Japanese Language – The Alphabets

29 Jul

The Japanese language is composed of three main alphabets: hiragana, katakana and kanji. There is also an alphabet known as romaji but this is used for certain words borrowed from Indo-European languages (ex. CD, DVD) and for use in advertisements, company names, etc.  Hiragana is composed of 46 symbols; each of which represents a different syllable.  Certain smaller symbols can be added to these symbols to create additional syllables.  See charts below.  Katakana utilizes different symbols that each correspond to the pronunciation of the Hiragana symbols, but Katakana is mainly used to write loan or foreign words whereas Hiragana is used for words of Japanese origin.  The third alphabet is kanji which is composed of logographs that are borrowed Chinese characters.  These kanji are used in Japanese writing based on the pronunciation of words or their meanings and are generally used for nouns, adjectives, and verb stems. There are approximately 2000 commonly-used kanji.  When reading kanji, if it maintains the Chinese pronunciation for a word its pronunciation is called on’yomi, but if it is the Japanese pronunciation of the word it is called kun’yomi.

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