7

As a novice learner, I'm finding understanding the relationship between radicals, components, kanji and words difficult.

For example, this post on tofugu.com says that:

The kanji is 町, which means "town." As you can see in the image above, 町 is made up of two radicals:

  1. 田 (rice paddy)
  2. 丁 (street)

To learn this kanji using the radicals mnemonic method, you need to know the names of these two radicals first.

However, this seems to clash with the notion that every single kanji only has one radical and one radical only. For example, if I search for the kanji 町 on jisho.org it says that the radical is 田 while the parts are 一, 亅 and 田.

The confusing thing to me is that I found as many sources to corroborate one version as I found sources to corroborate the other.

I came up with a series of statements to clarify to myself the relationship between radicals, components, kanji and words:

  1. Every radical is a kanji but not every kanji is a radical.
  2. A radical is simply a kanji that is used to create other kanji.
  3. Every kanji only has one radical.
  4. Kanji can have multiple components/parts that are kanji by themselves.
  5. People use the terms 'radical' and 'parts' interchangeably, though this is not 100% correct.
  6. Every kanji in itself is also a word but not every word is just a kanji (most are not).

Is my interpretation correct?

  • 1. 2. What do you call a 'literal'? 4. Components may not all exist as separate kanji. 3. 5. A radical is a specific component of the kanji, used in particular in dictionaries. 6. Not all kanji exist as separate words (esp. those with only an on-yomi). – Mathieu Bouville Feb 23 at 19:45
  • @MathieuBouville Thanks for the comment. 1. 2. I meant "radical", I just corrected it. 4. 6. Could you give me examples? – Edgar Derby Feb 23 at 19:53
  • why you are getting confused between radicals or parts ? Simply call them what they are 部首(ぶしゅ). As you are going to use that word with Japanese knowing people/community. They will get it easily. Btw I would recommend to study Kanji by using 部首. It will become lot easier while reading some unknown kanji. I mean you can guess meaning of unknown kanji correctly just by identifying 部首in that kanji. Because 部首 represent some meaning. – アニケン_スカイワカー Nov 7 at 0:24
4
  1. Every radical is a kanji but not every kanji is a radical.
    Wrong. 丶{てん}(like in ) is a radical. Is it a kanji?
  2. A radical is simply a kanji that is used to create other kanji.
    Wrong. See answer to 1.
  3. Every kanji only has one radical.
    Maybe. If you mean radical in the sense of the 'main referential element'.
  4. Kanji can have multiple components/parts that are kanji by themselves.
    Correct. 'Can' being the operative word.
  5. People use the terms 'radical' and 'parts' interchangeably.
    Yes. People do lots of crazy things.
  6. Using the terms 'radical' and 'parts' interchangeably is not 100% correct.
    Agree.
  7. Every kanji in itself is also a word.
    Wrong. 持 is a kanji, but not used as a 'word' by itself. Like 'non' and 'pre' are parts of English words, but not words unto themselves.
  8. Not every word is just a kanji (most are not).
    Correct.

The 'radical' should be considered the organizing or primary part/element/component or a 'fully-formed' kanji. Your confusion likely arises due to the disparate ways that some people might describe these 'parts/elements/components' and also conflate 'radical' with the aforementioned.

While some kanji references might list the non-radical 'parts', there often is not a term used to substitute for the word 'parts'.

  • This is great, thanks a lot @user27280. Re: 1. and 2., jisho.org does report the tick radical as a kanji. – Edgar Derby Feb 24 at 8:31
  • @EdgarDerby I'm glad you found it useful. I see that jisho.org does describe 丶 as a radical in their kanji section and wiktionary says it is a kanji character too, but it does not fit the normal profile. It is only used in a sentence to reference itself as a radical and is otherwise unused. It is technically a kanji in the same way that a comma or other native punctuation mark is a kanji, if that makes sense to you. – BJCUAI Feb 24 at 9:30
  • "What is a kanji" is a tricky question. I tend to think that, if it has a prescribed meaning and pronunciation as given by a dictionary, then it is a kanji, as it is a usable symbol representing a real unit of the language. 丶is defined as a variant of 主, so therefore by that criteria it is a kanji. – droooze Nov 7 at 5:39
0

Here's my suggestion to try to make it clearer for you. I don't know how familiar you are with linguistic terminology so this is a little simplified. But I hope it helps.

Radicals can be confusing but a simple way to think of them is as a reference method. You can use the term 'component' to generally mean an individual part within a kanji character. And you can think of radicals as just one of those components in a kanji. The difference between radicals and other components is simply that radicals are the components which are used as a reference for that particular character.

An easy analogy is to think of radicals as being like the first letter in an English word.
Dictionaries compile words in alphabetical order, using the first letter(s) as a means to systematize the process. The first letter of an English word is a little like a radical, in that it is used by lexicographers to compile reference lists. Radicals are not a special category as such - they are simply components which are used to systematize kanji references.

As for your concept of 'words', it is actually not so easy to define a word. But needless to say, not all kanji are words. It would be more correct to say that kanji are akin to morphemes, in that each kanji contains at least one irreducible element of meaning, even if it is not a full word itself.

Simplified Summary

  • 'Words' can be single kanji or combinations of kanji (and/or kana)
  • 'Kanji' are individual whole characters which contain one or more components
  • 'Components' are individual parts within a kanji
  • 'Radicals' are the components which are used as a reference

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.