Announcement

Collapse
No announcement yet.

Hiragana and Katakana: what's the point of having both?

Collapse
X
  • Filter
  • Time
  • Show
Clear All
new posts

  • Hiragana and Katakana: what's the point of having both?

    Against my better judgement, I've been trying to learn some Japanese of late. From what I understand, hiragana and katakana have different sets of characters but which refer to the same sounds.

    So I'm wondering: what's the point of having both, apart from making it more difficult for gaijins to learn Japanese? And how do you decide which one to use when writing? I mean, there are sentences that switch between the two forms in mid-flow and to me, that's just being fancy with no good reason.

  • #2
    Until you get a bit more experience with the language and build up a larger base of vocabulary, yeah, the reason for two different phonetic syllabaries will seem a little hard to grasp. Rest assured, though, that there is a reason, and that if you stick with trying to learn the language, it’ll click fairly soon. I think having both hiragana and katakana started making sense to me a couple of months into studying Japanese, and in the roughly 20 years since I haven’t reversed my stance on it.

    This is gonna take a while to explain, but bear with me-I promise I’ve got a point.

    First, let’s establish that there are three kinds of Japanese text: kanji, hiragana, and katakana.

    Kanji are the complex characters, originally coming from Chinese, that represent a concept. For example, kuruma/car is written with the single kanji 車.

    Hiragana, on the other hand, are much simpler (i.e. they have fewer strokes) and used for writing phonetically. In other words, hiragana characters function sort of like English letters, in that they don’t have any intrinsic meaning. They just represent sounds. Because of this, any Japanese word that can be written in kanji can also be written in hiragana. Kuruma, which we saw written in kanji as 車, can also be written in hiragana as くるま.

    So why not just use hiragana for everything? A couple of reasons.

    1. Because kanji were developed before hiragana, writing with kanji generally imparts a more educated and mature feeling. So while you could write kuruma as くるま and be understood, it looks childish to Japanese readers, and so adults would be expected to write it in kanji as 車.
    2. Kanji takes much less space to write (車 vs. くるま) because each hiragana can only represent one syllable, but a kanji character’s reading can be composed of two, three, or even more syllables.
    3. Japanese has a very limited number of sounds. Aside from famously having no L, very few consonants can be blended together, and every syllable has to end in a vowel or N. Because of this, the Japanese language is filled with words that are pronounced the same but have different meanings. As a matter of fact, there are so many homonyms that without kanji, it can be confusing to tell which is being written about. For example, you could write koutai in hiragana as こうたい, but koutai can mean replacement, antibody, or retreat. Because of that, for an educated adult, it’s better to use the kanji, 交代, 抗体, or 後退, to make it clear which version of koutai you’re writing about.

    So why do sentences have a mixture of kanji and hiragana? Because hiragana gets used for grammatical particles and modifiers. Remember, each kanji represents a concept. So if you were using a verb, you’d use hiragana to change the pronunciation in order to change the tense.

    For example, the verb miru, “see,” is written 見る, by combining the kanji 見 (“mi”) with the hiragana る (“ru”). If you wanted to change that to the past tense, mita/saw, you’d just swap the る/ru hiragana for the た/ta one to get 見た/mita.

    As such, written Japanese tends to fall into patterns where kanji and hiragana alternate, with the kanji forming base vocabulary and the hiragana giving it grammatical context. This is especially handy because written Japanese doesn’t have spaces between the words.

    For example, let’s look at the sentence “Watashi ha kuruma wo mita,” or “I saw the car.” We’d write it like this, using both kanji and hiragana:
    私は車を見た。

    Right away, we can see the pattern of kanji-hiragana-kanji-hiragana-kanji-hiragana, which quickly tells us we have three basic ideas in the sentence.
    1. 私は: Watashi (I) and ha (the subject marker)
    2. 車を: kuruma (the car) and wo (the object marker)
    3. 見た: mi- (the verb see) and -ta (marking the verb as past tense)

    Without the mix of kanji and hiragana, those breaks would be a lot harder to spot. Here's how it would look in all hiragana
    わたしはくるまをみた。
    which makes reading it kind of like ifyoutriedtoreadEnglishsentenceswrittenl ikethis.

    OK, so now we can see why Japanese needs both kanji characters and phonetic characters. So why does it need two different sets of phonetics? Because katakana get used for writing foreign loanwords.

