Every language has an orthography for its script(s). In any orthography, there are lots of rules that govern the use of its writing system(s). With Japanese being written with a mixed script, there are plenty of rules that have to be accounted for in its orthography. For the most part, Japanese orthography in regards to Kana is rather straightforward. You've learned how the basic sounds are written in both Hiragana and Katakana. What has not be taught yet is how long vowels and double consonants are covered. We've also yet to learn about the true differences are between the variant ways of writing /ji/, /zu/, /ja/, /ju/, and /jo/. The Kana used to write these sounds are called Yotsugana.
As we learned in Lesson 1, Japanese distinguishes between short and long vowels, and as we learned in Lesson 2, Japanese also distinguishes between single and double consonants. The change in mora count that occurs when lengthening a vowel or consonant isn't negligible. First, we will learn about how Hiragana and Katakana typically spell out long vowels. Then, we'll learn about how both systems write double consonants. Then, we'll learn about how to differentiate between Yotsugana. Although we've already learned about the characters themselves, nothing has been said on when to use which.
Contents of This Lesson
In Hiragana, long vowels are typically written by doubling the vowel. As you can see below, only long /e/ or /o/ sounds are extra complicated. The reason why these two long vowels are two possible spellings is because of all the words that have been borrowed from Chinese. Sometimes, spelling doesn't always match pronunciation. As readers of English, you should know this oh too well.
|Long /a/||Long /i/||Long /u/||Long /e/||Long /o/|
The next thing to do is see actual words with each of these long vowels. The information we learned about long /e/ and long /o/ sounds in Lesson 1 will be extremely relevant in this lesson.
Long /a/, /i/, & /u/
To create long vowels for /a/, /i/, and /u/, all you do is double the vowel symbol. In the word charts below, the first column shows their spellings in Hiragana. Because word type is a major factor later on in this lesson, the word type for all words shown in this section are also provided. There are three main sources of vocabulary in Japanese: native (words that are indigenous to Japanese), Sino-Japanese, and loan-words. Sino-Japanese words are words that were either borrowed or created with roots from Chinese. These words are alternatively referred to as Kango (the Japanese terminology for Sino-Japanese) in the charts below. Loan-words are borrowings from modern world languages that have managed to find their way into Japanese. In the third column.
1. Because pitch contours will be marked on the Hiragana spellings, long vowels will be romanized with macrons in the charts below except for long /i/, which will be written as "ii."
2. High pitch and pitch drops will be denoted the same way as previous lessons, just with their Hiragana spellings.
Curriculum Note: False long vowels, vowels that happened to be juxtaposed next to each other but are in fact belong to separate word elements, are not represented as examples of long vowels in the charts below.
|Long /a/||Word Type||Meaning|
| Ā ああ||Native||Ah|
| Okāsan おかあさん||Native||(Someone's) mother|
| Obasan おばさん||Native||Aunt; middle-aged woman|
| Obāsan おばあさん||Native||Grandmother/old woman|
Usage Note: Long /a/ is not a common long vowel. In Hiragana, long /a/ is limited to native words.
|Long /i/||Word Type||Meaning|
| Ojisan おじさん||Native||Uncle/middle-aged man|
| Ojiisan おじいさん||Native||Grandfather/old man|
Usage Note: Long /i/ is also not a common long vowel. In Hiragana, long /i/ is limited to native words.
|Long /u/||Word Type||Meaning|
| Sūgaku すうがく||Kango||Math|
| Fūfu ふうふ||Kango||Married couple|
| Gyūniku ぎゅうにく||Kango||Beef|
Long /e/: ええ vs えい
Whereas long /e/ in native words is always spelled with ええ, it is spelled as えい in Sino-Japanese, in which case it may alternatively be literally pronounced as [ei]. This literal pronunciation is preferred in many regions of Japan as well as in conversation pronunciation, especially in singing. Note that all other instances of えい outside Sino-Japanese vocabulary must be pronounced as [ei].
| Onēsan おねえさん||Native||Older sister/young lady/miss|
| Hē へえ||Native||Really?|
|[ē] or [ei]||Word Type||Meaning|
| Ēga/Eiga えいが||Kango||Movie|
|Mēshi/Meishi めいし||Kango||Business card|
| Ei えい||Native||Stingray|
Long /o/: おお vs おう
Long /o/ is usually spelled in native words as おお. Historically, the second "o" would have originally been ほ or を, depending on the word. In Sino-Japanese words, long /o/ is written as おう. When おう is used in native words, it either stands for a long /o/ or "o.u." Typically, おう in native words is always a long /o/ except when it is at the end of a verb. The ending of a verb is treated as a separate element, thus breaking apart what otherwise would be a long vowel.
