Sino-Roman hybrid characters

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Founded in 1858, Keio is the oldest university in Japan and one of the best, also ranking high in world ratings.  Its name is written 慶應 in kanji.  That's a lot of strokes to scribble down every time you want to write the name of your university, so Keio people often write it this way:   广+K 广+O (imagine that the "K" and the "O" are written inside of the 广).  That makes 6 strokes and 4 strokes instead of 15 strokes and 17 strokes respectively, 10 strokes total instead of 32.

In these character constructions, "K" and "O" are functioning as phonophores, and Kangxi radical 53 广 ("dotted cliff" or "house on cliff") is functioning as the semantophore.

We've seen polysyllabic characters (here, here, and here), official and unofficial simplified characters (here and here [last paragraph]), "Transcriptional and hybrid words in Mandarin", Roman letters incorporated in Chinese writing (here, here, and here), "Roman letter shapes in Japanese", and so on and so forth.

As Mark Hansell and Liu Yongquan showed decades ago, the Roman alphabet has effectively been incorporated as part of the Sino-Japanese writing system. The use of "K" and "O" as phonophores has taken the adoption of the Roman alphabet as part of the Sino-Japanese writing system a further and more radical step by incorporating it phonetically in the construction of characters.

All of this serves to demonstrate the essential open-endededness of the hanzi / kanji / hanja writing system.

[h.t. Paul Goldin]


  1. Max said,

    August 26, 2016 @ 7:24 pm

    Or even writing both K and O under a single 广, as shown here:

  2. Guy_H said,

    August 26, 2016 @ 7:37 pm

    That is incredibly creative! Love it.
    Out of curiosity – do Japanese switch to kana if they need to scribble something down and the kanji is too difficult? In Taiwan, when people get lazy (or have character amnesia), out comes the bopomofo. With context, there's usually no difficulty in figuring out which character they meant (except people's names of course).

  3. Victor Mair said,

    August 26, 2016 @ 8:19 pm


    Thank you very much for showing us the actual printed forms. The third one, with K and O under a single 广, is disyllabic!


    Yes, the Japanese do switch over to kana when they forget how to write certain kanji or when they are too lazy to write difficult, complicated kanji.

    When I first came to Penn in 1979, the Japanese teacher whose office was across the hallway from mine had only kana on the nameplate outside his door. I asked him why he didn't write the kanji for his name, and he replied matter of factly, "too troublesome".

    Later, when I started going to Japan and walked around in residential neighborhoods in Kyoto, Tokyo, and other Japanese cities, I was surprised by how often I would happen upon houses that wrote the name of the occupants in kana rather than kanji.

  4. Matt said,

    August 27, 2016 @ 4:52 am

    It's interesting to think about the classification of 广 — it's arguably more of a meta-semantophore, conveying a reference to a specific character using that semantophore (rather than the meaning of that character, which is basically irrelevant since it's part of a non-break-downable proper noun). (As opposed to, e.g., the traditional use of 口 as a semantophore to mean "pronounced like {rest of character}", i.e. conveying an intentional absence of semantic information.)

  5. flow said,

    August 27, 2016 @ 9:08 am

    Next to ⿸广K, ⿸广O and ⿸广⿰KO, another frequently seen 'mixed' character is ⿱宀R, short for 学生寮 (がくせいりょう, gakuseiryou) 'dormitory'. I think I've also seen ⿱宀P for 'parking'.

  6. Nanani said,

    August 27, 2016 @ 1:24 pm

    Disyllabic characters are by no means rare in Japanese, though.
    The vast majority are at LEAST disyllabic, many have at least one reading with 3+ syllables.

  7. ahkow said,

    August 27, 2016 @ 2:22 pm

    Isn't the appropriate measure here "mora(ic)" and not "syllable/syllabic"?

  8. Victor Mair said,

    August 27, 2016 @ 3:59 pm

    On syllables and morae

    From Bob Ramsey:

    This is a fun posting, and I'm glad to get it. I think I'll use it in one or more of my classes (when student attention spans start to shorten and eyes glaze over). I hadn't seen those playful creations for Keio, but they're certainly not unexpected. Just the kinds of things Japanese (students?) would come up with.

    As for Keiō 慶應: Two syllables, of course. Or four moras, right?

    From John Whitman:

    Ahkow's comment is correct: each of 慶 and 應 is bimoraic: [ke]μ + [i]μ and [o]μ + [o]μ. The confusion arises from the fact that 音節 in the Japanese prosodic tradtion refers to morae (that is, the units of Japanese verse are morae), but 音節 is usually translated as 'syllable".

    From Alexander Vovin:

    Two syllables but four morae. Ke i o o

    From David Lurie:

    Great post; I love that abbreviation and agree that it shows nicely the open-ended-ness of the system.

    ahkow is correct; the word Keiō is disyllabic (Kei-ō) but contains four mora according to traditional prosody. Each kana corresponds to a mora: け・い・お・う. Most kanji on'yomi have multiple mora (e.g. jū for 十), and a number are also disyllabic (e.g. roku for 六 or shichi for 七), but no trisyllabic on'yomi come to mind; based on the underlying Chinese phonology and the way it is reflected in Japanese, I don't think would be possible. Of course there are many cases of trisyllabic kun-yomi (e.g. kokonotsu for 九).

  9. Victor Mair said,

    August 28, 2016 @ 10:19 am

    From Jim Unger:

    [ke:o:] is two syllables, each of two morae, for a total of four.

  10. Usually Dainichi said,

    August 28, 2016 @ 9:13 pm

    About "the appropriate measure", presumably we're looking for one by which kanji readings with more than one is rare. (My assumption is based on Victor's original "disyllabic!")

    "The appropriate measure" is neither morae or syllables, since as people have mentioned, neither disyllabic nor dimoraic kanji readings are rare, even if you restrict to on-readings.

    Still on-readings usually do have limitations. When disyllabic, they're usually also dimoraic, with the second mora representing the coda of the original Chinese syllable, and therefore being quite restricted. A possibly not quite complete list is "-ku" or "-ki" from presumably something like "-k", "-N" from something like "m", "-n" or "-ng", and "-tsu" or "-chi" from "-t". So usually, no on-reading could be "ke:o:", if indeed it makes sense to classify this as an on-reading.

    A kun-reading couldn’t usually be "ke:o:” either, but for different reasons that are a bit more complicated. Dimoraic syllables are rare in native Japanese words (which a host of exceptions which I won’t get into here).

  11. Simon P said,

    August 29, 2016 @ 1:47 am

    I love this sort of stuff. Too bad it's almost impossible to do in digital text. We need a new standard that treats character components like diacritics!

  12. John said,

    August 29, 2016 @ 3:41 am

    Interesting character creations. I wonder why they wouldn't just write KO (or maybe K大) if trying to save time though.

  13. Usually Dainichi said,

    August 30, 2016 @ 12:37 am

    "I wonder why they wouldn't just write KO"

    Who says they wouldn't? This page says 慶應関係者は、「KO」と略す場合がある。(People affiliated with Keio sometimes abbreviate to KO) and also mentions the madare(广) version.

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