part of the kanji, in a more general sense. So if a Japanese person is telling their friend how to write any particular kanji that uses the 𠆢 radical ( 金 鉛 食 飲 今 琴 吟 介 冷 倹 全 ), would they refer to it as ひと? いる? Or some other reading? Or would the way they describe depend on the kanji and what that radical originally intended to represent?


A few points to make here:

  • There is no single radical that represents both and . They are different radicals, and thus they rightly have different names.
  • 𠆢 is officially treated as a variant of 人, and has nothing to do with 入.
  • You cannot arbitrarily break down characters and expect the decomposition to be meaningful***. Furthermore, even if you do break down characters, the broken down components do not necessarily map onto radicals.

There is some misunderstanding about what a radical is; it is a section header (literal translation of 部首) in a character dictionary, and there is only one radical for each character, as each character is only listed once in any given dictionary under a section header. This is akin to English dictionaries, where for each English word, there is only one first letter under which it would be grouped in a dictionary. This obviously means that it is incorrect to refer to the following characters with the 𠆢 radical:

  • 鉛 (radical 金)
  • 飲 (radical 食)
  • 琴 (radical 玉)
  • 吟 (radical 口)
  • 冷 (radical 冫)
  • 倹 (radical 亻)

Since the historical development of the characters are quite obscure without some thorough understanding of Chinese paleography, different dictionary composers throughout history have broken down the characters in a different manner, and thus different dictionaries throughout history may have different sets of radicals and may group the same character under different radicals. This means that questions with ambiguous answers like "What is the radical of 全? 人 or 入?" are ultimately meaningless; the radical of X is whatever the dictionary you're looking up X in says it is. Some dictionaries list 全 under 人, and some list it under 入.

In practice, Japanese dictionaries usually inherit the set of radicals from the Kangxi dictionary, so there is fortunately a fairly large amount of consistency between dictionaries.

***Here are some examples to get an idea how characters actually break down (if at all).

  • originally depicted a heat-resistant container used to melt metals (crucible), and cannot be broken down into components like 𠆢 (note that even dictionaries do not break down 金; it is its own radical): enter image description here. However, there is a hidden phonetic cue in 金 (the phonetic cue is ), which originally appeared in the upper portion of 金.
  • originally depicted a mouth (this was originally written upside down), and a container for grain , with the compound meaning 'eat': enter image description here. Note that in dictionaries it is also its own radical and does not contain 𠆢. The modern form, while looking like or , actually has nothing to do with either of them.
  • originally depicted a mouth 亼 (see previous point) which has been closed off enter image description here, indicated by an additional horizontal mark on the bottom. It eventually morphed into something like enter image description here, by then making it easier to see its connection with 金. The character is a phonetic loan; its modern meaning ("now, the present time") is unrelated to the original. Despite it commonly being grouped under the 人 radical, it is not derived from it.
  • actually contains 人; it originally depicted a person 人 with two marks on either side, and has variously been used to denote the meaning boundary (bottom component of ; the two marks were drawn by the person, indicating the person's boundaries), armour (modern compound 介甲; the two marks indicated wearable armour), or a contagious skin disease (modern character ; the two marks were abstractly used to denote the disease).
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  • Very interesting and informative answer, thank you so much! I'm aware that there is only one radical per kanji, but the real intent of my question is to learn how an actual everyday native Japanese with just the linguistics knowledge acquired from school would call that specific part of the kanji, whether it's a radical or not, if they were teaching another Japanese person how to write a kanji. I'm not so confident but I'm assuming this question has been answered already: "it depends on the kanji". But I'm also assuming it's usually ひと, or if it's the actual radical, ひとがしら or ひとやね. – Felipe Müller Dec 7 '17 at 23:18
  • That's the thing - it is incorrect to assume that the radical actually has a common name. You need to check with the dictionary that you're using, as dictionaries will potentially list it under different names, and the person you're talking to may have read or referred to a different dictionary to you. This means that both names are "not wrong" depending on the dictionary! – dROOOze Dec 7 '17 at 23:22

As far as my understanding goes, there are a few ways to refer to this radical:

人 : ひとやね、ひとがしら
入 : いりやね、いりがしら

Yes, the way they describe the radical depends on the kanji.

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This website could be helpful for you.

As you say, it expresses 人(human shape) for 今. However, it doesn't for 食(eat).
They're the same shape and on ラ and 良, but they express other things.
According to the website, 𠆢 on 良 expresses "lid".
So what 𠆢 means depends on characters that have it on.
If you want to know what a radical means exactly, you might be have to see websites explaining about them or dictionaries.

I think tracing back radicals to the root is useful.
Hoping this will help you. Good luck.

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