Donate to Red Cross Japan

The earthquake victims would appreciate your help more than you'll ever know(more resources can be found here).

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Lesson 2.3: Dakuten and Handakuten

When learning the building blocks of writing Japanese, another thing to keep in mind is 濁点だくてん「゛」(Can't read it?& 半濁点はんだくてん「゜」, also known respectively as てんてん(dot dot) and まる (circle) in informal circles. When applied to k, s, t and h 平仮名ひらがな or 片仮名かたかな, their respective sounds change-k becoming g, s becoming z, t becoming d and h becoming b(with the exception of じ and ぢ, which are both pronounced 'ji'). ゛ are also applied to the 片仮名 ウ to signify v sounds in the written language「ヴァ(va)/ヴィ(vi)/ヴ(vu)/ヴェ(ve)/ヴォ(vo), respectively」 

Allow me to present a sample chart of some of the various changes.

Now let's apply 濁点 and watch the the sounds change to this:

With the above exceptions, the rest of the applicable 平仮名 follow the same pattern of addition and change in sound. For all the uses ゛ has, though,゜ only has one known one with the h family of 仮名, changing them from h to p sounds. Kinda strange, but at least it's only one more thing to learn with it, and less is always more, with how much you gotta learn.

If you need a bigger helping to grasp the changes, please turn your attention to
this chart

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Lesson 2.2: Loanwords

Katakana are for native Japanese words much like italics are for English, in terms of accenting and drawing attention to a certain word. They also, however, serve a secondary function for writing out words not native to their language(though sometimes you may also see them written out in Hiragana for style purposes, like here). Another thing to keep in mind regarding Katakana is despite what people-sometimes even native Japanese-may tell you, the word's root is not always English, as they have historically traded with and borrowed terms from many other countries, like France, Germany, Brazil, China, among many others, and the pronounciation should not assumed be as such.

Take for example the word they use for bread (パン(Can't read it?)[Pan]). If you were to assume the word was from English and thus pronounced it with an English accent, you'll undoubtedly draw stranger than usual stares, since other English speakers in the crowd might conjure up images of a cooking pan, or even a panning shot(both also what the word can refer to), instead of the bread you intended. Think about if someone pronounced the word Bologna as Bah-lone-yah (the approximate original Italian pronounciation) instead of how everyone who speaks English pronounces it (Buh-low-nee) if you want an idea of just how off putting that is. For anyone curious, パン's root in this context is actually Portuguese(pão), which is also where word for raincoat (カッパ[kappa]) oiginates from(capa).

So remember, when speaking with Japanese speaking friends of things outside their country, keep Katakana in mind and pronounce it through their accent-especially with mora in mind. This will also help you in getting what you want from Japanese establishments, even if how it's pronounced in Japanese seems nowhere near close to how it sounds in English-Vodka being pronounced as ヲッカ(wokka), for example. More on what the small つ(tsu) signifies in speech, as well as how to pronounce foreign words in through Japanese phonetics later.

Special note: steer well clear of outdated slang in your spoken vocab. You know how you look in pity at an old person that says, "Radical dude!" in an attempt to be with the kids? Unless you're trying to be ironic-which isn't impossible, but harder to do in a foreign language-that's how you'll look when you use super old slang, so be sure to keep your knowledge of it up to date by asking around before you pop in out in public. Also keep in mind slang isn't just limited to what everyone you know uses. You can also invent some of your own, the more you learn about the language, which I will cover in further detail later on.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Lessons 2.1: Hiragana and Katakana

Imagine this scenario: you come into a country and can speak the language well enough to get around town. However when you need to read some of the signs, warnings, or various other important writings strewn around, you find you can't make out even the simplest of it's writing and find yourself confused and lost, trying to make heads or tails of what's in front of you. (take it from me: it's never a fun experience when you're actually looking for something)

Presumably you don't want this is happen to you, so you'll need to arm yourself with the building blocks of the written language; you need to learn how to properly read and write Hiragana and Katakana. A good place to start this process would be here- which will teach you how to install Japanese characters onto Windows, assuming you're using Vista or something like it- and here-which will show you the proper stroke order for each character. Practice writing them until you comfortable enough to do it from memory and be able to tell similar looking Hiragana and Katakana from one another, for that knowledge will come in handy when you get deeper into the language.

My personal recommendation? Get some grid paper and practice on it until it starts to resemble the examples. If it's a bit off, don't worry too much, as many Japanese natives have their own way to write them out, the same way people have different styles of handwriting in English. One way to help you remember them, outside of repeated writings until it becomes as natural as breathing, is associating them with their resemblance to every objects, such as in the cultural phenomenon Henohenomoheji

HOT TIP: the Katakana and Hiragana for Wi and We are pretty much irrelevant in modern Japanese society, so I wouldn't recommend putting too much effort into learning them unless you want to impress your Japanese speaking friends with obscure Japanese knowledge.

As for why one would need two different sets of the basic building blocks... (to be continued next lesson)