| [ō]||Word Type||Meaning|
| Kōri こおり||Native||Ice|
| Tōi とおい||Native||Far away|
| Ōkii おおきい||Native||Big|
| Ōi おおい||Native||Many|
| Mō もう||Native||Already|
| Otōsan おとうさん||Native||(Someone's) father|
| Gakkō がっこう||Kango||School|
|Ou おう||Native||To chase|
| Ōu おおう||Native||To cover|
For Katakana, long vowels are typically represented with a mark that looks similar to a hyphen: ー. It's normally either called a chō’ompu ちょうおんぷ or bōbiki ぼうびき. As Katakana is used primarily to write foreign words, you are primarily going to use and see this with foreign words.
|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|
|Aisutii アイスティー||Ice tea||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|
|Intabyū インタビュー||Interview||Sūtsukēsu スーツケース||Suitcase|
Curriculum Note: A lot can be said about how to transcribe and pronounce loan-words. For now, know that long vowels are typically written with ー in Katakana.
In both Hiragana and Katakana, double consonants are created by preceding a symbol with a shrunken tsu. In Hiragana, this is っ. In Katakana, this is ッ. As we have learned previously, unvoiced consonants are typically the only consonants doubled. However, /n/ and /m/ can technically be long, but the symbol for N will be what precedes the main symbol (ん in Hiragana and ン in Katakana).
| Chotto ちょっと||A little|| Matto マット||Mat|
| Hokkē ホッケー||Hockey|| Shippai しっぱい||Failure|
| Jetto ジェット|| Jet|| Intānetto インターネット|| Internet |
| Sakkā サッカー||Soccer|| Robotto ロボット||Robot|
With Katakana, voiced consonants are only voiced in certain loan-words or in exaggerated pronunciations. Even in such expressions, these doubled voiced consonants are still usually pronounced as if they were unvoiced so long as there is an unvoiced equivalent. For instance, "bed" is beddo but is normally pronounced as betto. Nonetheless, it remains spelled as ベッド. Consonants for which this all applies include: g, z, d, h, f, b, r, w and y.
| Baggu バッグ||Bag||Beddo ベッド||Bed|
| Suggoi すっごい||Cool!||Reddo Sokkkusu レッドソックス||The Red Socks|
| Aipaddo アイパッド||iPad||Bagudaddo バグダッド||Baghdad|
| Hottodoggu ホットドッグ||Hot dog||Bahha バッハ||Bach|
In Lesson 1, we learned about what glottal stops were. A glottal stop is made by forcibly stopping air in one's Adam's apple. When an expression ends in a glottal stop, a small tsu is used to indicate this pronunciation. An example of this is itah いたっ (ouch!).
Yotsugana refer to Kana that spell what were traditionally four distinct consonants: /z/, /dz/, /j/, and /dj/. Pronunciation-wise, /z/ is usually pronounced as /dz/ and can only be pronounced as /z/ inside words. As for /j/ and /dj/, the two sounds are overwhelmingly both pronounced as [dj]. Previously, we learned when these consonants are used, but we haven't gone over the rules for how to write them correctly in Kana.
Below are the symbols in question in both Hiragana and Katakana. In the chart, symbols are listed as "common", "uncommon" or "rare."
Because Katakana is used largely for loan-word transcriptions, which is why symbols traditionally associated with the consonants /dj/ and /dz/ are all rare. Typically, the symbols traditionally associated with the consonants /z/ and /j/ are used regardless of how the consonant is pronounced. The only times when づ・ヅ and ぢ・ヂ are used is when they are immediately preceded by つ・ツ and ち・チ respectively, or when they are the voiced forms of つ・ツ and ち・チ respectively in compound expressions.
|Nosebleed|| Hana(d)ji はなぢ||Instruction|| Shiji しじ|
|Shrinkage|| Chi(d)jimi ちぢみ||Bell|| Suzu すず|
|Continuation|| Tsu(d)zuki つづき||Monopoly|| Hitorijime ひとりじめ|
|Class||Jugyō じゅぎょう||Jaguar||Jaga ジャガー|
|Monotone||Ippon(d)jōshi いっぽんぢょうし||Information||Jōhō じょうほう|
|Suggestion/hint||Ire(d)jie いれぢえ||Crescent Moon||Mika(d)zuki みかづき|
|Within reach||Te(d)jika てぢか||To spell||Tsu(d)zuru つづる|
|Proximity||Ma(d)jika まぢか||Hairpiece||Zura ヅラ|
Word Note: ヅラ is an abbreviation of katsura かつら (hairpiece), and it is usually spelled in Katakana largely to emphasize its existence as an abbreviation.
Curriculum Note: To learn more, see Lesson 355.