    Once again, there are an extremely limited number of sounds that are available in the Japanese language. This means that a lot of foreign words can’t be properly rendered in written Japanese, and so have to be force fit into corrupted pronunciations. But like we said, the limited number of sounds means that there are already a bunch of Japanese words with the same pronunciation but wildly different meanings, and now we’re adding foreign words that might end up giving us even more homonyms.

    For example, let’s say we wanted to talk about a maid, of the maid cafe variety. Remember, Japanese words can’t end in a d, so “maid” becomes “meido” (pronounced like “maid-o”). We could write this in hiragana as めいど, but that could be confusing, since as we saw above hiragana is most commonly used for grammatical modifications, so using it for a single concept like the noun “maid” can make it hard to see the breakdown of ideas in a sentence. Remember how easy it was to spot the breaks in “Watashi ha kuruma wo mita/ I saw the car?”
    私は車を見た。

    Look what happens when we try to write meido in hiragana for the sentence “Watashi ha meido wo mita/I saw the maid.”
    私はめいどを見た。

    Now we’ve got that whole はめいどを cluster of hiragana, which makes it confusing to figure out where to draw the lines to separate the different idea in the sentence.

    OK, so now we’ve seen that using hiragana to write meido/maid is a bad idea. What about kanji? Well, as you’ve probably already realized, kanji are far more complex. Whereas hiragana and katakana tend to be about two or three strokes each, kanji can easily require well over a dozen strokes to write. Also, how would you decide what the kanji for meido should be? There isn’t a starkly defined point at which vocabulary crosses over into other languages-just look at the gradual manner in which “anime,” “otaku,” and “moe” have seeped into English. It’s not like you could have a government linguistics ministry constantly scanning for foreign words and developing new kanji for them before anyone in Japan has a need to write them.

    So since hiragana and kanji are both out for writing loanwords, that’s where katakana comes in. There’s no practical way to produce a universally accepted kanji for meido, and using hiragana would create new problems, so there needs to be another phonetic character set for writing foreign loanwords: katakana. As such, meido gets written in katakana as メイド, and that lets us write “Watashi ha meido wo mita/I saw the maid” as
    私はメイドを見た。

    Now we’ve got a nice kanji-hiragana-katakana-hiragana-kanji-hiragana pattern, giving us the breakdown of
    1. 私は: Watashi (I) and ha (the subject marker)
    2. メイドを: meido (the maid) and wo (the object marker)
    3. 見た: mi- (the verb see) and -ta (marking the verb as past tense)

    If you want to summarize the uses for the three kinds of text, kanji is for concepts originating in Japan (or China), katakana for concepts originating elsewhere, and hiragana for grammar.

    Looking at the situation from the standpoint of the purpose of katakana in terms of language advancing and evolving, it gives Japanese a way to incorporate new concepts from cultures with a non-kanji-based writing system (on the other hand, new concepts originating in Japan are often rendered by combining two existing kanji in a previously unused combination that captures the essence of the concept).

    Without katakana, there’d be no way for Japan to easily incorporate new concepts from abroad into its writing. Without hiragana there’d be no way to make grammar notation and modification easier. And without either, you’d end up with basically the Chinese writing system, which makes the Japanese one look like a cakewalk in terms of difficulty for foreign learners.

    Speaking of foreign learners, the existence of katakana actually works out in your favor, once you get the hang of some of the more common ways the pronunciation of foreign words gets corrupted in Japanese. Once again, say you’re reading the sentence “Watashi ha meido wo mita/I saw the maid.”
    私はメイドを見た。

    Even if you didn’t already know that “meido” is the Japanese word for “maid,” you could see that it’s written in katakana, which means it’s a foreign loanword. While not all katakana words originate in English, English is the most common source language for them. So when you spot メイド, even if you’ve never seen the word used in Japanese before, you can ask yourself “Is there an English word that sounds like this?” and often you’ll be able to decipher the meaning on the spot.

    In closing, trust me, as weird as having both hiragana and katakana might seem now, I’ve never met anyone for whom that was the stumbling block that kept them from becoming proficient in Japanese, so stick with it.
    Last edited by Hiroshimafuu; September 30th, 2015, 11:04 AM.

