Introduction To The Japanese Writing System

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Intensive Japanese I, Beermann. Introduction to the Japanese Writing SystemIntroduction to theJapaneseWriting System文字入門byRafael E. Beermanncopyright 20061

2Intensive Japanese I, Beermann. Introduction to the Japanese Writing SystemIntroduction to the Japanese Writing SystemHistorical background of KanjiIn the 5th century Japanese buddhist monks brought Chinese texts written in Chinese language toJapan. Since the Japanese language itself had no written form at that time, the Chinese characters(so-called Kanji or 漢字) were adapted. At that time the original texts would have been readaccording to the Chinese language. Even documents written by Japanese scholars were, so tospeak, imitations of Chinese texts in grammatical, morphological, and syntactical respect,although Chinese and Japanese are completely different languages. Parallel to these efforts therewere attempts made to detach kanji from all Chinese peculiarities and to use them as a tool ofgenuine rendition of Japanese (as a phonetic alphabet for a transcription).Development of HiraganaLater other efforts were made to re-adjust Kanji. A limited set of characters were used as purelyphonetic representation of Japanese words, their meaning was ignored. Kanji written incurvilinear style is the origin of the syllabary Hiragana, which is still used as one of the threemain Japanese writing system. In the following two examples of the development are shown:The Hiragana か which is pronounced “ka“ has been derived from the Kanji 加 . The left part カwas rounded, while the right part 口 was simplified to ヽ. The origin of the Hiragana き “ki“ is thecomplex Kanji 幾 . The whole round shape of き looks simple but also abstract. These examplesmake clear that the origin of some Hiragana can easily be assumed, whereas the source of ohtercan not be so easily detected. Below you see other examples of the development of the syllabaryHiragana according to the contemporary system of ordering. Each of the 46 basic Hiragana hasdeveloped from equal number of Kanji by symplification of the whole form:original soundKanjidevelopmentsyllabaryHiraganasound安[a] あ[a]以[i] い[i]宇[u] う[u]衣[e] え[e]於[o] お[o]加[ka] か[ka]幾[ki] き[ki]久[ku] く[ku]etc.Quiz: Which character could be a Kanji and which one could be a Hiragana 8,10 are Hiragana8し9時 10せ

3Intensive Japanese I, Beermann. Introduction to the Japanese Writing SystemDevelopment of KatakanaNearly at the same time, but completely independent of this movement another attempt was madeto suit the Kanji to Japanese interests and conditions. Monastery students simplified somefrequently used Kanji to single constituent elements. So another limited set of characters wereused as a phonetic alphabet for a transcription of Japanese words. This system is the origin of thesyllabary Katakana, which is also still in use. Each Katakana has an equivalent Kanji as itsorigin. Only parts of a Kanji and not the whole structure was taken as drafts to build this simplescript and the rest was omitted. The development of some of the 46 basic Katakana is shown:original soundKanjidevelopmentsyllabaryKatakanasound伊[i] イ[i]江[e] エ[e]加[ka] カ[ka]己[ko] コ[ko]仁[ni] ニ[ni]比[hi] ヒ[hi]利[ri] リ[ri]呂[ro] ロ[ro]etc.Quiz: Which character could be a Kanji and which of them are Katakana 9森 10ヤ1,3,5,8,10 are Katakana (No. 6 looks like a Katakana but it is a genuine Kanji !)Difference between Kanji, Hiragana, and KatakanaIt depends on the point of view to define Hiragana and Katakana as original Japanese writtenforms or as a taking apart of a handful of Kanji to a simple tool of phonetic transcription.Compared to the usually complex character of Kanji with its numerous strokes it is quite obviousthat Hiragana and Katakana are characterized by their proportionally simple layout. WhileHiragana are round in shape, Katakana have an angular form:幾きキKanjiHiraganaKatakanaBut the decisive difference between Kanji and the two syllabaries can be revealed the following :KanjiformsoundMEANINGHiragana & Katakanaformsound

