The Japanese Language has 5 Alphabets: Hiragana, Katakana, Furigana, Kanji and Romaji:
Hiragana and Katakana are phonetic representations of sounds, and each letter corresponds to one "mora" (Japanese letters). Kanji conveys both meaning and sound. In one sentence you might find the five kinds of alphabet together.
- Hiragana is used to write both Japanese Words and "Particles" (Prepositions, Conjunctions, Connectors, Determiners, Quantifiers, Articles, Relative Pronouns, Posesive Pronouns, etc -"Function Words") and "Inflectable" parts of words (the part of a word that is modified when the Tense, the Number, the Gender, etc changes). It has 47 characters.
- Katakana is used to write foreign and/or loan words or names (whether they are or not incorporated into the Japanese Vocabulary). It has the same sounds and number of characters as those of Hiragana.
- Kanji is Symbolic / Ideographic and has its origins in the Chinese Characters. As I mentioned before, they possess both "Meaning" and "Sound". They are used to write JapaneseWords (words from Japanese Origin, such as Verbs, Names, Nouns, Proper Nouns, etc -"Content Words"). It posses around 10,000 characters being 1945 the basic ones of daily usage!! As you can see, this is the hard part of learning Japanese.
- Furigana is just small Hiragana written over each Kanji so as to avoid confussion. It clarifies the right meaning and pronunciation to the Kanji (each Kanji has two or more meanings or pronunciations). Furigana is used for example to clarify people's names since two persons might have the same Kanji (written form) but a completely different meaning/pronunciation. It has 47 Characters (same as Hiragana and Katakana).
- There is another "alphabet" named "Romaji" which is what we know as "Roman Alphabet" (Yes, the 26 letters from from A to Z). It is used to "help" foreigners read, therefore we can widdly find it in public places such as Airports, City Halls, Train Stations, etc. Its usage is being quickly spread owing to a fever for western cultures, particularly, the "American way".
- The Japanese Language does not have some sounds. They are rather substituted by another similar ones, as follows:
"L" (replaced with the "R" sound when written or even spoken)
"V" (replaced with the "B" or "U" sound when written or spoken)
"Ci" (replaced with "Shi")
"Ti" (replaced for "Chi")
"hu" (replaced with "Fu")
"th" (replaced for "S": mouth - mous)
These are the basics of the Japanese writting:
- Japanese Language is based on the Vowels "A, I, U, E, O". Except for the letter "N", the consonants are ALWAYS in pair with a vowel. For example, we will never find a letter "B" alone but "Ba, Bi, Bu, Be or Bo". For this reason, Japanese letters are not named "letters" but "moras".
- The following symbols change the SOUND of a "mora" (letter):
if you add ﾞ ("Ten-ten") to a voiceless sound, it becomes "voiced" (eg: Ha + ﾞ = Ba).
If you add ﾟ ("Ten"), the sound becomes "puffed" (eg: Ha + ﾟ = Pa).
- Sometimes, two letters ("moras") are combined to form another sound. For example, (ウ + エ = ウェ (it sounds like "Ve" or "We").
- The Japanese Langage has both short and long vowels (same as English) and they can completely change the meaning of a word. In HIRAGANA, you can make a long vowel by adding:
あ line + あ
い line + い
う line + う
え line + い
お line + う
The sound is the same as that of the original sound but longer (this means that despite adding "U" to the "O" sound so as to make it long, the sound becomes "OO", not "OU". Same for "E".
In KATAKANA You can make a vowel long by adding a line ("Hyphen") to the vowel:
- There are no capital letters or lowercases.
- There is no space between words (the "particles" separate de ideas).
- The "period" is hollow: ( 。)
- The "comma" is inverted: ( 、)
- As for the sounds, they are quite similar to those of the Spanish Language or the ones derived from the Latin (good news for Spanish Speakers, bad news for English Speakers).
- Magazines and Books are often writen in columns from up to down and right to left (in Western countries we write in lines from left to right, like I am doing right now).
- Japanese Language is composed of Verbs, Adjectives, Nouns, Adverbs, Conjunctions and "Particles" (same as the most of the languages).
- A predicate (the part of the sentence that has the main verb) always comes at the end of a sentence. It is like saying "I apples like" (note how the verb comes ath the end). It can be Affirmative, Negative, Past or Non-Past.
- In Japanese, there are four kinds of predicatives (a word or phrase that comes after a verb and describes the subject):
Noun (predicative noun phrase: "She is a woman")
Adverb (predicative adverb or phrase: "She is out")
Adjective (predicative adjective or phrase: "She is sad")
Verb or Gerund ("She is running").
- There are two groups of Adjectives: "I" & "Na". According to the group an adjective belongs to, its "inflection" changes when modifying a noun (I explain this in detail on the "Adjectives" section).
- In Japanese there are not either "gender"(masculine/feminine) or "number" (singular/plural) except for a few words like "Kodomo" (singular) "Kodomotachi" (plural). "Watashi" (Me) "Watashitachi" (We).
- A "Particle" have the same function as Prepositions and Conjunctions: to show the grammatical relation between words to show the speaker's intention; or to connnect sentences.
- Words, Phrases, Pronouns, Nouns, Subject and Object may be omitted if they are understood or obvious from the context (same as happens with the Spanish Language: "estoy cansado" instead of "YO estoy cansado").