In yesterday’s article I have mentioned about spilled tea. But what is actually this spilled tea??
Japanese writing system
Japanese writing system is unique. Unlike many other countries where is used one writing system mostly latin/roman script (based on classical latin alphabet).
In japanese you will meet in total with 3 writing systems. One of them is KANJI (chinese characters) and KANA alphabet which is divided at HIRAGANA and KATAKANA (syllabic alphabets).
Japanese writing system is considered as one of the most complicated ones in the World. As I have written in previous paragraph japanese have 3 alphabets, but it won’t be enough to learn just one. Because in japanese are used all three at once to create a sentence. You can see an example of japanese sentences on picture below. (Found via Google)
Another curiorsity about japanese is fact you can write horizontally and vertically. For example think of a situation when are you going to write a letter. First you must realise what are you dealing with. Are you writing letter to your boss in company or just a postcard from your holiday vacation?
When you are dealing with a business you will write horizontally. Horizontall letters are simpler and easier to read. When you are writing an email is basically one eletronical letter. Also be aware when use which way. Because horizontal type can be sometimes seen as cold and rude, unlike vertical way is seen as more personal, because they are ussually written by hand.
*) Verically: read from top to bottom and from right to left
When you start learning you will learn first syllabic alphabets Hiragana and Katakana. In Hiragana and Katakana. Hiragana used primarily for native or naturalised Japanese words and grammatical elements ana Katakana used primaly for foreign words.
And how it comes that japanese have already 3 writing systems? Why they cannot choosed one? How they can remember all those symbols??
These are all question which we can answer simply by looking more in the history of japanese and Japan itself. So as we know Japan is a group of island in a Pacific ocean, Easto of China and Korea.
First referencess about japan can be found in chronicle Wei, written by chinese. In which is described a journey from Korea to Japan. In the chronicle depicts the nation that obeys law, hold traditions of magical and spiritual origins, care for cleanliness of body and soul, and also tend to drink. The chronicle describe then life of japanese citizens, their faith, economy and family system Uji.
And with chinese merchants, travellers and messengers comes to Japan chinese culture, which was way ahead of japanese. From chinese japanese people take writing system kanji. Every chinese symbol has it’s own meaning but these symbols were inappropriate for words of japanese origins. So at beginning japanese wrote in chinese even though they tried to express the reading of japanese name meanwhile, by using only the simple fonetic use of chinese symbols. During 9th and 10th century became habit to read chinese texts with a use of japanese words in japanese word order. This also indicates the falling knowledge of chinese. The great difference in both languages gave origin to the two ways of reading chinese symbol. Japanese reading, kunjomi 訓読み („meaningful“) a sinojapanese reading, onjomi 音読み („fonetical“). Sinojapanese reading is mostly occured in word combination and japanese reading is mostly used for separate words. However there isn’t a clear rule that would determined which reading to use. The ability to define which reading to use in specific situation depends on context and linguistic knowledge of the speaker.
The base for development of japanese syllabic alphabet was manjógana (according to poetry collection of Manjóšu) from which the Kana system was developed.
Hiragana is the aplhabet where the symbols were written shortly and more rounded strokes and it was used for personal correspondence and for writing poetry, when Katakana comes from shorten version of symbols and is written with sharper edges and it’s historically older than hiragana. The names of alphabets were defined many years later. Both syllabical system were standartized in late 19th century and even nowadays exists deviations in handwriting form.
So why kanji??
So why to use kanji when we have hiragana and katakana? Kanji is more complicated to remember and also each sign in kanji have more strokes than simply symbols in hiragana and katakana. Writing everything in kana system would be faster and easier of course but there are serval reasons why is necessary to learn kanji.
- There is nothing separating the words from each other. In Japanese, there are no spaces between words, so kanji helps break words apart, making it easy to read. In complicated sentence is also easy to spot where one words ends and second one stars thanks to particles written in hiragana. Particles show as the connections between each word.
- Writing in Kanji can also save space, isn’t better to write one long word only with just one symbol??
- And also without learning at least basic kanji symbols you wouldn’t be able to read in Japan. However in some books are kanji symbols rewrtitten in hiragana but not in all so if you are thinking about learning japanese don’t forget you need to know all three alphabets. But once you learn hiragana and katakana you remember it and it will be more naturally for you to write and read it. And then by the time of your learning you will just add more symbols and more complicated ones.
Also at the end I would like to mention the stroke order. You cannnot write the symbols how you like it. For each symbol there is a stroke order which you must follow. But when you learn japanese you will learn how to write hiragana and katakana first which have their order too but much simpler than kanji one. But once you wrote some sign you willl realise the stroke order is basically the same for each sign.