1

Why is タ used instead of ソ in 外 despite it's read as ソト?

  • 6
    lol it took me a while to understand why you were asking that – E. Matsunaga Nov 22 '19 at 22:06
5

As you may or may not be aware, Japanese employs three writing systems: Hiragana, Katakana, and Kanji.

Hiragana and Katakana, collectively called Kana, are phonetic writing systems that were developed and modeled after Kanji. Hiragana came about from a modification of cursive script of certain Kanji, whereas Katakana are pieces of these Kanji, repurposed and ascribed with a phonetic value.

Kanji, however, are essentially ideographs, meaning that they represent an idea, and not a sound. While Katakana may have been derived from pieces of Kanji, it unfortunately does not work the other way -- It doesn't make much sense to put Katakana together to form a Kanji and expect it to be read a specific phonetic way, unlike how Korean works by making symbols from the combination of pieces.

For this reason, observe that even though the Kanji 外 appears to be composed of Katakana タ and Katakana ト, it is actually not made of either of these. It is not read タト(tato) and thus replacing タ for ソ would not be correct because we shouldn't be trying to modify the written character so that it matches a reading it has. That's because 外 can be read in other ways, as well. Consider these words in which it appears:

外{そと}
外国{がいこく}
外{はず}す

If we were to try to use that logic to figure out how to read other Kanji, how would we read something like 青 or 終?

Then, we have to consider that the Kanji 外 is essentially one contiguous symbol that has a meaning, not a sound. I suggest you read more about how Kanji are put together, and how radicals work, before continuing to use them.

| improve this answer | |
  • 1
    Thank you! I thought it might have been Kanji instead of Katakana but I wasn't sure since I've only taken 2 semesters of Japanese and am now studying on my own. – Sarai Jaime Nov 22 '19 at 20:51
  • 1
    they represent an idea, and not a sound this is a rather dangerous statement to make. 外 itself is comprised of two kanji, one of which (月) represents sound in 外. – dROOOze Nov 23 '19 at 13:35
  • That a Kanji's reading can be guessed by the dominant radical that it is made up of, and that it has a phonetic value, are two very different things. I think it's far more dangerous to assume that a kanji will have a fixed phonetic value, when it could be one of 音読み、訓読み、熟字訓、etc... Especially for a beginner, it's far easier to learn a kanji by knowing which meaning it has and how it is used in words, than to worry immediately about whether it contains a specific radical and whether that radical provides a sound value. – psosuna Nov 25 '19 at 21:49

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