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What's wrong with hiragana?

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What's wrong with hiragana?

Postby Nerro_101 » Sat 10.06.2007 9:20 pm

Hi everyone, I'm new here. I've been studying japanese lately, to add to the collection of languages that i already know. I've finished learning hiragana, and just started with katakana. I've noticed how they're the same, just different strokes. I know we're supposed to use katakana for foreign words, but why can't we use hiragana for that? also what's the point of Kanji? Hirsagana is a great alphabet ( or whatever it's called) and from the start I think they should've just used that for everything. But that's my opinion, I'd like to know why they use katakana for foreign words and not Hiragana.
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RE: What's wrong with hiragana?

Postby onigiri444 » Sat 10.06.2007 9:26 pm

well I really don't know the answer to your question but I know from experience that it is a lot harder to read Japanese without kanji or katakana
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RE: What's wrong with hiragana?

Postby Chris Hart » Sat 10.06.2007 9:53 pm

Keep in mind that languages develop over time. Kana actually were derived from Kanji.

As to the point of kanji, other than being the predecesor to kana, there are many homophones (different words that sound the same, an example in English is the words "to" "too" and "two") in Japanese due to the relatively limited set of sounds used in the language. Different kanji charecters are used to identify different words.

As far as why are there hiragana and katakana, and why are they used for different things? to this point, i must ask in the roman alphabet, why are there capital and lower case letters?* COULDN'T WE JUST WRITE EVERYTHING IN ONE OF THOSE?*
Also, as far has hand-written forms go, in English, why do we have both block and script styles?

One question you are probably thinking of, or will be, is why are there multiple pronounciations for different kanji. This is due to early loan words. Just like in English, where most words are Germanic or Romantic (Latin) in origin, different sound combinations are used to identify the same basic idea. (Example using English words: Dentist - derived from the Latin "dens" meaning tooth, which is of Germanic origins.)

You may also want to check out these links.

* Note that these 2 questions are each written in all one case to stress the point of the second question.
Edit for clarity.
Last edited by Chris Hart on Sat 10.06.2007 10:28 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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RE: What's wrong with hiragana?

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Sat 10.06.2007 10:22 pm

The reason that kanji are used is tradition. Japan did not have a writing system before they had contact with China, and due to the prestige of China's culture they decided to try to use Chinese characters to write their own language -- after a few centuries of muddling around they came up with basically the system we have today. It was not a rational, logical decision based on the needs of the Japanese language, but an attempt to use the prestigious Chinese writing as their own.

Since then, people have come up with a lot of justifications for why kanji are good, none of which have any merit whatsoever, but writing systems are very hard to change or reform. It basically takes some huge political change (i.e. defeat in a war, revolution) to make major modifications.
Last edited by Yudan Taiteki on Sat 10.06.2007 10:24 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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RE: What's wrong with hiragana?

Postby hamsterfreak4evr » Sat 10.06.2007 10:54 pm

quite frankly, itd take me oodles longer to read japanese without kanji. since there are no spaces, it helps to breakdown a sentence. the same goes for katakana. it lets you know that that word is foreign. as you become more experienced in japanese, you will see how effective all 3 are together. at first i also though hiragana was all that was needed, too. :)
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RE: What's wrong with hiragana?

Postby Igirisu_gaz » Sat 10.06.2007 11:10 pm

Agreed with Hamster. Frankly once you actually start to get your head around Kanji it stops becoming such a chore. A text I use when studying contains both a 漢字版 and ひらがな版。 If the text is lengthy, the Hiragana version is damn near impossible to read.

Additionally as Chris mentioned, Japanese has a lot of homophones. Whack きる in hiragana into an online dictionary or something and see what you get.
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RE: What's wrong with hiragana?

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Sat 10.06.2007 11:12 pm

Try "set" or "run" in an English dictionary -- no kanji needed there.

(きる is an odd word to choose; only two kanji are normally used for it -- 着る for wearing things, and 切る for a wide variety of meanings. If anything that would be a counterexample to the idea that kanji are necessary because of homonyms.)
Last edited by Yudan Taiteki on Sat 10.06.2007 11:16 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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RE: What's wrong with hiragana?

Postby ss » Sun 10.07.2007 2:55 am

Nerro_101さん、welcome to TJP.

Do you find these two sentences easier to understand without Kana and Kanji?

なかじまさんはじまなかさんとけっこんしたのでみせすじまなかになります。

なかじまさんはおとこですかおんなですか。
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RE: What's wrong with hiragana?

