Dr Maru’s notes, translated

As an Assyriologist-in-training, I was pretty excited about cuneiform’s little cameo in Wonder Woman- there are no films at all about Mesopotamia, so even three seconds of flipping through a notebook of the languages I study was pretty exciting to see on the big screen. Now, I assumed at first that the writing in Dr Maru’s notebook, would simply be gibberish, but one thing about it stuck with me: how well copied the letters were. Now, Cuneiform writing was designed for clay and stylus, and it is BRUTALLY hard to write cuneiform symbols with pen and paper. You’d think you could just draw a bunch of triangles, but nope; the system was so clearly designed to use nuances only possible with stylus and clay, they’re nigh on impossible to accurately reproduce using pen. And whoever wrote that piece of paper did a damn good job of it. So, I remained convinced the text might actually have some meaning, and when I got home I started tinkering with it.

First things first: though the notes were described in the film as “Sumerian and Ottoman”, they’re not Sumerian. Dr Maru’s notes are very clearly written in the quite distinctive script of Neo-Assyrian Cuneiform, which was used on official inscriptions of the Assyrian Empire from around 1000- 700 BC. Sumerian died out as a spoken language in around 2000 BC and though it continued to be used in writing long after that in the same way Latin was in Europe, it was probably never written in the formal Assyrian script.

I’m going to safely assume the man who mistakenly called the page “Sumerian and Ottoman” got it wrong, but the fact that Diana doesn’t correct this, despite her vastly superior knowledge of ancient languages is interesting. Consider this though: historians estimate the destruction of the site of Hissarlik, which is thought MIGHT be the inspiration for the Troy legends to around 1300 BC, around the time of the Bronze Age collapse and dawn of the Greek Dark Ages. If we take this as the end of the Greek Mythic age and the hiding of Themiscyra in the DC Universe, Diana would only have been able to study Cuneiform scripts written before this period so she would know only Old Babylonian Cursive, or possibly even only Old Babylonian Lapidary. Neo-Assyrian script would be just legible with effort, but difficult for her to read.

Now, the way cuneiform works is that any one cuneiform symbol can represent one or more alphabetic sounds, OR syllables, OR entire words. Most stand for a number of those things, but some represent only one. The symbols that represent entire words are called Logograms, and they remained largely consistent through all the changes of the cuneiform writing system. If Dr Maru’s notes were primarily written in Logograms (which they turned out to be), it would make sense for Diana to still be able to read them despite the considerable changes between Old Babylonian Lapidary and Neo-Assyrian script, and also that she wouldn’t have to know Assyrian-era Akkadian to understand the logographic signs (because they represent whole words at once rather than spell them out alphabetically, they can be understood by speakers of multiple languages who know the signs).

So having sorted all that out, I began to translate. Virtually all the symbols were logograms standing for words like mountain, woman, king, builder etc, but a limited few stood for single syllables like “ru” or “ti”. This made no sense, because the signs used were consistent enough with the actual context in the film to make some sense and logically repetitive. Whoever wrote this knew what they were doing. Why intersperse them with random letters? I finally realised: Dr Maru is a chemist. The way her code works is that she uses mostly logograms, but uses signs for syllables when those syllables are our modern symbols for chemical elements. Every sign where a syllable-only translation was my only option, that syllable matched up with the abbreviation for a chemical element in the periodic table.

So, working with the assumption that Dr Poison’s code technique is using Logograms to represent whole words, and the symbols for sole syllables like ka, ga, la etc in their standard transcriptions from cuneiform to represent chemical elements, here it is at last, the first page of Dr Maru’s notebook:


To divide the town, one unit of the weapon to the throne of the builder: to please the builder, in the company of the god: lithium, 1 grain/seed of europium. 1 daughter of gold woman -  yours. Country [given?] to god and then [to] lord/god/king. Ruthenium possibility, carbon disulfide*, and then rhenium. May it be pleasing to the country. Animal shoulder** Uunhexium*** . Lord/god and then gallium, and then radium. Weapon, iodine, administrator.

*This sign can mean “tree, wood” or, just stand for the sound “s”. So, i was left with a choice between carbon and sulfur, and settled on the compound

**I have no fricking idea why that’s in there, but it’s definitely that sign. Maybe she wants to make a pot roast and scribbled it down? Someone draw me happy dr maru and her pot roast pls

***This sign was VERY hard to identify, but i finally settled on the Old Babylonian Lapidary sign for “uuh”. Uuh also happens to be the chemical symbol for Ununhexium or Livermorium, a rare earth element not identified until the year 2000. This is strange, because this sign is CLEARLY Lapidary, while all the others are in the Neo-Assyrian script. So my conclusion is that Dr Poison isolated Uunhexium 92 years ahead of the game, it’s her big secret, and decided it needed a unique Logogram of its own, for which she adopted the sign for Uuh.

The Truth About Learning Japanese

(I’m going to start with a random side note: If I ever get a book deal to write Japanese primer, I’m going to call it I Eat Cake Everyday: A Complete Guide to Japanese with Stupid Sentences.)

It’s been a while since we’ve just talked, so I wanted to just take a moment to do that.

I think every Japanese platform at one point write an article about “the deep truth” of learning Japanese, claiming to give you the golden key that you need to become fluent in only 6 months or 1 year or whatever. 

The argument for those kinds of posts isn’t hard to understand: People are fundamentally similar. If people are fundamentally similar, it is very likely that works for me will will work for you. Thus, if this works for me, it will work for you. This does work for me. Therefore, it will work for you (most likely.)

This is why all articles start with something like, “I guarantee you that I’m no genius. [Insert daily task that the writer struggles with on a daily basis.] I’m just a regular person that tried out a few things until I found a winning formula.”

I, personally, want to do my own take on this kind of article. I won’t offer a golden key, but I’ll talk about learning Japanese.