    Comment


    • #3
      ^*Slow clap*

      Jesus Christ, post of the year. Well done, Hiroshimafuu.
      SHIROIYUKI'S ART THREAD
      MY STORE

      Comment


      • #4
        Bloody Buddha!!! (*tips hat*) How much do you charge for Japanese lessons? Thanks for the clear and comprehensive explanation of why hiragana, katakana and kanji coexist, including the fishy part ("Kuruma, which we saw written in kanji as 魚" ).

        I take the point about how I'll learn to appreciate the differences better as I gain more experience, and to be honest, I haven't really looked at the kanji yet.

        OK, so the hiragana/katakana distinction seems reasonably clear to me, although I'd have to recognize what is considered a foreign word that should be written in katakana. I take the point about how katakana can be used to break up sentences and help reveal ideas/concepts, but why not just use a space like in other languages? That to me sounds like a simpler solution.

        Regarding kanji, to sound like a petulant newbie again, I must say it sounds like a real pain to learn. For starters, when I see these bad boys in the text, I have no idea how to pronounce them and have to go through the hiragana, so it's like learning two different languages. Also, although I get that they're supposed to impart greater maturity, it's hard for me to tell at present whether the hiragana or kanji version is appropriate. If kanji is considered more mature and adult, shouldn't kanji be used for virtually all verbs and nouns (in which case, Japanese becomes Chinese-lite)? In which case, how many characters did you have to learn - hundreds to thousands?

        It's still too early to tell whether I'll become proficient at Japanese, and I'll be happy just to learn enough to avoid being a total cretin if I'm in Japan, but it's been interesting so far.
        Last edited by radiator123; September 30th, 2015, 10:16 AM.

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by radiator123 View Post
          "Kuruma, which we saw written in kanji as 魚"
          Haha agh I missed one! Sorry, I started writing the explanation up with "fish2 first and later switched to "car."

          Originally posted by radiator123 View Post
          I'd have to recognize what is considered a foreign word that should be written in katakana.
          It's pretty much all words that aren't indigenous Japanese words. So, for example, gyuniku, the Japanese word for beef, would get written in kanji (牛肉) or hiragana for young readers (ぎゅうにく). But if you wanted to write the English word "beef" (which is commonly used in Japanese when talking about western food) you'd write its corrupted Japanese pronunciation, beefu, in katakana as ビーフ.

          Since Japan doesn't have any strong cultural resistance to importing loanwords, a lot of technology terms in Japanese are foreign loanwords, and thus written in katakana, like terebi テレビ (from "television"), pasokon (from "personal computer") and sumaho (from "smart phone"). Oh, and of course anime アニメ (from "animation") gets written in katakana.

          Again, the question of "Is this a loanword I should write in katakana, or an indigenous Japanese word I should write in kanji/hiragana?" seems really daunting at first, but as you build up a vocabulary base, the distinction becomes pretty easy to make.

          Originally posted by radiator123 View Post
          I take the point about how katakana can be used to break up sentences and help reveal ideas/concepts, but why not just use a space like in other languages? That to me sounds like a simpler solution.
          Haha yeah it really would have been, wouldn't it? But since languages evolve organically, sometimes things that seem like obvious design flaws in hindsight survived just because "That's how everyone else was doing it, so I went along with it so that people would understand me." I'm not sure about the reasons why, but there are actually several languages that don't put a very distinct space (compared to English, at least) between their words, including Chinese, Korean, Thai, and Arabic.

          If you dig deep enough into any language, you'll eventually uncover certain things that it would have been much easier to do differently, but still somehow ended up as a fundamental part of the language. The methods for forming past-tense verbs in English are a complete mess, for example.

          Originally posted by radiator123 View Post
          Regarding kanji, to sound like a petulant newbie again, I must say it sounds like a real pain to learn. For starters, when I see these bad boys in the text, I have no idea how to pronounce them and have to go through the hiragana
          Don't sweat it. Unless their native language is Chinese or Korean, everyone who's studying Japanese as a second language has trouble with kanji. Heck, it's hard even for Japanese people, which is why kanji education continues throughout primary and secondary school. It's not like the alphabet, where you learn your ABCs in kindergarten, then cursive a couple years later, and you're done. Even Japanese publications occasionally include the hiragana readings for especially tricky kanji, and you'll also regularly see the hiragana readings for kanji in manga aimed at young readers. Light novels, too, often give the hiragana readings for kanji the first time they appear in a chapter.