Postby Nerro_101 » Thu 10.11.2007 4:18 am

Thanks for the info guys, I can see why Kanji would be used, but still not katakana. SS, how wouldn't those sentences be the same if written in katakana?
Does Katakana exist only to show that a word is foreign?
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RE: What's wrong with hiragana?

Postby Delekii » Thu 10.11.2007 5:06 am

The main usage is of course foreign words (and place names, peoples names, etc). But it is also used for onomatopoeia (written sounds, like grrrr or pitapatapitapata for rain, or something like that). Also sometimes writers use Katakana in place of Hiragana for emphasis, like writing an otherwise normal word in CAPITAL LETTERS to draw your attention to it.
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RE: What's wrong with hiragana?

Postby richvh » Thu 10.11.2007 7:11 am

In the days of my youth, foreign words were always (so it seemed) typeset in italics. The principal is the same; the foreign word is visible set off.
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RE: What's wrong with hiragana?

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Thu 10.11.2007 7:56 am

Katakana originally developed separately from hiragana, as a way to annotate classical Chinese texts to show how to read them. Because of this, katakana became associated with learning, and thus with men -- stereotypical male writing was all kanji + katakana, and females wrote in mostly hiragana with some kanji (since hiragana developed out of an attempt to represent native Japanese, that was associated with women). This continued as late as World War II, when official government documents were still written in a kanji and katakana combination.

Japan probably wanted to preserve both syllaberies, both of them being traditional, so they came up with the "foreign words" use of the katakana. But if you think that katakana originally developed to show readings of foreign texts, that may have influenced their use to represent foreign words nowadays.

Like I said, writing systems are almost never logical. They develop haphazardly, are very slow to catch up with changes in speech, and often contain a lot of inefficiency and redundancy. You should not be looking at the issue as if a group of people sat down and decided exactly how everything would be used.

But what we have now is better than what they originally came up with, the writing system for the Kojiki and Manyoushu called "manyougana". Whole kanji were used for pronunciation or for meaning, and there was no real way to tell which was which except through context. As an example, here are the first two lines of poem 78:

Manyougana: 飛鳥 明日香迫「乎
Modern transcription: 飛ぶ鳥の 明日香の里を
Romaji: tobu tori no asuka no sato wo
English: A village of Asuka, of the flying birds

As you can see, you have to infer the readings of the characters and sometimes insert things based on the grammar rules. So 飛鳥 is read for its meaning as 飛ぶ鳥の (the ぶ and the の being inferred from the necessity of the grammar). 明日香 is phonetically representing a place name, the represents the particle の (this time explicitly stated), then 里 is read for meaning as さと, and the particle を is represented with 乎.

As cumbersome and annoying as that is, you can see the genesis of the on-yomi and kun-yomi system, as well as the kana.
Last edited by Yudan Taiteki on Thu 10.11.2007 8:46 am, edited 1 time in total.
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RE: What's wrong with hiragana?

Postby keatonatron » Thu 10.11.2007 8:45 am

hamsterfreak4evr wrote:
quite frankly, itd take me oodles longer to read japanese without kanji.


What if there were spaces? I have a feeling the only reason spaces aren't used is because there are kanji (and because Chinese doesn't use spaces--no need to with all kanji!).
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RE: What's wrong with hiragana?

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Thu 10.11.2007 8:48 am

Actually I don't know if that's true, because Greek, Roman, and Hebrew (for instance) did not use spaces. Spaces are actually a relatively recent invention in writing.
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RE: What's wrong with hiragana?

Postby EvanT » Thu 10.11.2007 9:03 am

Not as recent as you might think. Spaces in Greek developed around the time a miniscule version of the greek alphabet did. Spaces were introduced (along with the miniscule letters and stress marks) as a learning tool. But the point is all these features were added intentionally in the language and didn't evolve out of the native speakers' needs. The Greek language indeed didn't use spaces and was written exclusively in capital letters.

One cannot really expect a language completely different from his own to comply to his linguistic standards.

BTW, consider this. Most beginners' books start with Hiragana-only words. Typically these words are separated with spaces. Particles either stand alone or join-up with the word they modify. Afterwards, some kanji appear and replace the hiragana, but the spaces remain. Give it some more time and the japanese text in the textbook resembles more and more typical written japanese, until there's no difference.

Now go back and read the first paragraph again. :)

Hope this helps.
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