1. Japanese is Coded in the Most Inefficient Writing System in the World

Kanji, the logographs that are the bane of all Japanese-learner’s existence, comes from China. Kanji itself, 漢字, means “Chinese characters.” Kanji were invented to suit the needs of the Chinese language (from way back when, before Mandarin/Standard Chinese was a thing.) Japanese, on the other hand, is a language isolate, and it is not related to Chinese. So the use of these Chinese characters has over time been used in different ways for different words and with different readings- for Kanji tend to have multiple readings, sometimes being just 2 and at other times 8. 

In Eastern Asia, the use of Chinese characters was widespread. It was used in Korea, in Vietnam, in Japan, to some varying extent in Malaysia, and the territories these nations conquered.

Korea developed an ingenious writing system called Hangeul, which now has all but totally substituted Chinese characters. Vietnam adopted the Roman alphabet with many diacritics. Japanese, well, Japanese developed two writing systems based on morae. These two writing systems could be used to write out the entirety of Japanese. Kanji is not really necessary. Further, there is no evidence to suggest that there are so many homophones such that even with context one could not make head or tails out of what was being said. 

So, Japanese does have a potential unique writing system that is easy to learn (it’s easier than Hangeul in my opinion), but it does not use it exclusively because of cultural reasons. Kanji is just hardwired into the culture.

But here’s where my personal opinion and advice come in: If you have to choose between loving Kanji and hating it, hate it. Don’t romanticize it. Don’t go “above and beyond” what you have to know because of your love for Kanji. Just learn what you have to learn, and leave it at that.

“How many Kanji must someone learn?” The official common use Kanji list (the Jōyō Kanji) lists 2,136 Kanji. How many readings are among these Kanji? Somewhere around 3,869. There are also some variations on Kanji that one should keep in mind and some Kanji that one sees only in names, so add around 400 Kanji to the official list and about 400 new readings.

“How many Kanji must I learn for my first year of Japanese?” All of them. That’s my honest advice. Don’t aim to learn only a few Kanji. If you’re going to learn Kanji, learn them all. Think in that mindset. As soon as you decide you want to learn Japanese, work on Kanji. Before you enter a classroom and learn your first few greetings and whatnot, make sure you know all the common use Kanji, or at least that you’re well on your way to knowing all the Kanji.

2. Language Learning is an Intensive Process

Learning a language is a process that scientists haven’t quite been able to describe accurately. We do know, nevertheless, that it’s a heck of a lot different from learning chemistry or carpentry or bicycling. 

In the Western world, there is this idea that one can learn a language in a classroom, normally as a subject period, with periods lasting somewhere from 50 to 70 minutes. Here’s the truth: it doesn’t work very well. (There are historic reasons for this way of learning a language, but we can talk about that some other time.) The success rates of language acquisition in classrooms is ridiculously low. This does not mean that language classes are bad: but it means that it just isn’t enough.

There are many reasons why learning a language in and of itself may be hard. It’d take forever to talk about all of them. 

But let’s talk a bit about lexicons. A lexicon, here, refers to the dictionary in your brain where you store the words you know. If you’re monolingual- you have a standard dictionary in your brain with a word and definitions. If you were raised bilingual, then you have one lexicon with two words and definitions. That is to say, if you’re an English-Spanish speaker, then you have “cat” and “gato” in the same space in your brain and you know that what applies to one applies to the other. Then, depending on your fluency and use, you may have two supplementary dictionaries where you store all the information about words that don’t exist in the other language and idioms and expressions and things like that. 

Now, if you’re an English speaker and, say, you want to learn German, part of what you’ll learn to do is to process your English lexicon entries into German. What that means is that you learn to engineer English words into German. “Father” turns into “Vater,” “to drink” turns into “trinken,” “Love” turns into “Liebe,” etc. So the words that have no relation with English (the non-cognates), turn into a supplementary lexicon and everything else is put through a mental processor. 

Because the brain can do this is the reason why many people in Europe can speak many languages. The fact that someone can speak Spanish, Portuguese, Catalan, Italian, and French is not terribly impressive. The overlap in words (and in grammar) is so immense that what you’re doing is processing one language into another and you’re guaranteed an astonishing success rate.

Japanese, however, is different because it’s a language isolate. You can’t process one language into another. You have to learn words one by one. That takes time. It takes repetition. Memorization is as much an active process as it is a subconscious process. When people talk about the benefits of “immersion,” what they’re talking about most of the time is putting your brain into survival mode, i.e. either you learn all these words (and grammar stuff) or else you will not be able to survive and thus you will die. That is one way of doing it, and if you do not choose this path you have to commit some serious time to this. I believe that if one knows around 5,000 of the most frequently used words in any given language, one is guaranteed to know at least 95% of all the words one will hear/read in a day (given that one doesn’t go read a super technical manual on how to calibrate a nuclear reactor or something like that.) So, the question becomes how will you memorize 5,000 words? How long will that take? If one learns 10 a day, then it’s 500 days, and if one learns 50 a day, it’s 100 days. 

The tradeoff when it comes to speed is that the faster you learn something, the faster you forget. (When you relearn something, it should be faster nevertheless.) So how much time will you commit to learning a language? How will you follow that up? These are important questions.

3. Japanese Media is Considerably Insular

Japan isn’t like the United States. The United States wants every nation to know what music it likes, what fashion it wears, what it believes ideologically and socially, etc. The U.S. is everywhere.

South Korea, recently, is everywhere. K-Pop, K-Dramas, K-SNL, K-Beauty. If you want to know what Korea is up to, it’s pretty easy to find out. They want you know! 

Japan… eh. Japan is pretty good at making anime available globally. People know about Dragon Ball and Sailor Moon and the Mighty Atom and all that. When it comes to dramas and movies and tv shows, they’re not quite interested in that. Ages ago I wrote a post on the misconception of “Whacky Japanese Game Shows,” where I basically explained that most of those shows aren’t game shows but segments on variety shows, the only person in my mind having totally insane game shows being Beat Takeshi.

