2019-10-27

Most Common Kanji in FFVI Text

Some time ago, I was asked about kanji that frequently appear in Final Fantasy VI, so I scanned the text dumps to put together a list of the top 25, then added some basic information about them. Going through some of my working documents recently, I found the list and figured it would work as a blog entry with some revisions and extra detail, mainly added commentary.

This was originally addressed to a more beginner-level sort of audience, so I didn't use any kana, include uncommon pronunciations, or mention the official names for the pronunciations themselves. The "by itself" pronunciations listed are the kun'yomi (Japanese-assigned readings), which are most often used when a kanji is its own word or part of a word that's finished in kana, while the "in compounds" ones are the on'yomi (Chinese-derived readings), which are most often used when a kanji is part of a word with other kanji. (There are exceptions to both of these tendencies, some of them included in the examples below.) Some of the kun'yomi have additional letters in [brackets]; these indicate the non-kanji parts of the words they commonly appear in.

In addition to the frequency ranking in the game, I've also noted here each kanji's frequency ranking in an index based on an analysis of word frequencies in the Mainichi Shimbun over 4 years by Alexandre Girardi. This data is itself biased toward words common in newspaper articles (the problem with any frequency analysis is that you have to analyze something, and the choice of thing will affect the results), but should at least be significantly closer to standard usage than the game text. Some of the kanji common in the game aren't particularly so in general usage, while others are common in the game precisely because they're so common in general.

This list is based on the original Japanese Super Famicom version; more recent remakes may have differences. Also note that only the main text bank (story and dialog) was analyzed, not menu or in-combat text. However, the portions not included account for relatively little text and include relatively little kanji, so including them wouldn't be likely to have much effect on the results.

1) 国 (general frequency ranking: 3)

Usual pronunciation(s):

kuni by itself, koku in compounds

Meaning/description:

Country; land; nation.

Comments:

It's not surprising that this would come up frequently in any discussion of politics, travel, or other international matters, both in and out of the game.

Sample words:

帝国 (teikoku) - empire
王国 (oukoku) - kingdom
国際 (kokusai) - international

2) 人 (general frequency ranking: 5)

Usual pronunciation(s):

hito by itself, jin or nin in compounds

Meaning/description:

Person. In fantasy or sci-fi contexts, this generally extends to members of any sentient and sapient species, like elves and dwarves, or Klingons and Vulcans.

Sample words:

人々 (hitobito) - people in general
老人 (roujin) - elderly person
商人 (shounin) - merchant

3) 帝 (general frequency ranking: 1276)

Usual pronunciation(s):

mikado by itself, tei in compounds

Meaning/description:

Emperor; sovereign.

Comments:

The importance of an evil empire to the plot of FFVI drastically boosts this one's ranking in the game. While Japan still technically has an emperor, that typically has little everyday relevance, and wouldn't come up especially often in the news, with the exception of certain special events, like getting a new one.

Sample words:

帝国 (teikoku) - empire
皇帝 (koutei) - emperor

4) 魔 (general frequency ranking: 1514)

Usual pronunciation(s):

ma

Meaning/description:

The supernatural, often with a menacing or unnerving connotation, though not necessarily.

Comments:

It's unsurprisingly more common in a fantasy context, particularly when magic is a central plot point, than in general usage.

Sample words:

魔法 (mahou) - magic
魔法瓶 (mahoubin) - thermos (literally a "magic bottle")
魔物 (mamono) - monster
悪魔 (akuma) - demon

5) 獣 (general frequency ranking: 1714)

Usual pronunciation(s):

kemono or kedamono by itself, juu in compounds

Meaning/description:

Animal; beast. It can refer to animals in general, or more specifically to the furry, four-legged sort. When applied to humans, it indicates animalistic behavior, similar to calling someone a "pig" or "monster" in English, depending on the sort of behavior.

Comments:

This kanji's frequency in FFVI is largely thanks to the race of supernatural creatures central to the plot that have it in their name. The grassland where monsters congregate also plays a role in boosting it in the ranking.

Sample words:

幻獣 (genjuu) - phantasmal beasts/Espers (the supernatural creatures mentioned above)
獣ケ原 (kemono ga hara) - the Veldt/Beast Plain (the grassland mentioned above)

6) 力 (general frequency ranking: 62)

Usual pronunciation(s):

chikara by itself, ryoku or riki in compounds

Meaning/description:

Power; strength; exertion; ability to get things done.

