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Old 08-30-2009, 09:16 PM   #3
Peter Goldsbury
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Dojo: Hiroshima Kokusai Dojo
Location: Hiroshima, Japan
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Re: How to address a Shihan, Sempai, or Sensei?

Adam Huss wrote: View Post
Prof. Goldsbury,

Since you seem to be pretty keen on the (incredibly intricate) language aspect, can you help me with the reasoning behind changing shi to yon for certain occasions? For example yondan, yonkyu/yonkajo instead of shi. Is it something to do with simple grammar or ease of speaking (i.e. the giri replacing kiri) or is this something else entirely (and am I misinformed about giri/kiri, I was simply told its done for grammar and flow)?

Thank you for your time and expertise (we don't get too many linguists where I'm at...had one for a bit, but he moved),
Hello Adam,

Thank you for your post. First of all, let us look at the data.

Here some of the the compounds appearing in two respectable Chinese character dictionaries (Nelson and Hadamitzky & Spahn). I have omitted many older compounds which are not in my computer's dictionary:

yonin: four people (plus compounds) 四人
yonju: 40 (but also shiju) 四十
yonhyaku: 400 四百
yonsen: 4,000 四千
yotsugiri: to cut into four (but also yogi) 四つ切り
shirokujichu: 24 hours a day, constantly 四六時中
shiho: four directions (but also yomo) 四方
shihohappo: in every direction, far and wide 四方八方
shimin: four classes (samurai, farmers, artisans, merchants) 四民
shihanki: quarter (of a year, like a financial year) 四半期
yotsume: four eyes 四つ目 (but the compounds have different meanings, as in yotsumegaki (trellis), yotsumegoshi (lattice work), yotsumegiri (square drill)
yojigen: 四次元 (This is also read as shijigen or yonjigen and can mean fourth dimension, or four dimensions. NB Japanese has no official plural)
shii: circumference, surroundings 四囲 (or, with a different second character: barbarian, foreigner 四夷)
shiki: four seasons 四季
shihyakushibyo: every kind of disease 四百四病
azumaya: arbor, gazebo 四阿 (Don't ask me why.)
shikaku: square 四角 (but yotsukado 四角: four corners)
shujuso: instrumental quartet 四重奏
shisoku: four basic arithmetical operations 四則
shikai: four seas, seven seas, whole world 四海, but yonkai: four times 四回
shikaidoho: universal brotherhood 四海同胞
yonwari: 40 percent 四割, but yotsuwari (divide into four よつ割り)
yonrinsha: four wheeled vehicle 四輪者
shirin: the whole neighborhood 四隣

I think you will see that there no rules, such that you can apply the rule and always arrive at the correct reading. There are, of course, considerations of euphony or ease of utterance, but this rule does not account for all the readings. There seem to be preferred combinations which have come to be accepted, such as yonin, never shinin (which means 'dead person'), or shiho 四方 and not yonho. The preferences also seem to depend to some extent on the second character. The ON / kun divide is also a factor, as Josh stated.

Best wishes,

P A Goldsbury
Hiroshima, Japan
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