Okay, fine, what does this mean? This means two important things. First, one’s expose to the language outside of going to Japan or talking to Japanese people will be based highly on anime, which is fine but there are other styles of expressing oneself. One needs a bit of variety. If one goes the information/news route, then one is exposing oneself to something very formal and literary, but dull. Second, it means that when people teach Japanese, they’re going to assume that one wants to speak Japanese for business purposes. This sounds strange to say, but let me put it like this: Japanese is an important part of the world economy and STEM and anime, on the other hand, is not a sufficiently large part of Japanese culture so that the Japanese can figure you want to learn Japanese for that sole purpose. If you want to speak Japanese, then it must be for business purposes (and we’ll consider academics to be within business.) So you learn Japanese through the perspective of honorific and respectful language. This isn’t a bad thing either, but the desire to make you sound nice will often lead to lies about how Japanese actually works at a grammatical level.

(On the other hand, in South Korea the K-Pop/K-Drama boom is such a big deal that people around the world start learning Korean in hopes of auditioning for the big production companies in hopes of becoming actors, singers, dancers, and hosts.)

So here’s my advice: Once you have your feet wet with Japanese, once you know your Kanji and you know how to analyze a sentence (even if the lexicon isn’t all there yet), look at something that isn’t anime. I recommend movies, a lot of which are quite nice. Okuribito (Departures) was a great movie. An (Red Bean Paste) is a more recent film that was wonderful. Look up some movies. Sit down, and watch them. Watch it with subtitles, so you know what the movie’s about. But watch it a second time and a third time without subtitles. Try to see if you can make out a few sentences, read a few signs that appear in the background, take note of expressions or words you keep hearing. No, you won’t be able to understand the whole film all of a sudden, but it’s something new and something good and the more Japanese you learn, the more you will be able to return to the film and make out. Eventually, you will be able to listen to a sentence, pause the film, and look up the words you don’t know.

4. Learning Japanese Doesn’t Happen with One Method Alone

This is rather obvious, but it’s worth finishing this off with. There is an abundance of book series, CDs, cassettes, and even online resources (our own included.)

A language is greater than any method, than any curriculum, than any teacher. No one source has all the answers. One has to be encouraged from day one to look at many resources.

A library is a language learner’s best friend. Why? Because books can be expensive, and you will probably not need all the resources you dabble into for a long time. So, when you begin learning Japanese, look at the entire Japanese section, order a few famous books through InterLibrary Loan, if you have access to that, and sit down and just read the books, as if they were novels. Don’t memorize a thing. Don’t do the exercises. Just figure out their style, their aims, their perspective. Do read the footnotes! The more footnotes a book has, the more useful it tends to be in the long run. Information that isn’t relevant in Lesson 1 may be absolutely vital in Lesson 10. 

Check out some old books if you can. The way people learn a language today is not the same way they learned it 50 or 100 years ago. The most useful Italian grammar book I ever read was written in the 1800′s. Japanese books published before World War II may have some slightly outdated things, such as the /we/ and /wi/ morae, but they will be good for most of everything else. I’m personally dying to get library privileges again somewhere to be able to look into these, so if I find some good book titles I’ll let you know.

Because a lot of language instruction was, until recently, modeled after the way Greek and Latin was taught, reading some of our own material gets you familiar with the lingo, should you heed my advice. So people like to talk about cases and declensions and conjugations and moods and all that. The works of William George Aston are some of the most important books on Japanese historically. So, if you can find originals of those, please do read them.

So yeah, food for thought

Reconstruction of Hecataeus’ world map

Hecataeus of Miletus ( c. 550 BC – c. 476 BC), was an early Greek historian and geographer. He was probably the first of the logographers to attempt a serious prose history and to employ critical method to distinguish myth from historical fact, though he accepts Homer and other poets as trustworthy authorities. Herodotus, though he once at least contradicts his statements, is indebted to Hecataeus for the concept of a prose history.

Besides his written works, Hecataeus is also credited with improving the map of Anaximander, which he saw as a disc encircled by Oceanus. As you can see, Greece is at the center of the known world.

Writing Prompt: Dialogue

“You carved all this into the walls?”


“Okay, I think this one is Sumerian, and this one is Aztec–I mean, Mayan.”

“Some of these don’t have any correlation to Ancient texts.”

“But it is some kind of language.”

“Or languages.”

“Yeah, if you speak hodgepodge. This appears to be alphabetic, logographic, symbolic, syllabic. I mean we need out own Rosetta Stone to crack this mess.”

“It has to mean something.”


While not as well known as the Voynich Manuscript, the Rohonc Codex is similar in that it was written by an unknown author in an unknown language.  The illustrations range from battles to religious scenes from both Christian and Muslim traditions.  Some of the symbols are used very rarely, indicating that they may be logographic like Chinese.  The manuscript surfaced in the early 1800s in Hungary.  Since then, it has been the subject of speculation.


Logograms are writings that represent meaning as opposed to sound.

In the movie Arrival, the writing script used for the alien language has no relation to their spoken language. This may sound a bit far-fetched, but actually isn’t at all really.

Part of the hieroglyphic system and Chinese characters are classic examples of logographic writing.

Chinese characters, while they are logograms, usually only have 1 pronunciation each. Despite being a logogram though, part of the character may hint at the pronunciation. The pronunciation of a given character differs depending on the variety of Chinese (e.g. 張 is jiāng in Mandarin but zoeng1 in Cantonese) even though they would usually share a similar meaning.

Chinese characters in Japanese are a bit different. A kanji has often at least 2 ways of pronouncing it. One is the native Japanese word carrying the same meaning which the kanji is fitted onto, and the other is the reading derived from Chinese (probably Middle Chinese and Min mostly), often used in compounds, such as loanwords from Chinese. This takes the logogram’s meaning more strictly, as unlike the Chinese hanzi which more or less has a pronunciation attached to each one, kanji don’t, but more or less has a fixed meaning (though this is a simplification).