Sample words and phrases:

武力 (buryoku) - military force
怪力 (kairiki) - inhuman strength
能力 (nouryoku) - ability
力を貸す (chikara wo kasu) - to provide assistance (literally, "to lend strength")

7) 幻 (general frequency ranking: 1564)

Usual pronunciation(s):

maboroshi by itself, gen in compounds

Meaning/description:

Phantasm; illusion.

Comments:

This kanji's frequency in FFVI is almost entirely due to the race of supernatural creatures central to the plot that have it in their name. In this context, it refers to something so rare and poorly evidenced that there's no telling whether it even really exists.

Sample words:

幻獣 (genjuu) - phantasmal beasts/Espers (the supernatural creatures mentioned above)
幻覚 (genkaku) - hallucination

8) 俺 (general frequency ranking: 1946)

Usual pronunciation(s):

ore

Meaning/description:

A first-person pronoun with a confident, frequently arrogant, masculine tone.

Comments:

The more professional and detached tone of newspapers makes this rarer in the official ranking than it probably deserves to be, while the preponderance of cocky characters in fiction makes it more common than usual there.

9) 行 (general frequency ranking: 20)

Usual pronunciation(s):

most commonly i[ku] by itself, kou in compounds;
okona[u] (by itself), gyou (in compounds), and others also occur fairly often

Meaning/description:

Movement from here to there; travel. While this isn't quite the same as English "go", they're fairly close analogues.

Sample word:

行く (iku) - to go (one of the most common verbs there is)
旅行 (ryokou) - travel, journey, excursion
行う (okonau) - to do, to carry out, to perform (a task, etc.)
三行目 (san gyou me) - line 3 (on a page, of a poem, etc.)

10) 手 (general frequency ranking: 60)

Usual pronunciation(s):

te by itself, shu or sometimes zu in compounds

Meaning/description:

Hand; means of doing.

Comments:

This is more common than might be expected thanks in large part to a number of idiomatic and semi-idiomatic uses, most of them relating to things like ability or influence.

Sample words and phrases:

手に入れる (te ni ireru) - to obtain (literally, "put in one's hand")
拍手 (hakushu) - applause
自分の手で (jibun no te de) - [doing something] personally (literally, "with one's own hand"; compare to English "with my own two hands")

11) 私 (general frequency ranking: 242)

Usual pronunciation(s):

watashi or watakushi by itself, shi in compounds

Meaning/description:

A first-person pronoun, with a more polite or deferential tone. The longer watakushi reading is more formal and humble than the more common watashi. When not used as a pronoun, the kanji has a meaning of personal or private, as opposed to public.

Sample words:

私 (watashi or watakushi) - I/me
私学 (shigaku) - private school
私服 (shifuku) - civilian (non-uniform) clothing

Comments:

Being the usual polite and proper term, this first-person pronoun is significantly more common in newspaper articles than others.

12) 界 (general frequency ranking: 158)

Usual pronunciation(s):

kai

Meaning/description:

World; realm; zone.

Sample words:

世界 (sekai) - the world
幻獣界 (genjuu kai) - the genjuu/Esper world

13) 事 (general frequency ranking: 18)

Usual pronunciation(s):

koto by itself, ji in compounds

Meaning/description:

Thing, in the abstract rather than concrete sense.

Sample words:

事 (koto) - (abstract) thing
事情 (jijou) - circumstances or situation
大事 (daiji) - important

14) 世 (general frequency ranking: 135)

Usual pronunciation(s):

yo by itself, sei or se in compounds

Meaning/description:

World; generation; society.

Sample words:

世界 (sekai) - (the) world
世話 (sewa) - tending to or looking after
ルイ14世 (RUI juu yon sei) - Louis XIV

15) 前 (general frequency ranking: 27)

Usual pronunciation(s):

mae by itself, zen in compounds

Meaning/description:

In front of; ahead; earlier than.

Sample words:

名前 (namae) - (personal, as opposed to family) name
以前 (izen) - before, prior to, previously
お前 (omae) - you (in a confident masculine tone)
前回 (zenkai) - last time, previous episode (etc.)

16) 間 (general frequency ranking: 33)

Usual pronunciation(s):

aida or ma by itself, kan or ken in compounds

Meaning/description:

Interval; space; gap between.