          Heck, sometimes I'll get stumped on a particularly tricky kanji in something Iím doing for work, so Iíll ask my wife (who's Japanese) how to read it, and sometimes even she'll say "I don't know, I'd have to look it up."

          Originally posted by radiator123 View Post
          Also, although I get that they're supposed to impart greater maturity, it's hard for me to tell at present whether the hiragana or kanji version is appropriate.
          Honestly, at the stage you're at right now, you don't need to worry about it too much. For now, focus on getting comfortable with of hiragana and katakana. As a beginner, you'll see the best returns if you put your efforts into being understood and work on sounding polished after you've got more of the fundamentals down. In other words, yeah, eventually you'll want to transition to using more and more kanji, but the nice part is that for anything that you really need to have looking mature, you'll be using a word processor anyways.

          Really, my whole point in bringing up the "maturity" of kanji is because some people, after noticing that everyone could theoretically write everything in hiragana, become so frustrated by kanji that it forms a mental block that really limits the returns they get on the effort they're putting into learning Japanese.

          Originally posted by radiator123 View Post
          If kanji is considered more mature and adult, shouldn't kanji be used for virtually all verbs and nouns (in which case, Japanese becomes Chinese-lite)?
          In native-adult-level Japanese, yeah, kanji is all over the place. For example:
          私の知り合いに日本語の勉強について相談されて、色々苦労していると思うから助けられ るなら助けたいと思って自分の分かっている範囲に説明している最中です。
          is packed with kanji. It basically says "Someone I know asked me about studying Japanese, and since it looks like he's having a tough time with parts of it, I'd like to help him out, so I'm in the middle of explaining to the extent that I can," and yeah, just about all those nouns and verbs have corresponding kanji, peppered with hiragana for grammar and prepositions.

          Originally posted by radiator123 View Post
          In which case, how many characters did you have to learn - hundreds to thousands?
          Yup. The joyo kanji, or "regular-use kanji," is a set of roughly 2,100 kanji that Japanese students are supposed to know by the time they finish high school.

          Again, though, the upside is that as beginner in the language, the subjects you'll be communicating about are less complex, and therefore you won't need to know as many kanji. It's not like you're going to need to know all 2,000-plus joyo kanji before you can read a menu, decipher an email from a friend, or figure out how to navigate a karaoke machine's menu and song list. Obviously, the more kanji you know the more prepared you'll be for any unexpected topics that come up, but there are plenty of them that I never had any need to use until they come up in something a client specifically asked me to translate, like accounting documents, research and development contracts, or a science fiction visual novel.

          Originally posted by radiator123 View Post
          It's still too early to tell whether I'll become proficient at Japanese, and I'll be happy just to learn enough to avoid being a total cretin if I'm in Japan, but it's been interesting so far.
          Honestly, that's the perfect attitude to have. Don't worry about whether you've got an especially strong aptitude for Japanese or not, and focus on what you enjoy about it and what you'd like to do with the language at some point in the future. The reason why is because while some people have more of a knack than others for languages, or have an easier time learning one language than another, everyone eventually runs into something they have an extremely difficult time making sense of. I think it took me about three months to finally wrap my head around the Japanese word "bimyou," for instance.

          So since you're guaranteed to eventually come across something in Japanese that's hard for you, rather than getting hung up on whether or not the language, overall, is easy or difficult, you'll get better results just keeping your eyes on the prize and telling yourself, "You know, whether this is easy or difficult, it's something I want to do, so I'm going to keep at it."

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by Hiroshimafuu View Post
            Haha agh I missed one! Sorry, I started writing the explanation up with "fish2 first and later switched to "car."
            Funny how the kanji for "fish" and "car" both have a square with a cross in the middle. Apparently that means "field", but I'm not sure how that relates to fishes and cars. Another thing I've noticed is that the kanji for fish is the traditional version rather than the simplified version that they now use in many parts of China.