An example that’s not so often heard is the Arabic numerals. They carry the same meaning throughout its users, even though users might pronounce it differently (1 being “one” in English and “un(e)” in French but both meaning the same thing).

A Random PSA on The Japanese Language

Subtitle: And How Most People Are Pronouncing Everything Wrong

This is something that I’ve noticed for a long time, and sometimes I do tend to brush it off. However, when it gets to the point that people (I’m specifically referring to English speaking individuals) are mispronouncing things so badly that I cringe, it’s time for a little lesson.

The biggest difference between Japanese and English is:

There are no silent letters in Japanese

Everything you see gets pronounced (I know where you’re trying to raise an objection here, but let me finish this thought first) and, unless specified, no vowels are stressed. When you grow up speaking and writing English you have to remember a myriad of rules which, for the most part, make absolutely no sense and you wonder if someone put them in there just to mess with people and then that word got made into standardized English and now you’re saying “bae” everywhere (side note: I really don’t like the word “bae”).

So, if I have a word like (髷/まげ) spelled “mage” in Romaji (what our alphabet is called in Japanese) it isn’t pronounced “mayj” like the spell caster, it’s “mahgay” or “ma-gé” (oddly enough, most English speakers understand French accents).

When it comes to “skipping” sounds, the sounds themselves aren’t actually skipped, but they’re said so quickly or so fluidly that you barely hear them. For example, one of my friends was writing out Japanese words for a presenter to say and she put (着付け/きつけ) “kitsuke” as “Kit-soo-kay”. My response was “No, it is not ‘Kit-soo-kay’, it’s ‘Kit-skay’.” She unknowingly tried to stress a vowel that did not have indication that it needed to be stressed. If you think that you can’t pronounce all three kana in “kitsuke” try saying it the way that I wrote it and I dare you to try really hard not to get any of the “tsu” in there. You’ll find it pretty much impossible.

Japanese prides itself on being a very fluid language and will even add accents to kana to make words flow better. For example, let’s look at the word 菊/きく (kiku). On it’s own or at the start of the word it’s fine, but if we put it at the end of other kana the sound becomes too hard and we need to add an accent and change the sound we’re associating with it. Japanese letters change to the following when an accent is added:

K -> G

S -> Z

T -> D

H -> B or P

So, when adding “菊/きく” (kiku) to “乱/らん” (ran) we get “乱菊/らんぎく” (rangiku) as “rankiku” is too rough and doesn’t flow (again, try the difference for yourself).

Yes, this is where I need to bring out the “exceptions to the rules”. In Japanese there’s a vowel pairing for each consonant (K,S,T,H,M,N,R,Y) and the entire hiragana kana set looks like this:

A/あ     I/い     U/う     E/え    O/お    

Ka/か   Ki/き   Ku/く  Ke/け  Ko/こ  
Ga/が   Gi/ぎ   Gu/ぐ  Ge/げ  Go/ご

Sa/さ   Shi/し Su/す  Se/せ   So/そ  
Za/ざ   Ji/じ     Zu/ず  Ze/ぜ   Zo/ぞ  

Ta/た    Chi/ち Tsu/つTe/て   To/と   
Da/だ   Ji/ぢ    Zu/づ   De/で Do/ど  

Na/な   Ni/に   Nu/ぬ   Ne/ね  No/の  

Ha/は   Hi/ひ   Fu/ふ   He/へ  Ho/ほ  
Ba/ば   Bi/び   Bu/ぶ  Be/べ   Bo/ぼ
Pa/ぱ   Pi/ぴ   Pu/ぷ   Pe/ぺ   Po/ぽ

Ma/ま   Mi/み  Mu/む   Me/め Mo/も  

Ra/ら   Ri/り   Ru/る   Re/れ  Ro/ろ   

Wa/わ      -           -           -      Wo/O/を      

Ya/や        -       Yu/ゆ       -     Yo/よ    


So, there’s a few things to notice in the “one of these things is not like the other ones” category of thinking. Mainly, Chi/ち, Ji/じ/ぢ, Tsu/つ, Zu/づ, and Fu/ふ. The obvious thoughts would be, “Why isn’t Chi “Ti”, Shi “Si”, and Tsu “Tu”?” and “How the hell did you get “Zu” out of “Tsu”?”

For fun reasons. In the late 19th century James Hepburn made the chart that you see above, to which we now call The Hepburn System. He wrote out the literal sounds to each kana and noticed the small changes that didn’t follow the predicted English outcome. Mainly, that “Ti” had a “Ch” sound and made it “Chi”, “Si” had a “Sh” sound and made it “Shi”, and “Tu” had an “S” sound and made it “Tsu”. When it got to “Hu” he noticed how the sound became an “F” without an accent and a “B” when one was added, so “Hu” became “Fu”. For “Zu” (づ) it’s sometimes written out as “Dzu” even today to give confused English speakers a bit more background as to what the base kana is when speaking, but for the most part it’s written as “Zu”. In the Hepburn System the basic reading rules are called Gojūon.

You may have noticed that “Ye” and “Yi” and most “W” sounds are missing. Technically, they did exist for the most part a long time ago, but modern Japanese has made them obsolete because you can make the same sounds with existing kana and there’s no need for repetition. “Ye” was “ゑ” which we now pronounce as “E” and “Yi” was “ゐ”, which we now pronounce as “I”. For the “W” sounds Ye/We and Yi/WI were the same sound and letter and “Wu” never really existed. “Wo/O” is a bit odd since we do spell it as “O” today but it used to be “Wo” and “O” before standardization (it’s normal to be confused by this point). “を” isn’t replaced by “お” today because “を” is a particle that’s still in active use. As for “ん” it used to be interchangeable between “M” or “N”, but standardization has mostly dropped “M”. Some old habits die hard so you’ll often see this quirk pop up in words like “Kampai” or “Sempai”, even though that pronunciation is considered dated.

