[some very astute additional observations on this document in this edit. Nice!]
Kanji is the character-based writing system imported to Japan from China. Often erroneously referred to as pictographs, kanji incorporate not just pictographic but also ideographic, phonetic, and semantic concepts. Because the readings (pronunciations) of the kanji were adopted along with their meanings, they have introduced countless Chinese-based terms into Japanese. [AU: The scope and purpose of the article should be addressed in the introduction. What does this article aim to inform the reader? The Chinese origin is discussed in the article, but the pronunciation and categorization of kanji are a large part of the article and should be foreshadowed in the introduction too. A more descriptive title would help as well.]
Origin and Evolution
Until the 5th century, the Japanese language was purely oral, with no written equivalent. It is commonly accepted that kanji (the word itself being the Japanese pronunciation of hanzi, or "Han letters," a reference to the Han Dynasty) were brought to Japan by Buddhist monks in the form of Chinese texts. [AU: Consider making the information in parentheses a separate sentence. Also, some readers may not automatically connect the Han Dynasty with China.]These texts were initially read as-is [AU: Does as-is mean that they were read with Chinese pronunciation?], but over time, a system called kanbun was
introduced developed wherein key concepts were notated by a series of marks, allowing them to be read according to Japanese grammar. Eventually, simplification of the kanji led to the independent creation of the hiragana and katakana syllabries, which were used in conjunction with the kanji to represent the multiple inflections possible in Japanese grammar. [AU: It is unclear to me how something in Chinese can be read with Japanese grammar. An example would be helpful here. Also, “multiple inflections” seems to be a reference to phonetics or pronunciation rather than grammar. Finally, a more in-depth explanation of the hiragana and katakana syllabries, including a definition of exactly what syllabries are, would clarify this paragraph.]
As the writing system stabilized, the pronunciations afforded any given kanji fell into four basic categories:
Kun-yomi. The native Japanese word that existed prior to the introduction of the kanji is preserved in the kun-yomi, or "native reading." The kun-yomi of is shita, meaning "down." Kanji are not limited to a single kun-yomi: an alternate kun-yomi of is shimo, as in (kawashimo, "downriver").
On-yomi. The pronunciation imported along with the kanji itself is called the on-yomi, or "Chinese reading." The on-yomi of is KA, as in (karyō, "subordinates"). Because kanji were often reintroduced over multiple time periods and from different dialects of Chinese, kanji tend to have several different on-yomi. For example, can also be read GE, as in (gezai, "laxative").
(When rendering kun- and on-yomi into Roman letters, the linguistic standard is to have kun-yomi in lowercase and on-yomi in uppercase.) [ AU: Are there any linguistic standards for representing Jinmei-yo or Ateji characters? Explain the naming system that you use in parentheses (kun-yomi then English translation?), and use it consistently throughout the article.]
Jinmei-yō. Those characters specifically set aside for use in names are called jinmei-yō kanji, or "name characters." The jinmei-yō reading is often an older or obsolete pronunciation of the kanji. For example, has the kun-yomi of atsui ("thick") but a jinmei-yo pronunciation of Atsushi, a variant reading that is now a common male name.
Ateji. Kanji that are used for their meaning, regardless of pronunciation-- or vice versa-- are referred to as ateji, or "substitute characters." While ateji continue to be used in Chinese, their usage in Japanese has declined following the introduction of the kana syllabries that allow for the ready introduction of foreign or linguistically incompatible concepts. [AU: What are the kana syllabries?]
Figure 1. "America" in ateji chosen for sound rather than meaning, and ichijiku ("fig") in ateji chosen for meaning ("no flower fruit") rather than sound. [AU: Please expand on this explanation in the text, and then use a shorter caption. Are ameirika and mukaka the ateji pronunciations? Is ichijiku the kun-yomi? How is the meaning “no flower fruit” conveyed?]
Kanji can be found in dictionaries by one of four lookup methods: on-yomi and kun-yomi, which have already been discussed, and bushu and kaku.
Bushu. Referred to as “radicals” in linguistic terminology, bushu are considered the core element of the kanji in terms of categorization. When looking up the character (numa, “swamp”), for example, one would look under its bushu , called sanzui. Traditionally, there are 214 bushu, though some modern kanji scholars have attempted to reorder the kanji to significantly reduce this number.
Kaku. The total number of strokes it takes to write a kanji is called its kaku. Looking for a kanji by its kaku requires a thorough knowledge of how strokes are counted, as well as the order in which they are drawn. The character (
on-yomi soto, "outside") contains 5 strokes, each written in a specific order.
Figure 2. Stroke order for kanji soto.
Around the second century A.D. (2nd century), the Chinese scholar Xu Shen classified the hanzi into six categories that remain in use to this day for both hanzi and kanji. [ AU: The hanzi were briefly mentioned in the introduction, but a reminder would help the reader. Also, a lead-in sentence to introduce the list would help finish this paragraph.]
Shōkei-moji. A stylized picture of a physical object. Yama, meaning "mountain," is written and is modeled after the shape of a mountain.
Shiji-moji. A representation of an abstract concept. Ue, meaning "up," is written and
represents is one line above another with a third line connecting. [AU: The symbol IS one line above another, but you could mention that this represents the concept “up.”]
Kai'i-moji. The ideograph, often made by combining two or more shōkei- or shiji- moji. Tōge, meaning "mountain pass," is written and is a composition of the characters , , and. [ AU: I’m guessing that the characters mean mountain, up, and down and thus convey the idea of a mountain pass, but you might want to mention this in the passage.]
Keisei-moji. The largest of all groups, kaisei-moji are the deliberate pairing of a phonetic and ideographic element to create a new kanji. For example, (unaji, "nape") combines the ideographic , which originally meant "head" but in modern Japanese means "page," with the phonetic element ("craft") chosen as a simplification of ("behind" or "rear") based on similarities in appearance and pronunciation (both have the on-yomi of KŌ) -- thus, means "rear of the head," or “nape,” and takes its on-yomi KŌ from its phonetic element, . [ AU: That is an incredibly long sentence! Shorter sentences would make it easier to comprehend.]
Tenchū-moji. When characters, whether mistakenly or by association, take on extended meanings and readings, they are referred to as tenchū-moji. An example would be , which originally meant "nail" but was so often borrowed to represent the concepts of "(city) block" and "exact" that it has taken on those meanings exclusively. ("Nail" is now represented by , which adds the component , meaning "metal"). [ AU: Is there a reason that it was borrowed to mean “block” or “exact”? Just curious.]
Kasha-moji. Technically a method of usage rather than a class of characters, kasha-moji are those characters used to create ateji readings. [ AU: This sentence seems contradictory. You say it’s a method, but then you refer to kasha-moji as characters.] In modern Japanese, a truncated form of kasha-moji is often used in newspapers to refer to foreign countries: (do(ku)itsu) and (furansu) were once the accepted renderings of Germany and France, respectively, but the modern Japanese press prefers the shortened forms of and . [ AU: Are the first two kanji kasha-moji, or are just the shortened forms kasha-moji? Why do they mean Germany and France?]