Obscure differences between Kanji and Chinese characters

People who already know Chinese characters are often said to have the advantage of being able to pick up Japanese quickly. However, to learn it properly, in addition to the  difference between infix (English, Chinese) and reverse polish (Japanese) notations, it also comes with quite a bit of baggage. It’s the differences that requires work to observe, such as:

  • some made up ‘Chinese’ characters (和製漢語),
  • some are written slightly differently, including artistic variations
  • some has a completely different meaning,
  • some has opposite preferences for using which character in the pair when simplifying
  • and some has drastically different overtones despite they technically mean the same thing
  • the mixture of simplified and traditional characters, occasionally a character written like simplified Chinese means something totally different from traditional Chinese, such as 机(つくえ)which means desk vs 機(キ)which means machines or chances depending on the context.
  • the roles of historical and modern writings are randomly reversed

How we use 学習 is a good example. Modern Chinese considers 学 to be more colloquial and 習 to be more formal. Japanese is the other way round for 学ぶ and 習う。学ぶ has a more serious tone.

Because of a bunch of traps, if somebody who already knows Chinese first tries to make an educated guess, there’s a good chance that they might get it right, but the mistakes they make are almost very predictable.

I came across a document called 常用漢字表 released by the Agency for Cultural Affairs (文化庁) that explains all the quirks of Kanji that was carefully collecting on my own while taking the classes. Wish I had it back in the days. Here’s the link, but I also saved a local copy of 常用漢字表 just in case if their website moves around in the future.

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