Also, there’s the odd part where “H” can turn into both “B” and “P”. By using a slightly different looking accent () instead of (), we add in an entirely new consonant.

After all of this you’re probably like, “But there’s all kinds of “J” sounds in Japanese!” and you’re correct. To make these sounds we need to combine two kana that we now call Yōon instead of Gojūon, with the added kana being slightly smaller beside the first kana. This size differences tells the viewer that these two sounds should be combined. With the exception of the “Wa” and the “Y” kana everything can be combined. So, why can’t “Y” be combined with other kata? Well, it is, but it can never be the main kata as “Y” kata are always the modifiers. To make the sound “Ja” we write it as “じゃ” which is the combination of “Ji” and “Ya”. The middle vowel gets dropped in pronunciation and the modifying kata gets the majority of the sound. Technically it should be written as “Jya” but since the “Y” isn’t even pronounced it gets dropped with the standardized Hepburn system. When you add the modifiers your Yōon set now looks like this:

Ya/や            Yu/ゆ          Yo/よ   

Kya/きゃ      Kyu/きゅ   Kyo/きょ
Gya/ぎゃ      Gyu/ぎゅ   Gyo/ぎょ

Sha/しゃ     Shu/しゅ    Sho/しょ
Ja/じゃ       Ju/じゅ       Jo/じょ

Cha/ちゃ     Chu/ちゅ   Cho/ちょ

Hya/ひゃ      Hyu/ひゅ    Hyo/ひょ
Bya/びゃ      Byu/びゅ    Byo/びょ
Pya/ぴゃ      Pyu/ぴゅ    Pyo/ぴょ

Mya/みゃ     Myu/みゅ    Myo/みょ

Nya/にゃ      Nyu/にゅ    Nyo/にょ

Rya/りゃ      Ryu/りゅ    Ryo/りょ

It should be pretty easy to notice that only Ki/き, Gi/ぎ, Shi/し, Ji/じ, Chi/ち, Hi/ひ, Bi/び, Pi/ぴ, Mi/み, Ni/に, and Ri/り are used, or, only kana with “I” in them. This is because the rule of double sounds is only applied properly to the “I” sound. Like, if I tried to make “Kya” with anything but “Ki” and “Ya” I’d get “Kaya” or “Keya” or “Koya” or “Kuya”, which is not fluid as each kana contains hard sounds and the desired sound can be made without a modifier. Since I/Y have the same sound in English the “I” is simply dropped due to the double vowel rule. Since “Wa” is the only “W” kana and contains no “I” it cannot be modified. At this point you may be wondering why there’s no “T” sounds represented or why “ぢ” isn’t like “じ” on the Jōon list. For starters, “Chi” is the “I” kana in the “T” line, so there’s no “T”s in the first part. “Ja/Ju/Jo” aren’t spelled with “ち” because “し” already gives us the sounds we need so there’s no need to repeat.

Again, you interject, “But, I see words spelled with a “つ” in the middle and it’s not pronounced! What’s up with that?” Well, Japanese uses that to indicate a slight pause. Like with the Jōon combinations the “つ” is made smaller and when writing the word out in English you’d double the letter that follows directly behind it. Let’s use the word “Hakkake” (はっかけ) as an example. Your formula for this would be Ha+(pause+double next letter)Ka+Ke. Since “K” is the letter directly beside the pause it is doubled in an attempt to show when and how a pause should be used. Saying it like “Hakake” is fluid, but doesn’t show that there needs to be something extra. Saying it as “Hakkake” makes you pause in an attempt to pronounce two “K”s. That attempt at pronouncing two “Ks” is enough to equal the pause in Japanese. The one very small exception to this rule is when there’s a pause right before “Chi”. In this case you wouldn’t double the “C”, but rather write in a “T” (as “Chi” is in the “T” kana line).

Then there’s the repeating kana rule. When there’s two identical kana beside each other the second will get the accent in an attempt to continue the flow of the world. This is also where people like to call “づ” as “dzu” since it’s common to get combinations like “”tsuzumi” (つづみ) and it’s totally okay to write it as “tsudzumi” to allow for people to understand a double kana, but keeping it simple usually means writing it as “Tsuzumi”. When kata doubles you get the following:

K + K = K + G
S + S = S + Z
T + T = T+ D
H + H = H + B or H + P
F + F = F + B or F + P

But now you cry, “I see other kana used all of the time, especially with foreign words!” and, once again, you’re correct. Japanese uses three different sets of writing to make up their entire “alphabet” known as Kana (仮名), the word I’ve been using throughout this lesson. The first is Kanji (漢字), which are logographic symbols that were “borrowed” (re: totally copied) from the Chinese in the 7th century. The second is Hiragana (ひらがな), which is considered to be the “true” script of the Japanese language as it was developed within Japan and has been in use for over 1,000 years. The third is Katakana (カタカナ), a more angular and rigid form of hiragana that’s used for “borrowed” words; that is, words that are not native to Japan or the Japanese language before Japan opened the country up for trading again in the 19th century. Katakana not only takes the sounds that hiragana has, but also adds sounds that Hiragana couldn’t/were not native Japanese sounds, such as “Ti” or “Je” (yes, they really do exist). So, here’s the Gojūon for katakana:

