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Advanced Japanese Lesson: 眠りを表わす漢字

人生の1/3を占めるという睡眠。「睡」にも「眠」にも左側に「目」が書かれていますね。 「睡」の右側「垂」は「たれる」という訓読みを持っていて、「まぶたを垂れて(目をつぶって)眠る」という意味です。「眠」には「ねむる」という訓読みがあり、「目をつぶって眠る」という意味。右側の「民」は、目を↑型の針で突く様子を記号化したもので、元来「逃亡を防ぐために目を見えなくした奴隷」を指していたのだとか。ここから、「目が見えない状態となって眠る」という意味を「眠」の文字が担うようになったのです。



Sleep is said to take up 1/3 of our lives. On the left side of both 睡 sui, and 眠 min, 目 me or “eye” is written. On the right of 睡 is 垂 and has the kunyomi (type of Japanese reading of character) of tareru or “to droop” and means “the eyelids droop (eyes close) and you sleep.”

眠 has the kunyomi of nemuru or “to sleep”, and means “closing your eyes and sleeping.” The 民 on the right is an evolved symbol of a needle in this ↑ shape poking the eye, and apparently it originally means “a slave made blind in order to prevent escape”. From here, the character 眠 had carried the meaning of “sleeping in the state of not being able to see”.

There is this verb 寝る neru or “to sleep, to go to bed” which has a similar meaning to 眠る nemuru or “to sleep”. What is the difference between these two verbs.

The radical of 寝 is 宀 ukanmuri. This depicts a roof over a 家 or house (this kanji also has an ukanmuri), and 室 (has kanji compounds such as 教室 kyoshitsu or “classroom” and 室内 shitsunai or “indoors”, expresses a room) and 宿 (has kanji compounds such as 宿泊 shukuhaku or “lodging”, the kunyomi is yado) have ukanmuri as well.  On top of that, a bed is depicted at the bottom left of the character 寝 by a simplified shape of 爿.  In other words the character 寝 means “to sleep in a bed that was set in a room in a house.”

Therefore, we can say that 寝 expresses a sleeping situation more specifically than 眠 does. On top of that 寝 expresses the condition of laying your body down and resting when sick even though you are not falling asleep.