〈6〉1-5 Mixing 4 different writing systems together ?

  〈6〉  ◆ chap 1  “ What a strange language, Japanese is !

                                          part 5. Mixing 4 different writing systems together ?

As I mentioned before, Japanese is a very rare language that combines three completely separate sets of characters called Hiragana, Katakana and Kanji.  But why on earth would that be ?

                             ひらがな   カタカナ    漢字
                                 Hiragana              Katakana               Kanji

                                            Let's unravel the history!

Once upon a time, the Japanese had their own language but not a written one. They could talk and listen, but could not write it down or read it.

Around the 5th century, Kanji was brought from China, or maybe it is more accurate to state that they embraced Kanji, the letter of the continent. 

According to one theory, China at that time was the most advanced civilization in the world, possessing not only kanji but also advanced technologies such as rice cropping and bronze casting, and they were willing to offer all of these things to Japan if it would accept Buddhism...but the Japanese upper echelons were troubled. 

                 "We want all the Kanji, rice cultivation and casting techniques !"

                             ・・・ "But no way we can accept Buddhism !"

Because Japanese already had a religion called Shinto, and they could not have two different religions. But at that time, Prince Shotoku-Taishi appeared like a comet, and said that "No worries, Shinto and Buddhism, both are OK!". Since then, Japan has developed syncretization of Shinto with Buddhism, which is not just the coexistence of shrines and temples, but it is even said to become a nation of "ALL OK" that accepts everything. 

                                      "Japanese finally got the letters !!" 

Thanks to thiis, we Japanese people obtained rice cropping, bronze casting and letters. Then, based on Kanji, Japanese created their own Hiragana and Katakana (Some say Katakana was originated from Hebrew) which made it possible to read difficult Kanji.

           In addition, Kanji diversified by mixing Japanese and Chinese languages.

                                                   ーー   ーー

                  Japanese " Excuse me, what is the name of this character ? " 

                                         Chinese " Well, this character is 'shān'. "

                              Japanese " Ah, 'san' !   And what does it mean ? "

                                                      Chinese " It means 'a mountain'  ! "

...so, perhaps this is how Japanese people applied both Chinese pronunciation "San" (including some mispronunciations, misreadings or modifications) and Japanese pronunciation "Yama" to the Kanji " (mountain)", and developed the "on-yomi (Chinese reading forms)" and "kun-yomi (Japanese reading forms)" systems by adding a number of pronunciations to the list. 

In Chinese Kanji, one character basically has only one reading and one meaning, and the complexity of Japanese Kanji is a huge surprise and difficulty for the Chinese people who are learning Japanese. 

And not just Kanji, but newer writing systems too. Katakana was originally a set of letters for men and Hiragana was a set for women. But after World War II, Katakana was changed to be used for transcribe foreign languages into Japanese and an enormous number of words from Western languages (especially English) were incorporated into Japanese.

                            "Why do Japanese people use so much English words?"

The foreign students in my Japanese class do not like it. But this is what Japanese language is all about. Japan accepted Kanji from Chinese, and then accepted tons of words from Western languages using Katakana. We sometime use Roma-ji (the Roman alphabet) too. Thus, to be precise, we have a mixture of 4 different types of letters, Kanji, Hiragana, Katakana and Roma-ji.

                     " 即席ラーメンをすすりながら友達メールりました。"
                     ( While eating an instant ramen noodle, I sent an email to a friend.)

                            In short, Japanese is really a "mixed mash-up language".

And we could tell that, it would be really hard to read if we wrote everything in Hiragana or Katakana because, unlike Western languages, there is no "blank space" in Japanese. Also you can enjoy the difference in nuance by converting the Kanji into Hiragana or Katakana. When you want read in hurry, you can just pick up Kanji and still get a rough idea of the meaning of the sentence, and so on..

    This mixed mash-up language is really a great system full of advantages. 

In retrospect, it is not just a language. This country has always accepted various things from other countries, mixed, improved and sublimated them into its own style.

                  Japanese culture is, so to speak---

                          a “YOSE-NABE (combination hot pot)" culture .

                          jaja--, This is the most delicious language in the world, right?



All the ingredients are combined and exquisitely seasoned to create a very unique and original world.

                   Let's savor each and every one of them from the next time !!

                    ーーー  The next post will be                         


                                            <7> chap 2 "the Japanese Mystery Theater"

                                      part 1. The mystery of Hiragana

                                          This is published  ⇩


                 See you, soon !!

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