A/ア     I/イ     U/ウ     E/エ    O/オ    

Ka/カ   Ki/キ   Ku/ク  Ke/ケ  Ko/コ  
Ga/ガ   Gi/ギ   Gu/グ  Ge/ゲ Go/ゴ

Sa/サ   Shi/シ Su/ス  Se/セ   So/ソ  
Za/ザ   Ji/ジ     Zu/ズ  Ze/ゼ   Zo/ゾ  

Ta/タ    Chi/チ Tsu/ツ Te/テ  To/ト   
Da/ダ   Ji/ヂ    Zu/ヅ   De/デ  Do/ド  

Na/ナ   Ni/ニ   Nu/ヌ   Ne/ネ  No/ノ  

Ha/ハ   Hi/ヒ   Fu/フ   He/ヘ  Ho/ホ  
Ba/バ   Bi/ビ   Bu/ブ   Be/ベ  Bo/ボ
Pa/パ   Pi/ピ   Pu/プ   Pe/ペ   Po/ポ   

Ma/マ   Mi/ミ  Mu/ム   Me/メ Mo/モ  

Ra/ラ   Ri/リ   Ru/ル   Re/レ Ro/ロ   

Wa/ワ      -           -           -    Wo/O/ヲ      

Ya/ヤ        -       Yu/ユ       -    Yo/ヨ    


You may notice that he/be don’t change at all from hiragana to katakana and most tend to look like their hiragana counterparts. The Wo/O (ヲ) is barely ever used at all. Here’s what Jōon looks like:

Ya/ヤ            Yu/ユ          Yo/ヨ   

Kya/キャ      Kyu/キュ   Kyo/キョ
Gya/ギャ      Gyu/ギュ   Gyo/ギョ

Sha/シャ     Shu/シュ    Sho/ショ
Ja/ジャ       Ju/ジュ       Jo/ジョ

Cha/チャ     Chu/チュ   Cho/チョ

Hya/ヒャ      Hyu/ヒュ    Hyo/ヒョ
Bya/ビャ      Byu/ビュ    Byo/ビョ
Pya/ピャ      Pyu/ピュ    Pyo/ピョ

Mya/ミャ     Myu/ミュ    Myo/ミョ

Nya/ニャ      Nyu/ニュ    Nyo/ニョ

Rya/リャ      Ryu/リュ    Ryo/リョ

For the extended sounds that I mentioned, like “Ti” and “Je” this is where katakana comes in. However, there’s different systems that try to decide which kana should be used for foreign words, and, they’re all valid, but I’ll only show the ones that are accepted by pretty much every system. They are:

Ti/ティ     Di/ディ     Dyu/デュ  
Che/チェ She/シェ  Je/ジェ
Fa/ファ    Fi/フィ    Fe/フェ   Fo/フォ

Now we can make cool words like “New York” (ニューヨーク) or “Fancy” (ファンシー). The “ー” in katakana means an elongated vowel for the Japanese speaker/reader.

So, now that we got all of that language stuff out of the way, time to forget all of it if you’re the Japanese government. Yes, you read that right. The Japanese government doesn’t recognize the Hepburn System as the “official” way to Romanize/Latinize the Japanese language. Just give that a second to sink in. The first, most used, and most sound “accurate” system is not the one that the Japanese government wants people to use. There’s actually two competing systems that Japan teaches: The Nihon-Shiki and Kunrei-Shiki systems. There’s not much of a difference between them, but they basically answer the question of “Why is it “Tsu” and not “Tu”?”. Well, in those systems it is Tu. Now, you may look at this and be like, “So, what’s the problem?” Well, under the Hepburn System no sound is silent and it reads exactly as it’s written. Under the Nihon or Kunrei Systems it tries to make it look like the predicted result (like “Tsu” being “Tu”), but the sound that’s made is completely different and you would need the background knowledge of how a kana should actually be pronounced (this brings to mind a Monty Python sketch, bonus points if you get the reference to the actual skit).

How do you know which to use then? Well, the Hepburn System is used to teach Japanese to English speakers/readers and the Nihon or Kunrei Systems are for native Japanese speakers to Latinize their writing systems. However, you may notice that almost everything is written using the Hepburn System, even in Japan. This is because it was heavily promoted by the United States government after World War II and it’s kinda stuck. Since I am a native English speaker who speaks to other (mostly) native speakers I use the Hepburn System as that’s what was taught to me in university as well.

Now, you’d think I’d end it here, but, if you thought I had covered everything then you weren’t paying enough attention. “Būt what abōūt thōse stress marks ōver vōwels that yōū keep ūsing!?” some of you who lasted this long may ask. That’s an excellent question! To keep things “neat” all systems of Romanization/Latinization will often leave out vowels or place markers on vowels that should be stressed if the hiragana or katakana is not given. Like, “Okasan” is actually spelled as “お母さん/おかあさん” (okaasan) in Japanese, but Hepburn usually drops the second “A” as it would lead English speakers to mispronounce the vowel and the word correctly. Another great example is “Kyoto” which is actually “京都/きょうと” (kyouto) and has a “U” in there that most English speakers aren’t even aware of. “Kyoto” is the very much Anglicized way of pronouncing the former imperial capital, but in Japanese you would actually hear the extended vowels and you do end up hearing or saying “Kyou-to” over there. To remedy the situation the “U” is represented with a stress mark over the “O” indicating that this is a long vowel and that the word “Kyōto” has a vowel that needs to be elongated upon speech.

So, tl;dr: Romanized/Latinized Japanese letters sound exactly like they look and should be pronounced that way. There are no hidden sounds in the Japanese language. A stress mark over a vowel means that two vowels should actually be written there (the second of which is usually a “U”), but one is taken out because it makes the word too long or it becomes unfamiliar to English speakers who have seen it written as “Kyoto” all their lives when it should be “Kyouto” or “Kyōto” as a compromise.

Slight Edit: To people wondering about the “Kitsuke” pronunciation above and how I mentioned that “there are no silent letters in Japanese”, yes, the “U” is pronounced even in “Kit-skay” (try it). Japanese tends to like to downplay “U”s to the point where they’re the most fluid letter/sound of all. Again, I’m reminded of a discussion I had in high school with a friend over how to pronounce “Sasuke” (さすけ) from Naruto. She insisted it was “Sa-Soo-Ke”, which is elongating a vowel that has no mention or reason to be stressed. It should be “Sas-ke” as your mouth with make the “U” sound whether you like it or not (again, try it). The more you practice speaking Japanese the easier it will come to you and the better you’ll be able to understand how a vowel should or should not be elongated.


