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Etymology question


2 Jan 2003
Hello everyone!

This is a great site, and so are the forums!

I have a question about the origin of the word KAWA (川). I mean, not the kanji (or, not ONLY the kanji), but the phonetic component.
Besides, I would appreciate it if someone could recommend me a resource on Japanese etymology.


kawa etymology

The character 川, pronounced SEN and kawa, is a pictograph that shows flowing water.

While some sources, such as Henshall in A Guide to Remembering Japanese Characters, claim the character shows flowing water in the middle (inidicated by a dashed line) running between two riverbanks, others say the three lines express the idea of a strong flow of water-a river.

Yamada Katsumi, in Kanji no Gogen (漢字の語源), writes that the sound of this water flowing between mountains or the banks of a river was SEN, coming from the first character of the word SENTSUU (穿通 ), meaning to penetrate and pass through something. This explanation by Yamada is probably based on the same explanation found in the Setsumon Kaiji, written by Kyoshin over 1700 years ago.

I would recommend Henshall and Yamada above as good places to start, but if your Japanese is up to it, just about any book by Shirakawa Shizuka is a good read. I especially recommend Shirakawa's dictionary Jito (字統).
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