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Omou, the Japanese Word for "Think", is Predominately Visual

The Japanese words for think and thought as represented in mixed logographic and phonetic script. The question as to whether Japanese and Chinese script does in fact transmit meaning directly from the visual "graph" is hotly debated (Hansen, 1993).


I strongly agree with Hansen. Characters do mean. Like Derrida's word "differance," (Derrida, 1998) designed I think to draw attention to the trace, or graph, there is a gap between the sound and the meaning in Japanese words too. Derrida's word is pronounced the same as difference, but means something else, as a graphic neologism on the page. Japanese words can mean different things depending upon the graph used, such as foot 足 and leg 脚, both pronounced "ashi," and even native speakers may be able to read the characters without being able to pronounce them. In Japanese they can be pronounced many ways.


What is not debatable in my mind is that the act of thinking in Japan is extremely or predominantly visual. These Japanese words for thought, as those in English, describe the calling to mind of both language and vision. However in Japanese one can think someone, e.g. "think her" (kanojo wo omou taking a direct object) and this means at least to call an image of her to ones mind. In so many other compounds of the Japanese word to think, such as "omoi-ukaberu" (float a thought), "omoi wo haseru"(direct ones thoughts) it seems clear to me that this act entails predominantly the calling to mind of images.


Western thought as everyone since Plato tell us, is predominantly "the soul's discourse with itself" (Miller, 1981, see Kim, 2002).


Derrida, J. (1998). Of grammatology. (G. C. Spivak, Trans.). JHU Press.

Hansen, C. (1993). Chinese Ideographs and Western Ideas. The Journal of Asian Studies, 52(02), 373–399. doi:10.2307/2059652

Kim, H. S. (2002). We talk, therefore we think? A cultural analysis of the effect of talking on thinking. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83(4), 828.


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Taken on June 19, 2012