            Originally posted by Hiroshimafuu View Post
            It's pretty much all words that aren't indigenous Japanese words. So, for example, gyuniku, the Japanese word for beef, would get written in kanji (牛肉) or hiragana for young readers (ぎゅうにく). But if you wanted to write the English word "beef" (which is commonly used in Japanese when talking about western food) you'd write its corrupted Japanese pronunciation, beefu, in katakana as ビーフ.
            Oh, so "beef" wouldn't be written literally as "beef" but using katakana as ビーフ. To be fair to kanji, the kanji form of beef has two characters whereas the hiragana version has 5 characters, so it is more economical. And I've heard that some indigenous Chinese concepts (e.g., ラメん) are written in katakana rather than kanji too, which sounds a bit weird given that they're originally written in kanji in China.

            Originally posted by Hiroshimafuu View Post
            Since Japan doesn't have any strong cultural resistance to importing loanwords, a lot of technology terms in Japanese are foreign loanwords, and thus written in katakana, like terebi テレビ (from "television"), pasokon (from "personal computer") and sumaho (from "smart phone"). Oh, and of course anime アニメ (from "animation") gets written in katakana.
            Nice - so with a bit of creativity it's possible to deduce the meaning of a lot of katakana words by relating it to English ones.

            Originally posted by Hiroshimafuu View Post
            Again, the question of "Is this a loanword I should write in katakana, or an indigenous Japanese word I should write in kanji/hiragana?" seems really daunting at first, but as you build up a vocabulary base, the distinction becomes pretty easy to make.
            I think the strategy I'm going to use is just to learn the hiragana version first in sentences and then when I become proficient enough in my understanding of the sentences, I'll replace the hiragana with kanji as appropriate.

            Originally posted by Hiroshimafuu View Post
            Haha yeah it really would have been, wouldn't it? But since languages evolve organically, sometimes things that seem like obvious design flaws in hindsight survived just because "That's how everyone else was doing it, so I went along with it so that people would understand me." I'm not sure about the reasons why, but there are actually several languages that don't put a very distinct space (compared to English, at least) between their words, including Chinese, Korean, Thai, and Arabic.
            Hmmm, maybe it's standard not to use a space for languages with non-Latin characters. Guess one just has to go with the crowd when the crowd is 120 million strong.

            Originally posted by Hiroshimafuu View Post
            If you dig deep enough into any language, you'll eventually uncover certain things that it would have been much easier to do differently, but still somehow ended up as a fundamental part of the language. The methods for forming past-tense verbs in English are a complete mess, for example.
            Yeah, I guess so long as a language functions well enough on the whole, it doesn't have to be perfectly parsimonious or logical. Being a native speaker of a language could blind one to the inconsistencies within that language - e.g. in my case, English.

            Originally posted by Hiroshimafuu View Post
            Don't sweat it. Unless their native language is Chinese or Korean, everyone who's studying Japanese as a second language has trouble with kanji. Heck, it's hard even for Japanese people, which is why kanji education continues throughout primary and secondary school. It's not like the alphabet, where you learn your ABCs in kindergarten, then cursive a couple years later, and you're done. Even Japanese publications occasionally include the hiragana readings for especially tricky kanji, and you'll also regularly see the hiragana readings for kanji in manga aimed at young readers. Light novels, too, often give the hiragana readings for kanji the first time they appear in a chapter.
            Right, and I didn't realize that Korean also borrows kanji characters. Part of me thinks that if Japanese was reformed by replacing all the kanji with hiragana, people would save a heck of a lot of time in school and use that to learn other stuff instead. But that would of course cause a public outcry. I guess the problem is that I'm more familiar with computer languages, where there wouldn't be so much objection with changing a language to make it more user-friendly.

            Originally posted by Hiroshimafuu View Post
            Heck, sometimes I'll get stumped on a particularly tricky kanji in something Iím doing for work, so Iíll ask my wife (who's Japanese) how to read it, and sometimes even she'll say "I don't know, I'd have to look it up."
            Ah, it certainly helps that your significant other is Japanese! Actually, I do know some (non-Japanese) people offline who speak a bit of Japanese, so I might ask them for tips too at some point.

            Originally posted by Hiroshimafuu View Post
            Honestly, at the stage you're at right now, you don't need to worry about it too much. For now, focus on getting comfortable with of hiragana and katakana. As a beginner, you'll see the best returns if you put your efforts into being understood and work on sounding polished after you've got more of the fundamentals down. In other words, yeah, eventually you'll want to transition to using more and more kanji, but the nice part is that for anything that you really need to have looking mature, you'll be using a word processor anyways.
            Yes, I really should learn how to walk before running. And learning a new language does take time, patience and dedication, so I shouldn't rush it. At the moment, I can type ひらがな and カタカナ using my Mac keyboard, but I'm not sure how to type kanji yet. Do you use any particular program to input kanji?

