Monday, February 23, 2009

In search of 一番

I am rather ashamed to admit I bought a shirt at a thrift store which had a "Chinese character" blazed across the front. I first felt guilty for not knowing the meaning of the character, but then I became worried it was just fake. How does one go about looking up Chinese characters? Or could it be Kanji? I have very little knowledge of either Chinese or Japanese. I only know the basics of the structure in Chinese- each character is (usually? always?) one morpheme and one syllable. I also know that characters are broken down in to "radicals" for collation purposes.

Searching with the radical plus 5-7 strokes, I found 番. The definition given is "take turns, repeat." A Kanji search gives ばん as the Hiragana form. It means "many". But wait- this character, , isn't correct- my shirt has a horizontal line above it.

Breakthrough! The character for "one" is a horizontal line (in both Chinese and Japanese, apparently.) If stacked vertically, 一番 is my character. In Japanese, it means "first, top, best", written in Hiragana as
いちばん and pronounced "ichiban". The same two characters don't seem to form a word or phrase in Chinese. (Perhaps it just means "one turn"- but that's a wild guess.)

So in conclusion, my shirt apparently says "Number One" in Japanese on it. Also: logographic writing systems are scary, but apparently not impossible to figure out.

For the record, "first" in Thai is ที่หนื่ง or แรก.

No comments:

Post a Comment