A “quick” lesson on how Japanese writing works (part 1)
Okay so with the recent Blaine/Brain incident I thought it would be a good time to talk about how to read Japanese. First a couple of things
A. My understanding of Japanese stems from talking a college 101 class. So in other words I only know the bare basics when it comes to the language. But surprisingly the bare basics has gotten me pretty darn far in certain ways.
B. I also took a linguistics class in college which taught me that the sounds we are able to differentiate hearing-wise vary depend on our native language and often times we’ll think two sounds are exactly the same when they’re actually not. This is part of the reason accents are a thing.
So while I’ll give a general guide for pronunciation it won’t be utterly comprehensive but instead be a quick down and dirty. As always the best way to learn a language will always be to listen and talk to a native speaker.
C. This guide will mostly center around pronunciation not meaning.
D. Feel free to correct me if I screw up somewhere.
E. I’m splitting this up into parts to make the post shorter and so I can work on it in spurts
Okay so first off Japanese has 3 different “alphabets” (they’re not really alphabets) that are collectively called Kana. There’s also the English alphabet which is called Romaji and is used for things like Dvd and CD and because English words are cool.
The Kana include Kanji, Hiragana and Katakana.
Kanji: Kanji are symbols that were imported from China long ago and represent concepts. They come in four types
Pictographs: Kanji is meant to be a picture of something for instance the kanji for tree sort of looks like a tree 木
Simple Ideograms: These kanji represent ideas. The simplest example is the first three numbers are 一、二、三
Compound ideograms: These kanji contain two or more parts called radicals that are simplified versions of other kanji. For instance the kanji for bright is the kanji for sun
However radicals don’t always look exactly like their original kanji. For instance the kanji for person is 人but the radical is 亻Ie the left stick got majorly shortened.
Phonetic-ideograph: These are compound kanji that contain a radical that has a meaning and a radical that represents a sound. According to my book that I’m holding these make up about 80% of commonly used kanji.
One example is the kanji for time 時 which contains the sun kanji for sun 日 and 寺 temple pronounced ji to give you the time kanji which is pronounced ji. If you stick the temple kanji with the radical for hand 扌you get 持 which means to hold and is also pronounced ji.
While there are countless kanji, the government has approved 2,136
for regular use (and before you say that’s a lot just think of how many English words you know) this group is called
Kanij. Within this group is a group of kanji called Kyōiku Kanji which make-up half of the group and are taught in elementary school (the rest are taught in middle school and high school).
The other group of kanji is called Jinmeiyō kanji and they’re the kanji approved for use in people’s names. There are 3,119 of them and they include the Jōyō.
The last group is called Hyōgai kanji and they’re all the kanji that exist but aren’t included in the other groups.
Now what makes kanji tricky is the fact that, well it was a language system trying to use the writing system of a completely different language. Which caused some issue and eventually lead to the creation of Hiragana and Katakana. But before we get into that I’m gonna talk about why Kanji are weird in the next part.
To be continued
Part 2: Why Kanji are a tricky business
Part 3: Hiragana, Katakana and pronunciation