What's new

Welcome to Japan Reference (JREF) - the community for all Things Japanese.

Join Today! It is fast, simple, and FREE!

Learn Japanese with JapanesePod101.com

Word order in compound words

Davide92

Kouhai
Joined
8 May 2017
Messages
96
Reaction score
3
Hi guys! Could you help me understand the logic behind the order of the elements in compound words? I've been thinking about this for quite a while, especially when trying to learn and remember vocabulary...

I'll recap what I've found out so far:

  1. Japanese is a head-final language. As such, the head of compounds should normally come second. This is indeed the case with 訓読み compounds (ex. in such words as食べ物, しまうま, 風当たり, 人殺し, 爪切り and お金持ち the head of the compound comes second and the first part merely modifies it.)

  2. This head-finality also applies to a lot of 音読み compounds (I would say, most of the ones I've found so far): 医者, 映画, 花瓶, 漢字, etc. However:

  3. There are quite a lot of 音読み compounds where the word order seems reversed, for example 開幕, 握手, 進学, 読書, 発車 and 出火. It seems that many of these describe a process/action, yet the part about the process/action comes first...
- Could it be that some of these compounds have been imported from China, where the word order was different?

- I remember reading somewhere on wikipedia that 出火 was created from the sentence 火が出る. Maybe that plays a part as well?
 

Toritoribe

松葉解禁
Moderator
Joined
22 Feb 2008
Messages
16,880
Reaction score
3,142
Actually, the term "compound word" is a bit ambiguous. Compound words basically refers to 熟語, i.e., kanji compound words as in #2 and 3 in your examples. The ones in #1 is usually called 複合語. The problem is that both are translated as "compound word" in English.

Anyway, unfortunately for learners, the accurate answer is "it varies depending on the word". For instance, 食べ物 is "thing that is eaten", i.e., "food", thus, indeed the first part modifies the second one, as you understand correctly. However, 買い物 is an action 物を買うこと "buying thing(s)", not "thing that is bought".

Or, this is not so many, but there are on'yomi compounds words of "subject - verb" construction that express action, e.g., 腹痛(腹が痛い), 日没(日が没する) or 国営(国が営んでいる).

In addition, there are other constructions, the ones of opposite meanings and similar meanings.
e.g.
大小(だいしょう), 長短(ちょうたん)
右左(みぎひだり), 朝夕(あさゆう)

救助(きゅうじょ), 温暖(おんだん)
草木(くさき), 田畑(たはた)

Confusingly enough, 右左 is kun'yomi みぎひだり, as I wrote above, but 左右 is on'yomi さゆう. These two words are at least the same in meaning, but 読書 can be read as よみかき, meaning "reading and writing comprehension", unlike どくしょ "reading books". よみかき is usually written as 読み書き with furigana, though.

There are many cases, right?

- Could it be that some of these compounds have been imported from China, where the word order was different?

- I remember reading somewhere on wikipedia that 出火 was created from the sentence 火が出る. Maybe that plays a part as well?
Right. It's originally from the Chinese word order "verb --> object", 幕を開ける, 手を握る, 書を読む, etc.
 

Davide92

Kouhai
Joined
8 May 2017
Messages
96
Reaction score
3
Thanks for the reply Toritoribe-san! As usual, you made quite a few interesting points!

Actually, the term "compound word" is a bit ambiguous. Compound words basically refers to 熟語, i.e., kanji compound words as in #2 and 3 in your examples. The ones in #1 is usually called 複合語.

So if I understand this correctly, 複合語 contain at least one nominalized verb or some portion of a verb, while 熟語 don't contain any, right? So a word like 雨戸 is a 熟語 even though it's based on kun'yomi?

Or, this is not so many, but there are on'yomi compounds words of "subject - verb" construction that express action, e.g., 腹痛(腹が痛い), 日没(日が没する) or 国営(国が営んでいる).

How is this not 国 営んでいる though?

In addition, there are other constructions, the ones of opposite meanings and similar meanings.
e.g.
大小(だいしょう), 長短(ちょうたん)
右左(みぎひだり), 朝夕(あさゆう)

Also, I love how it's 終始 instead of 始終 as if it's going back in time mind blown

Right. It's originally from the Chinese word order "verb --> object", 幕を開ける, 手を握る, 書を読む, etc.

Ok I'm not sure I've got this right... were these 熟語 created in China and then imported to Japan, or were they created in Japan based on Japanese sentences (火が出る) but with the Chinese word order in mind?

Also, allow me to ask a broader question at this point: generally speaking, were 熟語 imported from China, or were they created in Japan based on Japanese language and culture using kanji as building blocks? I mean, some were obviously imported because they are part of Chinese culture, like 元気 or 風水, but what about the general trend?
 

Toritoribe

松葉解禁
Moderator
Joined
22 Feb 2008
Messages
16,880
Reaction score
3,142
So if I understand this correctly, 複合語 contain at least one nominalized verb or some portion of a verb, while 熟語 don't contain any, right? So a word like 雨戸 is a 熟語 even though it's based on kun'yomi?
Not really. "Noun + noun" can be 複合語, for instance 海風, 松葉, 砂浜 or 紙コップ. These words are just made from mixture of each component, e.g., 海 "sea" + 風 "wind" = sea wind/sea breeze. So, 雨戸 is 複合語. (Note that 複合語 can be categorized into 熟語 in a broader sense, so it's not wrong to call those words 熟語.)

How is this not 国 営んでいる though?
国 is the object of 営む in that case, so the word order should be 営国, as same as 営業, 営利 or the examples in #3.

