Wednesday, 7 July 2010

CJK Glyphs Fun

I self-study (which is very ineffective, because there is no one to push me forward, so I slack too much) Japanese. And with the language comes a different character set from what I already know (latin, Greek and Cyrillic alphabets) and that is a set of two kana – ひらがな [hiragana] and カタカナ [katakana] – (which I already more or less learned and am able to read and write them, though not as fast as latin, but maybe faster than Greek :-D), and a selected number of Chinese characters, in Japanese called 漢字 [kanji, in Mandarin Chinese it's hànzì, in Korean hanja], literally it means 'characters of Han' (han means Chinese people, Chinese language). And sometimes when I see Chinese, Japanese or Korean writing I get the urge to decipher what it means. With Korean it's usually easy, today I was deciphering "brown rice vinegar" on a bottle with it I bought:

First of all, all the characters are very clear to read, so if you have Korean alphabet around you'll quickly decipher them one by one. First character is composed of ㅎ [h] 여 [yeo] and ㄴ[n], creating a 현 [hyeon], next is composed of ㅁ[m] and 이 [i], creating a 미 [mi]. Together these two make 현미, in hanji 玄米 (this exact writing and meaning also has a japanese word genmai), meaning brown rice. Next character is composed of ㅅ [s], 이 [i] and ㄱ [g/k] making 식 [sog], and the last one is composed of ㅊ [ch] and 오 [o], making 초 [cho]. Together they make 식초, in hanji 食醋 (this writing does not correspond to any word in japanese, where vinegar is 酢 [su], 醋 [su] is another variant for vinegar in japanese, though apparently not in common use), meaning vinegar.

But when it comes to Chinese or Japanese, especially if written in (semi)cursive style, things get hard. I bought a tea today and tried to decipher its name, which was written in Traditional Chinese in semicursive style:

It took me about half an hour to find the first hànzì, because as you can see, in regular script (which is close in shape to what is usually displayed on computer, but is nicer) it looks like this:

In simplified Chinese (which uses simplified variants of many hànzì) it's 铁观音 [tiěguānyīn] and it means something like "Iron Goddess of Compassion".

And as a bonus to end this blog post about my afternoon here's a picture of I-am-not-sure-if-it-is-Japanese-or-Chinese written on my tea kettle:

The only character I'm able to recognise is 茶 [cha in Japanese], tea and maybe 月 [tsuki in Japanese], moon.

And sorry for the poor quality of the pictures, that's the best I can manage with my mobile phone…

1 comment:

Scott Tsai said...

I'm pretty sure the writing on your tea kettle is Japanese.

You've likely already found this but Wikipedia has a reasonable page on the 鐵觀音 tea. I personally love the so called "High mountain tea"

From a fellow Fedoran and tea drinker from Taiwan.