4Intensive Japanese I, Beermann. Introduction to the Japanese Writing SystemWhile Hiragana and Kakataka are just abstract letters like the letters of the alphabet with theirspecific form (e.g. き or キ ) and a specific pronunciation (in both cases [ki]) without a meaning,each Kanji has besides these two properties also a meaning.The Kanji 幾 , the prototype of the above mentioned Hiragana き has also to be read [ki], but it hasadditionally the meaning of “a certain number“. Correspondingly, all other Kanji have anascribed meaning:母mother 父father 心heart 侍Samurai 女woman 男man 魚fish 感 feelingetc.Quiz: Which are Kanji , which are Hiragana, and which are Katakana 9ま 10マ 11ウ 12す 13手 14顔15ン1,4,6,8,13,14 are Kanji; 3,7,12 are Hiragana; the rest is KatakanaRange of useNowadays all written Japanese texts are composed to 50% of Hiragana, although its function islimited: e.g. for words for which no Kanji exist (particles,suffixes, and adverbs), for wordswhere the Kanji is too difficult to read or remember, inflectional endings of verbs and adjectives,to give the pronunciation of Kanji in a small reading aid called furigana . (see more: HiraganaHandbook)The quota of Katakana in contemporary average text is quite small (less than 6%).It is most often used for transcription of words from foreign languages, for country names andforeign place and personal names, for onomatopoeia, letters used to represent sounds, technicaland scientific terms, such as the names of animal and plant species and minerals. (see more:Katakana Handbook)The Kanji finally are used for nouns , stems of adjectives and verbs , and Japanese names.In some texts you also find Roman letters as a quotation and Arabic numerals.A contemporary Japanese text usually consists of a mixture of Kanji, Hiragana and ル (m) を、重さの単位はグラム(gr) を使っています。K K h h Kh hKK hk k k kh K h h KKh k k khK h h h h hThe unit of length in use in Japan is the meter (m) and the unit of weight is the gram (gr).Nihon de wa, nagasa no tan’i wa meetoru (m) o, omosa no tan’i wa guramu (gr) o tsukatte imasuThis sentence consists of9 Kanji (K) :日本長単位重単位 使15 Hiragana (h) :ではさのはをさのはをっています7 Katakana (k):メートルグラム3 Roman letters:m g r2 Japanese signs of comma: 、、1 Japanese singn of period: 。0 Arabic numerals

Intensive Japanese I, Beermann. Introduction to the Japanese Writing System5Number of KanjiThe total number of Kanji is disputed. The largest Kanji dictionary of Japan the dai kanwa jiten大漢和辞典 contains about 50,000 characters while recent mainland Chinese dictionaries contain80.000 and more characters. But most of these are not in common use in Japan.Japanese children learn 1,006 so-called kyooiku kanji 教育漢字 in six years of elementary school.Further the jooyoo kanji 常用漢字 which are 1,945 characters consisting of all the kyooiku kanji,plus an additional 939 Kanji are taught in junior high (3 years) and high school (3 years). Then,there are 983 more Kanji found in people’s names, the so-called jinmeiyoo kanji 人名用漢字. But theMinistry of Justice adds over the years more Kanji to this special group. We can roughly guess,that there are approximately 3,000 Kanji in frequent use. In publishing much more Kanji are inuse, but the characters outside this lists are usually given small reading aid in Hiragana.In the late 1970s about 6,300 Kanji were determined as a Japan Industrial Standard (JIS)for word-processors.Why learning KanjiKanji are used to write the core of the Japanese words. In the above mentioned sentence thewords Japan, unit, lenght, unit, weight, and use are written in Kanji, i.e. the essence of thissentence.Japanese has a relatively simple sound sructure, i.e. it has a very large number of homophones(words that sound the same like I and eye). If we did not have the chance to write these wordsdifferently we were not able to distinguish them. A very popular tongue twister kisha ga kisha dekisha shita. (the reporter came back to his firm by train.) demonstrates us clearly this problem.These three kisha written in Kanji 記者 汽車 帰社 can make the sentence unequivocal while anotation in Hiragana きしゃ きしゃ きしゃ or Katakana キシャ キシャ キシャ would make the sentencevirtually ununderstandable.In case of a word with a single sound like [ki] the problem of homophones is much moredisastrous:木 wood, 鬼 devil, 季 season, 黄 yellow, 機 machine, 着 to wear, 気 soul, 記 chronicle, 期 period, 騎horse rider, 旗 flag, 生life, 城 castle, 姫 princess, 亀 turtle, 祈 prayer, 危 danger, and approximately 50more words are pronounced all as [ki] !Although there are many other practical reasons for the existence of Kanji in Japanese, after thisstriking encounter we have to say, already unrestrainedly:Kanji are absolutely necessary !Essence of KanjiEach Kanji consists of a certain number of strokes starting with one (the Kanji for the number 1i一) up to sixtyfour. The stroke order (so-called hitsujun 筆順 ) , the order and direction in whichKanji are written is strictly prescribed. The rules for stroke order were developed to facilitatewriting and reading, but also to give a Kanji a balanced and esthetical appearance. A falselywritten Kanji creates a completely different visual representation, and in some cases it can evenbe unreadable, i.e. you cannot decode it unequivocally.Strictly speaking the strokes of Kanji are not straight geometrical lines drawn with a straightedgeand such geometrically appearing chracters are in any case quite rare:三田十日目口品古