Originally posted by agentmlovestacos

Hubris is a word that polytheists on here like to throw around and unsurprisingly, it’s another term that people really don’t seem to know what it means or how it was used historically. So for those who are historical research-inclined like myself, I decided to go investigate after my friend read me a quote that indicated that the historical usage of “hubris” was very different from how it’s conceived of now:

Although there is a widespread impression that hybris is primarily a religious term (denoting the pride which makes a mortal forget his place in the order of things), the word is most often used of dealings between human beings. It generally describes behaviour which is uncontrolled and which presupposes a desire to humiliate or at least a contempt for the rights and prestige of others. - Trials From Classical Greece by Christopher Carey (pg 94)

Intrigued, I went further and searched an online database of books my college has access to and notably almost every single book that mentioned hubris referred to it as types of actions between humans, not humans and the divine. And even the few times it did refer to situations between mortals and gods, the interactions were far from the usual petty slights that people shout hubris over on here. And since I have too much time on my hands, I decided to compile the information, so here’s what I’ve found.

Keep reading

524: Twelve to the Moon

There are 50’s sci-fi movies with wonderful titles like The Monster that Challenged the World and IT! The Terror from Beyond Space. I poke fun at how irrelevant or misleading some of them are, but I actually love them: there’s nothing to entice me to see a silly movie than a deliriously hyperbolic title!  Then there’s this film, Twelve to the Moon, which is about twelve people going to the moon.  No points for the title guy.

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Which languages do and don't use an alphabet?

Languages that are primarily logographic (a different symbol per word):

Chinese (Mandarin, Wu, Yue, and Min)

Languages that mix logographic (see above) and phonograms (characters may have started as a logographs, but now have phonetic meanings):

Ancient Egyptian

Languages that are primarily Abjad (symbols for consonants, but leave the reader to fill in the vowels):


Languages that are primarily Abugida (primary symbols for consonants, secondary markings for vowels):

Indic / Brahmic
Cree (native Canadian)

Languages that are fully alphabetic (giving equal status to consonants and vowels in the writing):

Roman (English, French, German etc.)
Cyrillic (Russian, Bulgarian, etc.)
Greek (Greek!)
Georgian (Asomtavruli, Nuskhuri, Mkhedruli)
Armenian (Armenian!)
Korean (Hangul) - a synthetic alphabet designed in 1443
Vietnam (Roman plus a large number of accents to represent tones)

So I’ve been thinking about soulmate AUs. The kind where your soulmate’s name is written on your skin. How would that start? When would that start?

Not with the beginning of writing. For centuries, in China, in Sumer, in Egypt, in Mesoamerica, writing was used for accounting or religion, and nothing else. Most people would never be able write their names or recognize them if they were written. Only royalty, gods, and perhaps some property owners would.

Individual scribes might have had signatures. For that matter, for all we know individual Paleolithic artists might have had signatures. But most people wouldn’t. What would happen the first time someone was born with an unknown symbol on their hand?

Probably it would be an isolated mystery. Remember, in most of these scenarios there’s no actual guarantee that you’ll ever meet your soulmate (although most people seem to end up with one from the same general area. Which is statistically unlikely). No one would know what it meant. Maybe people with symbols would be seen as special, or divine, or demonic.

And then it might start happening more often - or stop happening, if writing stopped being used (like in Greece after 1200 BCE). But most of the time still no one would know what the symbol meant. And most people wouldn’t have symbols, because most people’s soulmates wouldn’t know how to write.

(Sometimes I think the theory is that people would have a thumbprint instead of a soulmate mark? But this would be basically useless for matching purposes - you would have no idea where to start. So from that point of view the first people with actual names would just have them instead of the thumbprints that everyone else had and didn’t know the meaning of.

Incidentally, using thumbprints for recognition isn’t universal in non-literate societies either. European society didn’t realize that fingerprints were unique until the late 19th century. In a lot of places, they weren’t used until people were already using signatures, and needed an option for illiterate people. Also, while they are an identifying mark, they really have no relation at all to your name. For most of human existence, having a physical marker of your identity really wasn’t that important.)

Only somewhere with at least moderately widespread literacy would someone be able to look at a mark and go “Oh, that’s my friend Imhotep’s name. What a coincidence!” And only somewhere with widespread literacy would Imhotep’s soulmate also be able to write their name. Most early languages were logographic, and in cuneiform names specifically were almost always logographic, so you wouldn’t even be able to sound it out.

Phoenician (starting 1050 BCE) was the first widespread writing system, and was simple enough and common enough that sailors could write in it. It was also the first phoenetic script which would allow you to easily approximate the pronounciation of the writing on your skin.

But still, most people wouldn’t have symbols. Most people would never meet anyone with their name on their skin.

This would be a problem in AUs where you never feel sexual attraction to anyone who isn’t your soulmate. Imagine religion and culture in a world where almost everyone is functionally asexual.

How long would it take, until someone realized that if people’s names matched up, they had some kind of bond? How long would it take before this was a generally accepted theory?

Also, how long before this was seen as at all important, given that most people with the status to know how to read would also have arranged marriages?

But once it was generally accepted, suddenly literacy would become a lot more important. People would demand to learn how to write. (Some people would learn that their soulmate’s name wasn’t in the local writing system. What happens then?) People would want to give their children more unique names (ancient Rome had about thirty given names for men total, and they named their daughters “first Julia” and “second Julia.”)

