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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Kanji Mastery—Radical 99 (甘 Sweet)

[a] Candyland RF
To the eye untrained by thousands of pages of reading, the Sino-Japanese radical "sweet" looks a little bit like the radical "mortar," which we encountered the other day. There are several differences, however. "Sweet" has five strokes, and "mortar" has six.* "Sweet" has a closed "top," while "mortar's" is open. 
甘          臼
                                                      sweet                mortar  
*Follow these brief steps: a) "copy" the character 甘  b) click on the stroke order link here, c) paste 甘 into the search box and click "get diagram."
[b] Glazed RF
It is also quite possible that if you mistake "sweet" for "mortar," the chocolate syrup you slather on the bricks will be licked dry by passing ravens, puppies (chocolate is bad for them!), and school children winding their way home. "Sweet" won't hold up your wall; "mortar" will. Don't be Jericho; don't mistake "sweet" and "mortar." The former will only adhere calorically (not calligraphically). Make the sacchariferous sacrifice and wrap your toothsome smile around this honeyed character filled with syrupy verbal richness and stick-to-your ribs linguistic appeal.

[c] Cosmic relief RF
If you have been paying attention to Round and Square's Kanji Mastery series, you will know by now that we are grazing the somewhat infertile steppe of the one-hundred (or so) least recognized character elements called radicals. There are 214 of them in the still influential Kangxi Dictionary, which has remained the standard throughout the East Asian Chinese character (漢字) world.

Although it may seem odd to leave the most common elements until later, I have a reason for proceeding in this manner. A gentle trip through the hidden paths and byways of lesser-known radicals will help attune us to the larger questions of the Sino-Japanese written language. Diving immediately into the water (Radical 85: 水) would risk drowning in a swirl of detail. This approach allows us to dip our feet (Radical 157: 足) into the sweet (today's radical 甘) streams (Radical 47: 川) amid fragrant (Radical 186: 香) fields (Radical 102: 田), and rest against the sturdy rocks (Radical 112: 石) of language (Radical 149: 言).
[e] Verbal slicing RF
In other words, we get to have dessert before the big meal(s). Today, we taste the linguistic dimensions of sweetness, and it will hardly surprise the careful reader that this little character has many shades of meaning that are also embedded in the English word "sweet." We have the sweetness of food, the sweet tooth, the sickly sweet verbiage of the flatterer, and the exquisite sweetness of revenge. The comparative linguist might want to take a look across several languages for the versatility of this kind of word. A quick thought experiment across English, French, German, and the East Asian languages tells me that it has some potential (sucré, herzig, süß, 甜—and fais de beaux rêves, while you're at it). Think about it, and be sure to note your contribution (Urdu?, Farsi?, Norwegian?) in the comments section. How far will sweetness carry? How filling is this little concept in the world's languages? I'd love to hear from you.

As for my favorite board game (when I was very young), it has everything to do with this character. If you would like to order your Japanese copy of this slice from the Land of Sweetness (ハスブロ キャンディランド キャッスルゲーム), you may have it for ¥21,600.
Radical 99
Chinese (Mandarin): gan1
Chinese (Cantonese): gam1
Japanese (On): カン KAN
Japanese (Kun): あまい ama(i)
Korean: 달 감
Selections from The New Nelson Japanese-English Character Dictionary.
Radical 99
KANAma(eru), ama(ttereru): take advantage; presume upon, coax.
Ama(nzuru), ama(njiru): to be content with, be resigned to.
Ama(yakasu): to be indulgent, pamper, coddle.
[f] Sensual RF
Ama(i): sweet; honeyed (words); lenient; half-witted; easygoing; soft, mild; loose; trashy, sentimental.
Uma(i): delicious, appetizing; skillful, clever, expert; wise; successful; fortunate; splendid; promising.
Ama-: Sugared, sweet; slightly salted.

That's a big load of sugary goodness, with a bit of (slight) salt and half-wit to go along with it. You can tell right here that this radical strays in both predictable and innovative ways from its candied roots (甘草). Let's begin, as usual, with the character combinations that we might expect from this little nugget of language.

甘苦 かんく                    kanku               joys and sorrows         (sweet+bitter)
甘美 かんび                    kanbi                sweetness                   (sweet+beautiful)
甘茶 あまちゃ                amacha            hydrangea tea              (sweet+tea)
甘酒 あまざけ                amazake          sweet saké                   (sweet+saké)
甘薯 かんしょ                kansho             sweet potato                 (sweet+tuber)
甘味 かんみ、あまみ     kanmi, amami  sweet, luscious             (sweet+taste)

[g] Sweet vermin RF
And then we have a combination in which the basic meaning is "obvious," but the rest of the meanings are more of a conceptual stretch...

甘口 あまくち    amakuchi      sweet flavor/tooth; flattery; stupidity    (sweet+mouth)

O.k. Those are some of the basic combinations. Let's add a little bit of flavor to the mix by taking the concept of sweetness just a step further. Life and language are made up of just such leaps of interpretation. It is also the kind of thing that makes language learning as perplexing as it is mesmerizing.

甘子 あまったれっこ   amattarekko      spoiled child              (sweet+child)
甘心 かんしん              kanshin             satisfaction                (sweet+heart)
甘井 かんせい              kansei               excellent well             (sweet+well)
甘雨 かんう                  kan'u                 refreshing rain           (sweet+rain)
甘泉 かんせん              kansen              excellent water          (sweet+spring)
甘草 かんぞう              kanzou              licorice                       (sweet+grass)
甘党 あまとう              amatou             sweet tooth (person)  (sweet+party/segment)
甘塩 あまじお              amajio               slightly salted             (sweet+salt)
甘辞 かんじ                  kanji                  flattery, cleverness     (sweet+words)
甘夢 かんむ                  kanmu               pleasant dreams        (sweet+dream)

Now, let's examine a few combinations that either rival those above or take it to a new interpretive level. I assume that you will find the last one to be in that category. While it may not be a uniquely Japanese concept, it certainly has a long cultural history in the Japanese islands.

甘酸 かんさん            kansan              pains and pleasures     (sweet+sour)
甘受 かんじゅする     kanju (suru)      submit to; put up with    (sweet+receive)
甘言 かんげん            kangen              flattery, blarney             (sweet+words)
          ...and that distinctively Japanese concept...
甘死 かんしする        kanshi (suru)     to die happily                 (sweet+death)

***  ***
[h] Meringued RF
After all of that, however, there are exactly three characters—in the medium-length The New Nelson Japanese-English Character Dictionary—in which 甘 is radical, and one of those is a variant form of another character. Not unlike yesterday's Kanji Mastery entry, "sweet" packs a significant cultural punch with its core meanings ranging from sweet dreams of candy forests to flattering boorishness. For all of that, however, it has inspired a rather paltry brood of related characters. Here are all of 'em.
 ジン        JIN; hanaha(da/dashii); ita(ku)    
Exceedingly (甚大な: serious, enormous)
 テン        TEN                                      
Sweet (甜菜: sugar beet; 甜瓜: muskmelon)
 ショウ     SYOU   Variant of 嘗
[i] Conceptually centered RF

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