A new, complex polysyllabic kanji

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We've seen many a polysyllabic Sinograph on Language Log (check the Readings below).  The one presented here is perhaps more creative and intriguing than any previously encountered:

What's going on here?

As may be seen from the furigana (ruby phonetic annotation) on the right side, this character is pronounced "shisutemu", which is the Japanese rendering of English "system".

Here are the components, as explained by Nathan Hopson:

The tweeter says s/he always combines the テ and ム of システム when writing it, which gives 云. So シ → 氵, ス → 入, テム → 云 = that kanji neologism. I thought this was both clever and raised interesting questions for me about whether new kanji/hanzi are being proposed — or whether we've just decided to give up and do emoji instead.

Incidentally, this same Twitter account (@gooohinata) has many other newly created, elegantly designed kanji.  Before they can be accepted for common use, however, it would be necessary to have a designated Unicode point for each of them, and it would also be essential to get the Japanese Ministry of Education to support them as being part of the approved kanji to be taught in schools.  Otherwise, they will simply be curiosities, interesting though they be.



  1. Jonathan Smith said,

    January 14, 2019 @ 2:05 am

    wicked clever. 浍 exists which arguably could serve here…

  2. Max said,

    January 14, 2019 @ 2:24 am

    Wow, this is brilliant.

    Just glancing at their Twitter feed, there's a recent creation with an additional layer of abstraction. "Hentai" in Japanese means deviant, often in the sexual sense, and is obfuscated as the English letter H, pronounced "etchi." S/he's combined that エッチ into one character, giving us a Japanese word via an English letter via a Chinese character made of repurposed components of other Chinese characters (江川千). That's really something.


  3. Chris C. said,

    January 14, 2019 @ 3:07 am

    "Before they can be accepted for common use, however, it would be necessary to have a designated Unicode point for each of them"

    Have we really reached the point where we cannot modify any of our writing systems without official approval of the Unicode Consortium?

  4. Christian Horn said,

    January 14, 2019 @ 3:49 am

    "Before they can be accepted for common use, however, it would be necessary to have a designated Unicode point for each of them"

    I think that is not true. Kanji were used long before unicode. Also for example hentaigana were used long before they made it into unicode. I guess the order is as for words: some critical mass has to start using something, and then it can make it into a standard sign per government, and getting it into unicode makes sense.

  5. Alex R said,

    January 14, 2019 @ 7:43 am

    I think the challenge is that, while in theory Unicode encodes writing systems that originate organically, a huge amount of writing happens on computers, tablets, and mobile phones, which can only show characters that have Unicode code points (barring shenanigans with custom fonts and the private use code points, which are inherently not going to work consistently across everybody's devices). So there's now a huge chicken-and-egg problem with bringing new characters into existence – you need to show that it's in actual use, but for it to be in use, you need to be able to type it on a computer.

    It's definitely an interesting conundrum, but I suspect the practical effect will be that innovations like this will tend to remain personal and ad-hoc rather than a standardised part of the written language.

  6. Chris Button said,

    January 14, 2019 @ 9:49 am

    Love it! It is indeed confusingly close to 浍, although that does then miss the crucial ス → 入 connection.

  7. Peter Grubtal said,

    January 14, 2019 @ 11:43 am

    "it would be necessary to have a designated Unicode point for each of them, and it would also be essential to get the Japanese Ministry of Education to support them"

    Surely the order is wrong: the ministry would have to ok it first, then the Unicode people would have to adapt.
    yours bureaucratically……

  8. Philip Taylor said,

    January 14, 2019 @ 12:05 pm

    Peter G — My understanding is that the Unicode Consortium is guided by input from recognised experts in the field rather than by input from government ministries. But I may be wrong,

  9. Trogluddite said,

    January 14, 2019 @ 3:29 pm

    @Philip Taylor
    According to the Unicode Consortium's website, most members with full voting rights are corporations from the information technology industries. However, the Department of Religious Affairs of the Sultanate of Oman is listed as a full member, and the governments of India, Bangladesh, and Tamil Nadu are listed as institutional members with the right to vote only on technical issues.

  10. Andrew West said,

    January 14, 2019 @ 4:55 pm

    Encoding of CJK ideographs (hanzi, kanji, hanja) goes through a very different process than for other characters, and CJK submissions are not made directly to the Unicode Consortium, but go through a long and complicated (and at times acrimonious) process briefly summarized below. The Ideographic Rapporteur Group [IRG] (click in my name for link) is responsible for gathering, reviewing and preparing CJK submissions from member bodies. IRG is a subgroup under Working Group 2 [WG2] of ISO/IEC JTC1/SC2 (the ISO subcommittee responsible for ISO/IEC 10646 which is the ISO standard corresponding to and coordinated with the Unicode Standard), and participating bodies include standardization organizations from China, Japan, Republic of Korea (DPRK is not currently active, but has been in the past), and Vietnam, as well the Taibei Computer Association (de facto representing Taiwan), Hong Kong, Macao,and the Unicode Consortium. It takes IRG several years to prepare and review each batch of usually several thousand characters, and when IRG is satisfied with the quality of the submission it is formally submitted to WG2, and then goes through the usual ISO balloting process and Unicode Consortium acceptance process, which takes another couple of years. The submission of nearly 5,000 characters that IRG started working on in 2015 is currently going through the ISO and Unicode process, and if all goes well it may be included in Unicode 13.0 as CJK Unified Ideographs Extension G in March 2020.

  11. Benjamin E. Orsatti said,

    January 17, 2019 @ 12:44 pm

    浍 would be a perfect "placeholder" until Unicode gets their act together. It's not in general use in Japan, so there wouldn't be any concern about loading up an already-overworked kanji with yet another meaning. Seems it's a simplified form of "field" or "ditch" (hence the water radical) in Chinese (澮).

    Anent the manner in which this particular kanji was fashioned, it almost seems… Korean?

  12. David L. said,

    January 18, 2019 @ 10:46 am

    Hmm. My understanding is that Peter G. has the correct idea here. Unicode's thing is that it's a unified place for all national standards, and it guarantees problem-free round-trip conversion between each national standard and Unicode.

    That is, it's the national standards that come first, then Unicode.

    (I'd guess the Unicode folks have enough troubles figuring out how to make Unicode work for the various national CJK standards without third parties insisting they add new cutesy Kanji for the fun of it.)

    So if "we" are enthused about these new characters, "we" need to persuade the Japanese national standards folks to like them. That's probably going to be pretty hard, seeing as most of us here aren't native speakers of Japanese, and thus really don't have standing to tell the Japanese what to do with their language. And telling the Japanese to add more characters to the ones already required to be taught in schools is downright obnoxious.

  13. PeterL said,

    January 18, 2019 @ 1:00 pm

    Or just add the kun-yomi システム to an existing kanji, such as 制 ?

  14. John said,

    January 21, 2019 @ 9:49 am

    Does the Unicode process restrict the language people use? For example, I haven't seen any requests to add any new English characters – I can write whatever I like without having to amend the base character set.

    It's amazsquares!

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