            Originally posted by Hiroshimafuu View Post
            Really, my whole point in bringing up the "maturity" of kanji is because some people, after noticing that everyone could theoretically write everything in hiragana, become so frustrated by kanji that it forms a mental block that really limits the returns they get on the effort they're putting into learning Japanese.
            Well, my attitude is that if I have to learn kanji to get proficient at reading and writing Japanese, then that's what I'll have to do eventually, whether I like it or not. Fortunately, and probably the only reason why I passed my French GCSE, I do have a decent memory and can use that to brute-force memorize at least a few hundred kanji given enough time. I can remember most of the hiragana now, so I'm moving onto the katakana next. Actually, I've been practicing my recall of hiragana by trying to convert the names of anime characters from romaji to hiragana in my head - kind of fun:

            Goku - ごく
            Ashitaka - あしたか
            Totoro - ととろ

            But I guess for names, kanji is mostly used?

            Originally posted by Hiroshimafuu View Post
            In native-adult-level Japanese, yeah, kanji is all over the place. For example:
            私の知り合いに日本語の勉強について相談されて、色々苦労していると思うから助けられ るなら助けたいと思って自分の分かっている範囲に説明している最中です。
            is packed with kanji. It basically says "Someone I know asked me about studying Japanese, and since it looks like he's having a tough time with parts of it, I'd like to help him out, so I'm in the middle of explaining to the extent that I can," and yeah, just about all those nouns and verbs have corresponding kanji, peppered with hiragana for grammar and prepositions.
            Yeah, that sentence had a bunch of weird characters in there that will hopefully get less weird with time. And it's good to know that commas and full-stops are still used, even though there are no spaces.

            Originally posted by Hiroshimafuu View Post
            Yup. The joyo kanji, or "regular-use kanji," is a set of roughly 2,100 kanji that Japanese students are supposed to know by the time they finish high school.
            Cool - and wiki has the full list with hiragana prounciations (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_o...Dy%C5%8D_kanji). Looks like I'll be visiting that page often.

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by Hiroshimafuu View Post
              Again, though, the upside is that as beginner in the language, the subjects you'll be communicating about are less complex, and therefore you won't need to know as many kanji. It's not like you're going to need to know all 2,000-plus joyo kanji before you can read a menu, decipher an email from a friend, or figure out how to navigate a karaoke machine's menu and song list. Obviously, the more kanji you know the more prepared you'll be for any unexpected topics that come up, but there are plenty of them that I never had any need to use until they come up in something a client specifically asked me to translate, like accounting documents, research and development contracts, or a science fiction visual novel.
              I think you're right that I don't need to know that many kanji now, but given its importance, especially in reading and writing, I'd probably invest some serious effort and time into learning them at some stage. I can imagine myself in Japan with a very basic knowledge of kanji and being unable to read almost everything around me, which would not be a very satisfying state of affairs.

              And I see you work as a translator, right? No wonder you know the Japanese language well.

              Originally posted by Hiroshimafuu View Post
              Honestly, that's the perfect attitude to have. Don't worry about whether you've got an especially strong aptitude for Japanese or not, and focus on what you enjoy about it and what you'd like to do with the language at some point in the future. The reason why is because while some people have more of a knack than others for languages, or have an easier time learning one language than another, everyone eventually runs into something they have an extremely difficult time making sense of. I think it took me about three months to finally wrap my head around the Japanese word "bimyou," for instance.
              Yeah, those brick-wall moments that can throw people off for months or even a lifetime! I'd say I definitely don't have a knack for learning languages (apart from arguably some computer languages, and I'm not too bad at maths either), but what I lack in talent I might be able to make up for with effort and sheer bloody-minded stubbornness. And I don't actually mind making a fool out of myself sometimes (or oftentimes) when learning a new language, so long as I learn something out of it. I guess that helps.

