Basic Japanese : Old Japanese Alphabets
Old Japanese Alphabets or Historical Japanese Alphabets
The two red characters in “gojyuu-on” and “iroha-uta” are out of use now.
Both characters had their own sounds consisting of a consonant and a vowel, but each of them changed into the same sound as a vowel which has a similar sound.
Although they couldn’t be distinguished by their pronunciations from respective vowels, they managed to survive in written texts until 1946 when the government decided to abandon them so that Japanese language could be written as it was spoken.
We call Alphabets including these left-out characters as “Old Japanese Alphabets” or “Historical Japanese Alphabets”.
The one we use now is called “New Japanese Alphabets” or “Modern Japanese Alphabets”.
“wi” and “i”
This character seems to be originally pronounced as “wi”, perhaps similar to English “we” but without prolonging the sound.
This one became the same sound as “i”.
“we” and “e”
This one was “we”, like the sound in an English word “went”.
Then became the same as “e”.
The survived characters in spite of the same pronunciation with others
There are three characters which got away from the government decision somehow.
I suppose it was because they were not as confusing as the previous two.
They are quite easy to distinguish even in speech, for they are not used as a part of a word unlike the abolished characters.
Their functions are similar to English prepositions, and usually come after a noun.
One of them has the same pronunciation as a vowel, and other two have their own sounds, but pronounced differently when used as particles.
Pronounced exactly the same as a vowel “o” (the right character in the image).
This one comes after a direct object of a verb.
For example, in a Japanese translation of an English sentence “I gave him a book”, this character should come after the word “hon” (Japanese for “a book”).
“Watashi wa kare ni hon o ageta.”
The left character is usually pronounced as “he” (like the sound in an English word “hence”), but when it’s used after a noun, its sound becomes “e” (like in “S”), the same pronunciation as the right character in the image.
This indicates direction like an English preposition “to”.
Ex.) In a sentence “I go to Kyoto”, “e” comes after the word “Kyoto”.
“Watashi wa Kyoto e iku.”
When the left character is used as a part of a word, its pronunciation is “ha” like English “Ha”.
When it’s attached to a word like an adverb, a subjective noun or something else, it changes into “wa”, the same as the right in the image.
This has several functions, but it’s a bit complicated for me to explain properly.
Ex.) A Japanese sentence “Inu wa kawaii” can be translated as “A dog (or Dogs or The dog) is lovely” (general) or “A dog IS lovely(, but…)” (emphasis or limitation).
You need to judge from the situation or speaker’s expression.
Next post: “Iroha-uta” line by line
#Japanese Alphabet (1: “Gojyuu-on” and “iroha-uta”)
Latest posts by kara (see all)
- Basic Japanese : “Sumimasen” – “Thank you” in Japanese - June 24, 2015
- Basic Japanese : “Arigatou” – “Thank you” in Japanese - May 29, 2015
- Basic Japanese : “Go-chisou sama” – Phrase after meal - May 27, 2015
At first, I was going to write about how to say “you” in Japanese, but the most common “you” word is a person’s name usually with suffix like “san”, “kun”, or “chan”. (ex. Hanako-san) This way of calling is used as third person as well. In this post, I’m trying to explain the variants and […]
General, but not very often used “I” in Japanese Several first-person singular pronouns for common people, only used by some. Neutral [Jibun] “Jibun” means “oneself”. Can be used by anybody according to circumstances, but I guess few common people use this as a usual pronoun for themselves. Maybe male athletes often use this, especially in […]
What’s your blood type? – For most people, the only reason that they ask this question to others is that when they’ll be needing blood (no, not that vampire-ish type of need) for blood transfusion when something bad happens, that person may be able to help if they are compatible. But in Japan and other […]
“Toshi densetsu” : Japanese urban legends (2) In this post, there are only two Japanese urban legends. The main topic is a Japanese toilet. Yume (Dream) A high school girl had a nightmare that she was mangled by a psychopath with his knife on the way home from her school. It was so vivid […]
The final post about numbers in Japanese. Number over quadrillion Numbers over “chou” (trillion to quadrillion) are quite rarely used. You may hear the following unit “kei” sometimes, but numbers over the unit “kei” won’t be seen in usual life. I’ve never seen it myself even in the news and I actually can’t name units […]
“Iroha-uta” as a poem I’m going to explain the meaning of the poem in two posts. As I wrote in the previous post, it is thought to be composed in the Heian era (794 – 1185). In the major theory, the poem is said to express a doctrine from the Nirvana Sutra. But the poem […]
Barrier for Masakado? There are seven main shrines (including “Kubi-zuka”) for Masakado. They are said to have been built to seal the powerful spirit of Masakado as well as to make use of it. [1. Torigoe shrine] It is not officially admitted, but this shrine is said to be the place where Masakado’s hand(s?) is […]
When I watch foreign TV dramas, I sometimes see Christian people praying before meal. It seems that the prayer is to appreciate God who have given them food. In Japan, maybe Christians do the same, but I guess most of people say certain phrases before and after dinner instead of a prayer. If you love […]
“Kitano Tenman-guu” in Kyoto to console Michizane In 942, Michizane’s spirit showed up before a girl from a poor family in Kyoto and ordered to build a shrine for him in “Ukon no baba” (“hippodrome controlled by the right guard office”), the place where he often visited during his life. Of course she didn’t have […]
The last post of “Japanese honorific titles” series. For people who are in a (supposed-to-be) honorary post, their business titles are generally used. There are too many to pick up everything, so I just write about some of the most common ones. Each of them can be used after the person’s name. In “Dalziel and […]