Also, I love how it's 終始 instead of 始終 as if it's going back in time mind blown
Actually, the word 始終, reading しじゅう, exists. Incidentally, these two words are not the same in meaning. For instance, 彼は終始食べていた。 means that he was eating something from the beginning to the end of a period of time, i.e., he kept on eating throughout a period of time. On the other hand, 彼は始終食べていた。 is a past habit; "he used to always/frequently eat something". Thus, 終始 vs. 始終 is close to ずっと vs. いつも.

Also, 終始 can be the stem of a -suru verb 終始する, meaning "to do in the same state/way/attitude" or "to stick to one's faith", whereas 始終 doesn't have this usage. (As a side note, 左右 vs. 右左 has a similar difference. They are the same in meaning as a noun, but 左右する means "to affect/influence", e.g., 入試は人生を左右する "The entrance exam strongly influences one's life". 右左する doesn't exist.)

Ok I'm not sure I've got this right... were these 熟語 created in China and then imported to Japan, or were they created in Japan based on Japanese sentences (火が出る) but with the Chinese word order in mind?

Also, allow me to ask a broader question at this point: generally speaking, were 熟語 imported from China, or were they created in Japan based on Japanese language and culture using kanji as building blocks?
Both exist. Furthermore, there are words that were made in Japan and exported to China, for instance western origin concepts that were translated in the end of Edo and the beginning of Meiji Period, e.g., 文化, 文明, 経済, 宗教, 哲学, etc.

they are part of Chinese culture, like 元気 or 風水
Actually, 元気 is a Japanese word. 元気 was originally written as 減気, meaning "illness decreasing and getting better". It changed to 験気 later, and fainally 元気 is used now. 元気 exists also in Chinese, but it has a different meaning from the Japanese one, and vitality/health is written in a different way in Chinese.
Similarly, there are words whose meanings are different in each language, e.g., 手紙 (letter in Japanese, toilet paper in Chinse) or 娘 (daughter in Japanese, mother in Chinse).

Kanji is not so simple, right?;)
 

Davide92

Kouhai
Joined
8 May 2017
Messages
96
Reaction score
3
Not really. "Noun + noun" can be 複合語, for instance 海風, 松葉, 砂浜 or 紙コップ. These words are just made from mixture of each component, e.g., 海 "sea" + 風 "wind" = sea wind/sea breeze. So, 雨戸 is 複合語. (Note that 複合語 can be categorized into 熟語 in a broader sense, so it's not wrong to call those words 熟語.)

Ok, I've got it now. Thanks!

国 is the object of 営む in that case, so the word order should be 営国, as same as 営業, 営利 or the examples in #3.

I'm still not sure about this point. I might have misunderstood you. From what I understand:

On'yomi compounds expressing actions/processes can be thought of in relation to sentence patterns: either subject + verb or verb + object. When one of the kanji is the object, it comes second (ex. 握手, 進学, 読書). When one of the kanji is the subjiect, it comes either first (ex. 腹痛, 日没) or second (ex. 発車, 出火).

The thing about 国営 is, your example 国が営んでいる seems grammatically wrong to me. 営む is transitive, so shouldn't the subject be the people governing the country? At the same time, the order of the kanji in 国営 suggests that 国 is indeed the subject.

As for 営業 and 営利, I can see how they fit nicely with the examples in #3.

Actually, the word 始終, reading しじゅう, exists. Incidentally, these two words are not the same in meaning. For instance, 彼は終始食べていた。 means that he was eating something from the beginning to the end of a period of time, i.e., he kept on eating throughout a period of time. On the other hand, 彼は始終食べていた。 is a past habit; "he used to always/frequently eat something". Thus, 終始 vs. 始終 is close to ずっと vs. いつも.

Also, 終始 can be the stem of a -suru verb 終始する, meaning "to do in the same state/way/attitude" or "to stick to one's faith", whereas 始終 doesn't have this usage. (As a side note, 左右 vs. 右左 has a similar difference. They are the same in meaning as a noun, but 左右する means "to affect/influence", e.g., 入試は人生を左右する "The entrance exam strongly influences one's life". 右左する doesn't exist.)

Interesting! I only knew 終始 in the sense of ずっと and assumed that was the only possible kanji order.

Kanji is not so simple, right?;)

No... but that's why they're interesting... An alphabet is so boring :D

Thanks for sharing all this!! Also the part about 元気. I love learning about the history of the language.
 

Toritoribe

松葉解禁
Moderator
Joined
22 Feb 2008
Messages
16,880
Reaction score
3,142
I'm still not sure about this point. I might have misunderstood you. From what I understand:

On'yomi compounds expressing actions/processes can be thought of in relation to sentence patterns: either subject + verb or verb + object. When one of the kanji is the object, it comes second (ex. 握手, 進学, 読書). When one of the kanji is the subjiect, it comes either first (ex. 腹痛, 日没) or second (ex. 発車, 出火).
I missed that you wrote 火が出る. It's actually originally from 火を出す. Similarly, 発車 is from 車を発する, not 車が発する. The word order is "verb --> object" as in the Chinese one.

The thing about 国営 is, your example 国が営んでいる seems grammatically wrong to me. 営む is transitive, so shouldn't the subject be the people governing the country?
国営 means "government-managed". It's used as a prefix for institution, facility, organization, etc, e.g., 国営農場, 国営放送, 国営鉄道,
or in a sentence あの公園は国営だ. The object of 営む exists outside of this word. Makes sense?
 

Davide92

Kouhai
Joined
8 May 2017
Messages
96
Reaction score
3
Yeah, makes perfect sense. I didn't understand because I was thinking of 国 as 'country, nation', not as 'state, government' as is appropriate in this context. The other point is also clear now.

Thanks again Toritoribe-san!
 
Top Bottom