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Hiragana

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Hiragana / Katakana

Among the 3 different writing styles of the Japanese language, hiragana and katakana represent the Japanese original orthographical systems. Between the two, hiragana can be characterized by curved lines and is mainly used for grammatical words such as particles and inflectional endings. On the other hand, katakana letters are described as edged lines and they are used for foreign loan words and onomatopoeas.
Both hiragana and katakana represent phonograms like alphabets in English indicating that they convey particular phonological information with specific correspondences with certain sound patterns. Such correspondences are described in Table 1. In the table, vowels are listed in columns in the order a, i, u, e, o and consonants are listed in rows in the sequence k, s, t, n, h, m, y, r, w following traditional ordering. Each of these hiragana/katakana letters represents either a single vowel or a consonant-vowel pair. The only exception for this case is (n) which consists of a single consonant. As the table indicates, hiragana and katakana have perfect correspondences with each other and they can be used as complete alternatives with distinctive usages as discussed above.
Both hiragana and katakana represent phonograms like alphabets in English indicating that they convey particular phonological information with specific correspondences with certain sound patterns. Such correspondences are described in Table 1. In the table, vowels are listed in columns in the order a, i, u, e, o and consonants are listed in rows in the sequence k, s, t, n, h, m, y, r, w following traditional ordering. Each of these hiragana/katakana letters represents either a single vowel or a consonant-vowel pair. The only exception for this case is ん/ン (n) which consists of a single consonant. As the table indicates, hiragana and katakana have perfect correspondences of each other and they can be used as complete alternatives with distinctive usages as discussed above.
Although most hiragana/katakana letters have their unique readings, some of them convey identical readings with the other letters. For instance, お and を convey the same reading; o. These two letters can be distinguished from each other in terms of their particular usages; を is used only as a direct object marker while お can be applied to any other cases. In another case, は has 2 different readings - ha and wa - in which the latter coincide with the reading of another letter わ (wa). These two different letters which represent wa can be distinguished from each other in terms of their usages; は is used as only a case marker and わ can be used in any other cases. Thus, although several hiragana/katakana letters indicate the same readings, they can still be distinguished from each other according to their usages.
hiragana list

Table 1: Basic Hiragana and Katakana Letters

These hiragana/katakana letters further associate their derived forms. One of them is called dakuten (dotted forms) and are described as 2 tiny dots placed on the upper right corner of the original letter. Table 2 provides a list of dotted hiragana/katakana. The primary function of the dots is to add a voiced property to the reading of the original letter. For instance, か/カ is read ka but is read ga when it associates dakuten markers as in が/ガ.
dakuten     handakuten
 

Table 2 : Dakuten Markers

 

Table 3 : Handakuten Markers

Another example of derived forms is called handakuten as shown in Table3. Handakuten is described as a small circle placed on the upper-right corner of a character space as in ぱ (pa), ぴ (pi), ぷ (pu), ぺ (pe), and ぽ (po). These hiragana/katakana with handakuten markers represent plosives which are unique to these letters.
The third type of derived forms refers to smaller forms which are actually described as smaller sizes than the original letters. An example of smaller forms is provided in Table 4. Each smaller letter conveys a a particular phonetic function in relation to the preceding letter. In specific, よ/ヨ is originally read yo but it causes palatalization to the preceding consonant when it is used as smaller forms ょ/ョ. For example, きょう meaning today is read kyou instead of kiyou because the smaller form ょ (yo) is assimilated to the preceding sound き (ki)".

Table 4: Smaller Forms

On the other hand, the smaller form of っ/ッ (tsu) which can described as っ/ッ is called sokuon in Japanese and its primary function is to add a rhythmic timing called mora to the preceding articulation. In particular, ヨット (yo^to, a yacht) is read with 3 moras as in instead of 1yo-2to or 1yo-2tsu-3to. Soukon here is represented by a caret marker in order to emphasize its rhythmic property. In many cases, sokuon is described as the succession of the same alphabet as in yotto and is called a geminate consonant because of this particular representation.

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