Introduction to Japanese Alphabet

O Japanese alphabet can be divided into three parts hiraganakatakana and kanji. Hiragana and katakana are two sound-based Japanese phonetic alphabets. While kanji are ideograms; Japanese symbols that represent ideas and are widely used in tattoos, stickers and so on.

Introduction to Japanese AlphabetThe purpose of this article is to give an overview of how the Japanese alphabet is organized and divided, as well as showing, in a superficial way, what the function of each of the Japanese alphabets is.

The Japanese Alphabet in Hiragana

Hiragana (平仮名) is one of the phonetic alphabets of the Japanese language. It is used to write words that originated in Japan. In addition, hiragana can be used as a replacement for Japanese ideograms, especially when a given word does not have written representation in kanji, or else the representation in kanji is so unusual that there is possibility of the message recipient not knowing the ideogram.

the Japanese alphabet in hiragana it is used in verbal inflections, endings of adjectives, particles and many other situations in Japanese grammar. Hiragana is also used to write the literal pronunciation of a kanji if the recipient is expected not to know it. In this case, the hiragana appears as small letters on top of the kanji and is called a furigana.

The Japanese Alphabet in Katakana

O katakana (片仮名) is the Japanese alphabet used in conjunction with hiragana. His invention is attributed to the monk Kukai the Kobo Daishi. To learn more about the origin of the Japanese alphabet, read the article The Origin of the Japanese Alphabet.

In comparison to hiragana, katakana has more geometric lines (or squares) and its aim was to be a simple form of writing based on Chinese characters.

Katakana, in addition to being a phonetic Japanese alphabet, is used to write words of foreign origin that, by linguistic borrowing, have either been incorporated into the Japanese language or have become common in Japan.

Another very common use of katakana is name transcription. When a person needs to write their name in Japanese, the Japanese alphabet in katakana is usually used to transcribe the sounds of the names into Japanese.

Many people tend to confuse transcribing names into Japanese with writing names in kanji. This is because people tend to believe that a foreign person's name can be written in kanji, but this is not allowed by Japanese grammar.

Japanese alphabet in kanji

Kanjis (漢字) are characters of Chinese origin, from the time of the Han Dynasty, which are used in Japanese writing together with kanas (hiragana and katakana); besides representing thoughts instead and phonemes.

Kanji are extremely numerous. Imagine every word in the Portuguese language being represented by a drawing. Now multiply that by 1,000! To get an idea, the amount of kanji has become so numerous in Japan that the Ministry of Education, in 1981, had to select a small number of basic kanji, which should be common knowledge of the population. This set of Japanese script symbols became known as joyo kanji, and has a list of 1,945 ideograms.

The great difficulty in learning the Japanese language is the kanji. In addition to being numerous, they also have different ways of reading and different meanings. A kanji can have more than 14 meanings depending on the context (such as the verb kakeru – to sit), and it can also have various forms of reading. In addition, Japanese writing is also complex and can form words with simple and compound kanji.

Despite this difficulty, Japanese writing can be extremely compact. With only three ideograms, 進(shin – evolve) 化(ka – change) 論(ron – theory), we can say “Theory of evolution”, having a significant reduction in the amount of Japanese letters.

THE Japanese writing logic it's very simple. If we add the ideogram “person” after the country's statement, it means that the person is from that place; if after “white”, a white-skinned person; if after “red”, red-skinned person. If we add “person” after “crime”, criminal; “person” after “outside”, outsiders, foreigners, and so on.

Japanese writing using kanji is not the hideous monster they created out of their difficulties, but just a paradigm to be broken by our phonetic-cultural background. Learning kanji is not difficult, it just takes some practice and dedication.