              Originally posted by Hiroshimafuu View Post
              So since you're guaranteed to eventually come across something in Japanese that's hard for you, rather than getting hung up on whether or not the language, overall, is easy or difficult, you'll get better results just keeping your eyes on the prize and telling yourself, "You know, whether this is easy or difficult, it's something I want to do, so I'm going to keep at it."
              Yeah, I'll keep at this for a while yet. Who knows how far I'll go, but I'll find out soon enough!

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by radiator123 View Post
                Funny how the kanji for "fish" and "car" both have a square with a cross in the middle. Apparently that means "field", but I'm not sure how that relates to fishes and cars. Another thing I've noticed is that the kanji for fish is the traditional version rather than the simplified version that they now use in many parts of China.
                That is because Japan "imported" the kanji before the 'simplification' process took place in China. I suppose they have never felt the need to change their character set.

                Please take everything I say with a grain of salt. It is all correct as far as I know, but I am far from an advanced or diligent student of the Japanese language.

                Nice - so with a bit of creativity it's possible to deduce the meaning of a lot of katakana words by relating it to English ones.
                Absolutely, those words are literally borrowed from English just as some English speakers (anime fans) borrow terms like "kawaii" or "otaku". However you have to watch out because sometimes English words used in Japanese have acquired odd connotations over the years. It's just something to be aware of. The familiar may have become unfamiliar.

                I think the strategy I'm going to use is just to learn the hiragana version first in sentences and then when I become proficient enough in my understanding of the sentences, I'll replace the hiragana with kanji as appropriate.
                Not that I'm any great authority, but it would probably help if you could get some practice in spoken Japanese too. Gives you a feel for it.

                Part of me thinks that if Japanese was reformed by replacing all the kanji with hiragana, people would save a heck of a lot of time in school and use that to learn other stuff instead.
                I really don't think it would save any time, and would probably create a bit of confusion. There are lots of homophones in Japanese and kanji allow one to easily distinguish these in printed text. I'm sure you could say that English has lots of homophones too, but they aren't generally spelled precisely the same way. If there's a word other than 'homophone' that I don't know which means 'identically spelled', then that would be better.

                At the moment, I can type ひらがな and カタカナ using my Mac keyboard, but I'm not sure how to type kanji yet. Do you use any particular program to input kanji?
                There's a nice little text editor for Windows I like to use on the rare occasions I want to type some Japanese. It is called JWPCE, but I don't know anything for Mac. I'm sure something exists, it is a common enough need.

                Originally posted by Hiroshimafuu View Post
                I think it took me about three months to finally wrap my head around the Japanese word "bimyou," for instance.
                I recall that I encountered that word once in an anime. The subtitles didn't really make much sense of the sentence, and the rest of it was extremely simple so I tried to look that word up. I still don't really grasp the meaning, though I believe I at least was left with a vague understanding of that throwaway and rather cryptic line.

                There's a bunch of 'em... you don't parse them logically in the same way as you would formal speech, because they aren't really used in that way. They're used in accordance with convention that everyone knows.
                Last edited by Soluzar; October 4th, 2015, 04:26 PM.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by Soluzar View Post
                  That is because Japan "imported" the kanji before the 'simplification' process took place in China. I suppose they have never felt the need to change their character set.
                  Makes sense, and there was probably no need for them to simplify the characters to improve literacy.

                  Originally posted by Soluzar View Post
                  Please take everything I say with a grain of salt. It is all correct as far as I know, but I am far from an advanced or diligent student of the Japanese language.
                  Hey, you know some Japanese too! I always knew you were a person of many talents. How long have you been studying it for?

                  Originally posted by Soluzar View Post
                  Absolutely, those words are literally borrowed from English just as some English speakers (anime fans) borrow terms like "kawaii" or "otaku". However you have to watch out because sometimes English words used in Japanese have acquired odd connotations over the years. It's just something to be aware of. The familiar may have become unfamiliar.
                  Come to think of it, given how Japanese society could be considered conservative in a number of ways, it might be viewed as slightly odd that the Japanese language has accommodated so many words of English origin. I wonder if there's a Japanese equivalent of a "weeaboo", who is obsessed with Western culture and uses an over-abundance of katakana.

                  Originally posted by Soluzar View Post
                  Not that I'm any great authority, but it would probably help if you could get some practice in spoken Japanese too. Gives you a feel for it.
                  Yeah, that would certainly help. I do attend a weekly class, but we're just going through the baby stuff at the moment. Speaking and listening definitely makes for a different kettle of 魚 compared with reading and writing.