Anyway, around ancient Rome or so, when there would not only be a lot of literate people but also a lot of people able to recognize foreign alphabets, suddenly there would be a huge drive for 1) more literacy and 2) better long distance communication, so you could find the Caius or Ξανθίππη or שָׂרָה who had your name on their skin. And as this idea became more and more widespread, so would this desire. The same thing would be happening in China and Ethiopia and India.

This would revolutionize world history. There would be strong motivations both for exploration and for making peace with foreign cultures. Everyone in Rome with a Jewish soulmate would want to make sure they wouldn’t be killed before they could meet them. Everyone with a soulmate in a strange language would want to know at least what language it was.

Come to think of it, these are also all good reasons for why people wouldn’t believe in soulmates. Your soulmate can’t be one of the hated barbarians, so that symbol doesn’t mean anything!

And that’s leaving out the fact that lots of people still wouldn’t have a soulmate who could write, and completely ignoring the existence of polyamory.

So getting to a modern society with everyone just knowing that that was your soulmate’s name would involve a really complicated history, probably nothing at all like ours. And there would be huge pressure to ignore the existence of soulmates at all.

No conclusions here, just taking an illogical premise way too logically.

1.1 - Writing systems around the world.

Notes: White is the latin alphabet, and dark blue is the cyrillic alphabet. Perso-arabic abjad is in green, geez (ethiopian) in orange, chinese logographic system in red, and the brahmic systems (abugidas) are in various colours in India and southeast Asia. Some alphabets occur just once: greek, georgian, armenian, hebrew, canadian aboriginal syllabics, cherokee, tifinagh, hangul, japanese syllabaries, and thaana (Maldives).

anonymous asked:

Ok so I am so confused. I even searched a blog that talked about Chinese so I could ask this. So I've been having the mindset that Chinese does NOT have a phonetic alphabet. I've even read it everywhere. Then the other day my friend, who was born in China and is an exchange student here, said that there IS an alphabet/phonetic alphabet. I obviously didn't want to argue with him because he obviously knows everything about the language and I don't. But I am so confused on what he's talking about?

ahhhh okay i see your source of confusion. 

yes, chinese uses chinese characters, which are not alphabetic (although as you study more chinese, it becomes somewhat phonetically based bc basic characters are used to represent a general phonetic similarity in more complex characters, but thats not so important atm). HOWEVER, people have created ways to ROMANIZE Chinese characters, and the main standard for romanizing Mandarin Chinese is called Pinyin. There are other systems for Mandarin that you can read up about, like Bopomofo/Zhuyin, Yale, Wade-Giles, etc. However, this is only used in romanizing things in names, brands, book/report titles, database entry, dictionary lookup, learner resources, etc.

Because Chinese characters are logographic, there is no 100% obvious way to pronounce them, so you need some kind of system to set the pronunciation standard. So for Mandarin Chinese, you have Pinyin as the standard for representing the standard pronunciation of these logographic characters. And in Cantonese, they have their own romanization systems like Jyutping or Yale, which accurately represent the pronunciation of Chinese characters in Cantonese. 


  • Traditional Chinese characters: 英文是我的母語。
  • Simplified Chinese characters: 英文是我的母语。
  • Pinyin (Mandarin Chinese): yīng wén shì wǒ de mǔ yǔ

so basically your chinese friend is absolutely right about an “alphabetic or phonetic representation of Chinese” but he could’ve phrased it better LOL 

tl;dr - Chinese has many romanization systems (written in the Latin script) and other phonetic systems (like Bopomofo) to represent the non-alphabetic characters in its writing system

I hope that helped, and let me know if you have any further questions!


New project! So I got a Cintiq Pro 13 drawing tablet a month ago! SO I decided to draw out all the Vinshan logographic characters I have (and I’m putting them all together in a little dictionary app thing I have!)
So far I’ve only done nouns/verbs (the inside characters) but the guidelines accomodate up to one of all 3 character types! 

I’m just really happy with this project so far :D 

Previously all these characters were only ever on paper or scanned and written really small
But I imagine this as a sort of nice little character database and it shows how characters fit together really well

anonymous asked:

I was wondering if you have a chart of the Chinese alphabet to help me? Thank you!

I hate to break it to you, but Chinese doesn’t have an alphabet D: There are just thousands and thousands of characters that you have to know, since Chinese uses a logographic writing system. Luckily, approximately 82-90% of Chinese characters are based off of a phonetic element (typically made up of simpler base characters, which you will also have to memorize lol).

However, if you were asking about Bopomofo (which is now mainly used in Taiwan), here’s a Wikipedia article and a chart

For Pinyin, here’s a chart with audio and another chart for reference.

To help you memorize Chinese characters, here’s a huge collection of Anki decks and Memrise courses.

Let me know if you have any other questions~ Good luck!

anonymous asked:

Omg thanks so much for translating kazui's and ichika's names! Brave one sounds so right??! I mean the lil guy was running around causing mayhem for hiyori like it's nothing, reached out to Yhwack's black reiatsu no fear on his face, strange girl appears in his house from the wall and he's smiling like a goofball!

You’re welcome!

That’s true but also consider this, Aizen was talking about overcoming fear, the last word he says is ‘Courage’ which is isolated in it’s own speech bubble in large print before we return to Kazui again. When Orihime, Ichigo and co were talking about Kazui downstairs earlier, on the Japanese raws Kazui’s name was written in Hiragana only when they’d mention him. Why? Because you can’t really tell the meaning of a name just from reading it in Hiragana. Kanji is logographic so you should be able to deduce the meaning just by looking at it. Kubo didn’t want the reader to know the meaning of Kazui’s name just yet! After Aizen’s ‘fear speech’ and Kazui is asked by ichika what his name was, bam we get his name in Kanji, and now the reader sees his name links to bravery. I see what u did thar Kubo. See how much of a difference reading the original raws can make?


Isshin = lit. One Heart
Ichigo = lit. Protect One
Kazui = lit. Brave One

They all have the same kanji meaning one in their first names. Quite endearing.