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Japanese Lessons: Part 3

Posted January 3rd, 2012 at 12:50 PM by Esper
Tags japanese

Lesson 1: hiragana
Lesson 2: katakana

Now that you have hiragana and katakana down, or at least mostly down, there's a little bit of extra to learn about them before moving on.

With the kana you have you can write almost any Japanese word, but not all. How would you write Tokyo, for instance? It has some weird thing with a 'ky' together and as you know there's no way to write single consonants in kana, only single vowels and consonant-vowel pairs.

There are some kana which are written smaller than regular kana and change the way you read a word. You'll remember that kana are fairly standard overall. There are usually five vowel sounds for each consonant (ex. the 'k' kana: かきくけこ), but some have only two or three. Under the 'y' row there are three: や, ゆ, よ - "ya," "yu," and "yo" - and they'll be the ones we use to write words like Tokyo.

These three are special in that they come in small varieties: ゃ, ゅ, ょ. Unlike most kana, these don't stand alone and must always be paired, and they must always be paired with kana that end with an "i" sound. And to make things easier those kana are:
(ki)
(gi)
(shi)
(ji)
(chi)
(ni)
(hi)
(bi)
(pi)
(mi)
(ri)
[い (i) never gets pared with ゃ, ゅ, or ょ and ぢ (ji) is so uncommon anyway that you'll almost always see じ (ji) used instead.]

Now all you do is combine the pieces however you need. So, let's take the Tokyo example again. Keep in mind that despite how some people say the word, Tokyo is not pronounced "toe-key-oh" in Japanese. It's more like two syllables: "to" and "kyo."

First we make the 'to' (which in Japanese is a long vowel sound so it's 'tou'):

とう

Next comes the 'k' sound so we'll use the kana that ends with 'i':

とうき

So far that gives us "touki." Next we have to add the small size 'yo':

とうきょ

The 'i' at the end of 'ki' gets absorbed and that gives us "toukyo." And because this is also a long vowel we need to show that as well.

とうきょ

And that's the basics of it.

There can be a little confusion for us non-native Japanese learners over transcription when it comes to some of these kana. Take the following for example:

しゅ

It's written with a normal "shi" and a small "yu." Most of the time when you want to write one of these combo kana in English you remove the "i" and add either "ya" or "yu" or "yo". So for instance, "mya" or "gyu," or something like that. It's not always the case when using し and ち though. Because "shi" and "chi" are somewhat unique they often don't even bother writing the "y." This is okay (although inconsistent) because 1) "shu" looks better than "shyu," 2) it looks like how it sounds, 3) there is no chance that you would mistake "shu" for something else because the only kana that begins with "sh" is "shi" (and the same for "chi" being the only one that begins with "ch"). You wouldn't want to write きょ as "ko" because 1) there already is a "ko" [こ] and 2) it's not pronounced like "ko."


But wait! There's more!

There is another kana which has a mini version: "tsu"

and
(or and )

This one is completely different from the previous small kana. It does not make a "tsu" sounds and instead acts as a consonant lengthen-er. This is a somewhat difficult concept to express in English since English doesn't really have anything like it. Let me give an example to help.

サッカー

"sakkaa"

This word means "soccer" and it shows us how the little 'tsu' works.

The little 'tsu' always finds itself between two kana, in this case "sa" and "ka." What it does is lengthen the consonant sound of the second kana. What that means is that you sort of pause in the middle of saying the second kana and let the sound hang in the back of your mouth for a moment. I really can't explain properly (sorry!) beyond saying that it is a distinctly different sound than drawing out the vowel before it. You pronounce the first kana normally, then pause briefly before saying the next. It just needs to be a smaller pause than the pause between words.

When transcribing it you write a double consonant. The 'tsu' is written as whatever the consonant after it is. So for a word like キッ
ト (kitto) you would take the "ki" and "to" and insert a second "t" because that's what the second kana starts with.

Important note! These rules apply equally to katakana and hiragana. So you could (if you really wanted to) write Tokyo as
とうきょう or トウキョウ.


Okay, that's it for today. No quiz or anything this time, but ask questions if you have them.
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Comments

  1. Old Comment
    Great job, Scarf! Means a lot.
    Posted January 3rd, 2012 at 11:37 PM by Truality Truality is offline
  2. Old Comment
    Amachi's Avatar
    私はかわいいですか :3
    Posted January 4th, 2012 at 05:04 AM by Amachi Amachi is offline
    Updated January 4th, 2012 at 05:12 AM by Amachi
  3. Old Comment
    Cherrim's Avatar
    The best explanation I've ever seen for small-tsu is that it makes the words like "bookcase". When you say bookcase, there's a slight pause between book and case... and small-tsu does exactly the same thing! :) The pause might be a little shorter in Japanese but it's still the easiest way to understand it without spoken examples, imo.
    Posted January 4th, 2012 at 08:13 AM by Cherrim Cherrim is offline
  4. Old Comment
    Esper's Avatar
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Amachi View Comment
    私はかわいいですか :3
    超かわいいですよ、アマちゃん。

    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Lightning View Comment
    The best explanation I've ever seen for small-tsu is that it makes the words like "bookcase". When you say bookcase, there's a slight pause between book and case... and small-tsu does exactly the same thing! :) The pause might be a little shorter in Japanese but it's still the easiest way to understand it without spoken examples, imo.
    That's... a really good explanation. Thanks. :)
    Posted January 4th, 2012 at 08:20 AM by Esper Esper is offline
 

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