A Study of the Mutual Phonetic Resemblance between Japanese and Chinese: Quantification of the Difficulty of Phonetic Cross-comprehension


This study investigated mutual phonetic resemblances of Chinese ideograms in both Japanese and Chinese by analyzing a database of 1078 kanji (Chinese ideograms in Japanese) extracted from the two volumes of the Japanese grammar textbook Minna no Nihongo. The aim of this analysis was to help learners of Chinese (or of Japanese, or both simultaneously) from non-kanji backgrounds to learn how to read the kanji and pronounce them correctly. First, basic phonetic resemblance was ascertained at 21.07% [1] according to the result of a survey of nine native Chinese speakers teaching Chinese to Japanese students; seven of these teachers were at N1 level and two at N2 level of the Japanese-Language Proficiency Test (JLPT). Second, since most kanji have multiple readings (on’yomi [Chinese reading] and kun’yomi [Japanese reading]), the rate of use of on’yomi in the 1078 kanji was calculated at 59.72% [2] by factoring the frequency of all words (total 9233 words) that contain these kanji and are classified in the JLPT word list. In comparison with the shape resemblance (71%) and semantic resemblance (about 90%) analyzed in our previous two studies for the same database, which signify that most characters have the same form and meaning in both language, this relatively low rate of phonetic similarity (13 %, judging from values [1] and [2]) visualizes a significant gap between “interdependence” of the shape and meaning aspects, and the “independence” of the phonetic aspect; this emphasizes the importance of phonetic cross-comprehension for learners of Japanese and Chinese.

Author Information
Yuji Obataya, Geneva University, Switzerland

Paper Information
Conference: ACE2019
Stream: Foreign Languages Education & Applied Linguistics (including ESL/TESL/TEFL)

This paper is part of the ACE2019 Conference Proceedings (View)
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Posted by James Alexander Gordon