Sample words:

時間 (jikan) - time
仲間 (nakama) - teammate, companion, comrade, ally
昼と夜の間 (hiru to yoru no aida) - the time between day and night

17) 戦 (general frequency ranking: 78)

Usual pronunciation(s):

ikusa or tataka[u] by itself, sen in compounds

Meaning/description:

War; battle; conflict. This is also used more loosely for things like competitions, not just for outright war.

Sample words:

戦闘 (sentou) - combat
戦う (tatakau) - to do battle
決戦 (kessen) - decisive battle, deciding match

18) 見 (general frequency ranking: 22)

Usual pronunciation(s):

mi[ru/eru/seru] by itself, ken in compounds

Meaning/description:

Sight; vision; viewpoint.

Sample words:

見る (miru) - to see
見える (mieru) - to be visible
見せる (miseru) - to show (to)
意見 (iken) - opinion

19) 大 (general frequency ranking: 7)

Usual pronunciation(s):

oo[kii] by itself, dai or tai in compounds

Meaning/description:

Large; vast; important.

Sample words:

大きい (ookii) - big, large
大陸 (tairiku) - continent
大変 (taihen) - seriously bad
拡大 (kakudai) - magnification, enlargement
大人 (otona) - adult

20) 何 (general frequency ranking: 340)

Usual pronunciation(s):

nani or nan

Meaning/description:

What?

Sample words:

何 (nani) - what
何者 (nanimono) - equivalent to "Who goes there?" (literally, "what (unidentified) person")
何時 (itsu) (usually written in kana) - when
何百 (nan byaku) - hundreds

Comments:

English can use question words like "what", "who", and "when" in two distinct ways that come so naturally to native speakers that I'm having difficulty putting the distinction into words. Basically, they can be used both to ask questions ("Who is this?") and to indicate the answers to stated or unstated questions ("the person who arrived last"). Japanese question words like nani, dare, and itsu aren't used in that second sense. However, they also have more flexibility in expressing unknowns in general than English question words do. For instance, the nan byaku example above refers to some unknown number of hundreds. In a related way, something that's itsu ka applies some (unspecified) part of the time but not at other times, while something that's itsu mo is valid at all times so the question of which particular time become irrelevant.

21) 達 (general frequency ranking: 500)

Usual pronunciation(s):

tachi as a suffix, tatsu in compounds

Meaning/description:

Accomplishment; arrival. As a suffix, it basically makes a plural, indicating the one named as a representative member of a larger group.

Comment:

The pluralization usage drives its frequency in FFVI. Japanese doesn't usually concern itself with distinguishing singular from plural, except when it comes to indicating whether people are speaking for themselves or a group, and similarly whether speaking about a single person or a group that includes that person. Both of these come up all the time in conversation, so are naturally more common in game dialog than newspaper articles.

Sample words:

発達 (hattatsu) - development or growth
私達 (watashi-tachi) - we/us
ガウ達 (GAU-tachi) - the group consisting of Gau and others

22) 兵 (general frequency ranking: 522)

Usual pronunciation(s):

tsuwamono by itself, hei or sometimes hyou in compounds

Meaning/description:

Solder; troop; army.

Comment:

One would hope this would appear more often in a war-torn fantasy world than in real life.

Sample words:

兵士 (heishi) - soldier
帝国兵 (teikoku hei) - imperial soldier

23) 出 (general frequency ranking: 13)

Usual pronunciation(s):

de[ru] or da[su] by itself, shutsu in compounds

Meaning/description:

Movement outward, away, or to a more public destination.

Sample words:

出す (dasu) - to bring out (e.g., of a container)
脱出 (dasshutsu) - escape
出発 (shuppatsu) - departure
引き出し (hikidashi) - drawer, withdrawal

24) 時 (general frequency ranking: 16)

Usual pronunciation(s):

toki or ji

Meaning/description:

Time; hour. Used with numbers to indicate the hour when telling time (10時 is 10:00, for instance).

Sample words:

時間 (jikan) - time
時計 (tokei) - clock
不時着 (fujichaku) - emergency [not at the planned time] landing

25) 言 (general frequency ranking: 83)

Usual pronunciation(s):

i[u] or koto by itself, gen or gon in compounds

Meaning/description:

Speaking.

Sample words:

言う (iu) - to say
合言葉 (aikotoba) - password, watchword
方言 (hougen) - dialect

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