Orthography means "application of a writing system". Now that you know Hiragana and Katakana, you'll learn about the basic rules that govern their usage. There is a lot that can be said about any of the broad topics this lesson will cover, but you will leave this lesson with a good sense of how Kana works overall.
If you still haven't gotten both Kana systems down yet, don't worry because we'll primarily study how long vowels and consonants are written.
Long vowels are crucial to speaking Japanese properly, and you cannot leave them unaccounted for in writing. If you remember the romanization used in Lesson 1 for long vowels, this information will make this section easier.
ああ is essentially not found in words from Chinese (Kango), although there are some.
|おばさん||Aunt; middle-aged woman||No||おばあさん||Grandmother/old woman||No|
いい is more common in native words, but it is seen in words from Chinese. This long vowel happens to be the one most likely accidentally shortened by foreigners.
|ミイラ||Mummy||No||ちい||Status||Yes → 地位|
|おじさん||Uncle/middle-aged man||No||おじいさん||Grandfather/old man||No|
うう is not that common in native words. If it is present, it is usually in the latter part of the final form of a verb. Otherwise, however, it is numerously encountered in words from Chinese.
|すうがく||Math||Yes → 数学||ぬう||To sew||No|
|ふうふ||Married couple||Yes → 夫婦||ぎゅうにく||Beef||Yes → 牛肉|
ええ is seen in native words. It is not seen in a lot of words, but those that it exists in happen to be quite common expressions.
|おねえさん||Older sister/young lady/miss||No||いいですねえ||That’s good, isn’t it?||No|
|せえの||Altogether now!||No||へえ||Oh, really?||No|
おお is found in native words. In most cases, the second o was actually originally a ほ or を. This is why, as you will see, ō is sometimes spelled as おう instead.
Irregularities: えい & おう
We also have the spellings えい and おう that sometimes stand for a long e and long o respectively. Things get a little complicated with these exceptions, so pay close attention to detail.
えい in Sino-Japanese words (Kango = 漢語) is typically pronounced in Standard Japanese as a long e sound. However, as the spelling suggests, it can be pronounced as “e+i”, pronouncing each vowel as is written. This is especially common in singing as singers tend to be trained to be more conservative in pronunciation. It’s important to note, though, that in non-Sino-Japanese words, えい is never a long e.
Chart Note: はつおん ＝ Pronunciation
|めいし||Yes → 名刺||Business card||Mēshi/Meishi||えいが||Yes → 映画||Movie||Ēga/Eiga|
おう is somewhat more complicated. When you see this at the end of a Japanese verb, the vowels are pronounced separately. And, when the vowels are separated as separate readings of Chinese characters next to each other, they should be pronounced separately and not as おお.
Otherwise, whenever you see this combination in other words, those native and Sino-Japanese, it stands for a long o. One exception is the capital of South Korea, Seoul, which in Japanese is spelled as ソウル and pronounced as "souru."
|おとうさん||No → お父さん||Father||Otōsan||がっこう||Yes → 学校||School||Gakkō|
1. Spell the Sino-Japanese word saikyou (strongest) in ひらがな.
2. Spell omou (to think) in ひらがな.
3. Spell ohayō gozaimasu (good morning) in ひらがな.
4. Spell the Sino-Japanese word keiki (opportunity) in ひらがな.
5. Spell Tokyo in ひらがな.
Other Long Vowel Representations
For Katakana, long vowels are typically represented with a mark that looks similar to a hyphen: ー. It's normally either called a "chō’onpu 長音符" or "bōbiki 棒引き."
As Katakana is used primarily to write foreign words, you are primarily going to use and see this with foreign words. However, there are some emphatic instances where regular Hiragana long vowel representations are changed to use ー instead. A great example is the word for cellphone, which in Kana is spelled as "keitai けいたい" but colloquially spelled as "kētai ケータイ."
|Tēburu テーブル||Table||Aisukuriimu アイスクリーム||Ice cream|
|Intāchenji インターチェン ジ||Interchange||Mēru メール|
|Fināre フィナーレ||Finale||Kōchi コーチ||Coach|
|Sōda ソーダ||Soda||Kompyūtā コンピューター||Computer|
|Rēru レール||Rail||Sēru セール||Sale|
|Orenjijūsu オレンジジュース||Orange juice||Chiizu チーズ||Cheese|
|Daunrōdo ダウンロード||Download||Kōhii コーヒー|| Coffee|
|Aisutii アイスティー||Ice tea||Bājinia ヴァージニア||Virginia|
Word Note: Coffee is an older loan, which is why it isn't pronounced as "kōfii コーフィー."
Exception Note: Sometimes you get words like bouru/bōru ボウル・ボール for "bowl". The reason for the first spelling being possible is that it better reflects the actually English pronunciation. Another similar exception is Seoul/soul, which are both spelled as "souru ソウル."
Practice (2): Katakanize the following words.
Trailing: Small Vowel Kana
Small かな--ぁ, ぃ, ぅ, ぇ, ぉ—represent trailing. You may often see these at the end of sentences to show a trailing off effect. This is similar to long vowels, but in this case it is not meant for word distinction. Rather, it demonstrates a manner of speaking.
It's pretty, isn't it...?
っ doubles a consonant and is placed before a given consonant. It is most frequently used in Sino-Japanese words, loanwords, and conjugations, but even so, basically all instances of it come from some sort of contraction.
Never double n and m with っ. This is NEVER done, not even in loanwords. To get around this, you have to use ん before a n or m sound. Phonetically, however, they end up being double consonants. The spelling is just different.
| ジェット||Jetto|| Jet|| インターネット||Intānetto|| Internet |
G, z, d, h, f, b, r, w and y can be seen doubled, but they are almost always either used in loan words or in exaggerated spellings.
|すっごい||Suggoi||Cool!|| ホットドッグ|| Hottodoggu|| Hot dog|| ベッド|| Beddo|| Bed|
Audible stops may be written with っ too. This audible stop is called a "glottal stop." The glottis is a part of your throat, and if you're a native English speaker, an easy phrase to practice making this sound is "uh-oh" because each vowel is actually preceded by a glottal stop. Most vowel-initial words in Japanese actually begin with a glottal stop, too, but it is is never written. The only time when a glottal stop is written is when it abruptly ends a word.
1. Find an incorrect usage of っ.
はっぱ かっな きった はっけん
し and す are voiced as じ and ず. つ and ち are voiced as ぢ and づ. However, づ and ぢ are pronounced the same as ず and じ respectively by most speakers. Exact pronunciation has already been covered in Lesson 1 in regards to these sounds, but it is important to know that distinguishing the four is no longer important in Standard Japanese. There are some places where they are all distinguished from each other, but this shouldn’t concern you at this moment.
What should concern you in the meantime is the spelling issue of keeping the old distinctions somewhat relevant in writing. When characters are used phonetically, づ and ぢ are never used. However, they are typically used in compounds in which つ or ち is the initial sound of the second element and subsequently becomes voiced. Another instance is when a sound gets doubled and voiced at the same time.
Words normally don't begin with ぢ or づ, but some do. For example, zura づら (wig). Of all words, hemorrhoids (ji 痔) is often written as ぢ. Also, ぢ and づ are typically only used with native words. There are, of course, those rare exceptions.
1. The verb tsuzuru means "to spell". How would it be spelled in ひらがな?
2. Write the family name Suzuki in ひらがな.