Intensive Japanese I, Beermann. Introduction to the Japanese Writing System6The majority of Kanji is composed of more or less curved diagonal lines, dots, and angular orwinding strokes like:人母女風必馬亀兎Stroke OrderAs a general rule, Kanji are written from left to the right and from the top to the bottom. TheKanji 三 mentioned above which means the number three is written in following manner:1.2.3.三The Kanji 口 , which means the mouth (the sixth Kanji), is written in following way:1.2.3.口There are some more detailed rules you will learn during the writing lessons on the base ofconcrete examples like:-horizontal lines are written from the left to the right and vertical lines are written from thetop to the bottomhorizontal before verticalwhen the caracter ends in a horizontal stroke at the bottom, vertical stroke is writtenbefore a horizontalvertical strokes that cut through a character are written after the horizontal strokes theycut throughhorizontal strokes that cut through a character are written lastright to left diagonals are written before left to right diagonalsvertical central strokes are written before vertical or diagonal outside strokesleft outside strokes are written before right outside strokesoutside enclosing strokes are written before inside strokesbottom enclosing strokes are written lastleft vertical strokes are written before enclosing strokesminor strokes (dots) are usually written lastIn www.kanjistep.com you will find a wonderful visual demonstration of the stroke order.If you are interested in far more detailed information, it will be very helpful to read theintroductions of any Japanese-English character dictionaries. The one of the two poles amongmany others is the dictionary written in a traditional way by Andrew N. Nelson (1962) and itscounterpart work might be the differently ordered dictionary by Jack Halpern (1990).

7Intensive Japanese I, Beermann. Introduction to the Japanese Writing SystemWriting CharactersThe syllables Hiragana and Katakana as well as the Kanji should be written in the same size; i.e.the proportion of all letters must be unified although the three chracter types have differentshapes and they even have different number of 亀兎but not: is is another example for the uniformity of writing of characters in a running かれています。Almost all Japanese personal names are written in Kanji.but れています。Classification of KanjiThe Kanji are classified into six categories since two thousand years. This traditional way ofclassification is problematic, since some of them are not clearly defined, some refer to thestructure and some to usage. However we can adapt this classification partly to get an idea ofthe essence of Kanji:pictograph 象形 (shookei)These Kanji are sketches of the object they represent. The current form of the character issometimes very different from the original, and it is now uneasy to discover the origin.Pictographs constitute only an inconsiderable fraction of modern Kanji:口 mouth目 eye 人 human女 woman馬 horse亀 turtleetc.indicative 師事 (shiji)These Kanji are also called logograms. They represent abstract matters such as numbers ordirections. Indicatives make up also a tiny fraction of modern Kanji:一 one二 two 三 three 上 up下 down中 middle 半 halfetc.ideograph 会意 (kaii)These Kanji are also called compound ideographs. These are a combination of pictographs thatcombined to produce an overall meaning. Ideographs constitute a tiny fraction of modern Kanji:日sun 月moon 明 bright 口mouth 鳥bird 鳴 to twitter 口mouth 犬dog 吠to bark

Intensive Japanese I, Beermann. Introduction to the Japanese Writing System8semasio-phonetic 形声 (keisei)These Kanji are by far the largest category (90% !). Typically (or more precisely ideally) theyare made up of two components, one of which indicates the meaning (or the semantic category),and the other the pronunciation (the sound). The most ideal type of a semasio-phonetic Kanjiconsists of exactly two components, the left half indicates to which category or group this Kanjibelongs to and the right half indicates how to pronounce it:example of an ideal semasio-phonetic Kanji:meaning: coppersound: doo同The official name of the left part which indicates the meaning is the radical (a word that meansthe root or the origin). There are 214 historical radicals. A radical is comparable with a name of agroup like a family name. For instance the