                  Originally posted by Soluzar View Post
                  I really don't think it would save any time, and would probably create a bit of confusion. There are lots of homophones in Japanese and kanji allow one to easily distinguish these in printed text. I'm sure you could say that English has lots of homophones too, but they aren't generally spelled precisely the same way. If there's a word other than 'homophone' that I don't know which means 'identically spelled', then that would be better.
                  Fair point, although I would contend they could still have come up with a set of characters that are less fiddly to remember and write. I mean, how many strokes does one need to write "chicken ramen"?

                  Originally posted by Soluzar View Post
                  There's a nice little text editor for Windows I like to use on the rare occasions I want to type some Japanese. It is called JWPCE, but I don't know anything for Mac. I'm sure something exists, it is a common enough need.
                  Cool, and you're right that something for the Mac probably exists. I'm just too lazy to google it. Meanwhile, I found out that the built-in Mac Japanese input device does actually convert some hiragana into kanji automatically (as in "fish" above), so maybe I don't need another program yet.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    That built-in Japanese input should cover it. Press the spacebar and the underlined kana will be converted to kanji. Because it may have converted "koutai" to "retreat" instead of the rarer word "antibody", you can keep pressing space to change which "koutai" you mean, then hit "return/enter". You can just hit "return/enter" right away to de-underline stuff you want to keep as-is.
                    Originally posted by radiator123 View Post
                    Makes sense, and there was probably no need for them to simplify the characters to improve literacy.
                    There was a 20th century initiative to decrease the number of kanji in standard Japanese, intending to eventually getting rid of kanji entirely, but it didn't reach that latter point. Japanese people forget how to write lesser-used kanji all the time because they commonly type them instead; one can recognize and read a kanji but be able to write it blind. I find I forget some kanji if I don't encounter or use them regularly, but if I have enough interesting reading material, even if it's a bit difficult, I can practice.

                    Originally posted by radiator123 View Post
                    I wonder if there's a Japanese equivalent of a "weeaboo", who is obsessed with Western culture and uses an over-abundance of katakana.
                    There are characters like that in anime commonly enough, often cast as dandies, like Rundelhaus Cord (Log Horizon) or Kazuhiko Hanawa (Chibi Maruko-chan).
                    Last edited by Dreamstryder; October 7th, 2015, 05:00 AM.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      ^ I see, so the space bar can be used to cycle through the kanji - nice. No need to install any other programs for now.

                      If even Japanese people often forget how to write some kanji, then that 20th C initiative sounds like a good idea to my gaijin ears, except for the getting-rid-of-it-completely part. I'll probably change my mind on this matter in good time.

                      No clue what Log Horizon and Chibi Maruko-chan are, but "dandies" doesn't sound derogatory enough. How about "donuts"?

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Hiroshimafuu View Post
                        Honestly, that's the perfect attitude to have. Don't worry about whether you've got an especially strong aptitude for Japanese or not, and focus on what you enjoy about it and what you'd like to do with the language at some point in the future. The reason why is because while some people have more of a knack than others for languages, or have an easier time learning one language than another, everyone eventually runs into something they have an extremely difficult time making sense of. I think it took me about three months to finally wrap my head around the Japanese word "bimyou," for instance.

                        So since you're guaranteed to eventually come across something in Japanese that's hard for you, rather than getting hung up on whether or not the language, overall, is easy or difficult, you'll get better results just keeping your eyes on the prize and telling yourself, "You know, whether this is easy or difficult, it's something I want to do, so I'm going to keep at it."
                        Well, I've tried to adopt that attitude and I think I've made some decent progress. Technically, I'm now at a level somewhere past JLPT N5 and before N4, so have some grasp of the basics. It's still difficult, especially speaking & listening, but learning the kanji was not as difficult as I had anticipated - Brute Force Memorization is my preferred technique here.

                        Anyway, I'm deciding whether to pursue Japanese any further this yr, given the time I have available. Anyone else with experiences or tips they'd like to share? Perhaps I should start to read simple Japanese books or something.
                        Last edited by radiator123; February 5th, 2017, 12:13 AM.

                        Comment

                        Working...
                        X