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Template:Refimprove Template:Stack begin Template:Infobox writing system Template:Japanese writing Template:Calligraphy Template:Stack end Template:Nihongo is a Japanese syllabary, one basic component of the Japanese writing system, along with katakana, kanji, and in some cases the Latin-script alphabet (referred to in Japanese as romaji). Hiragana and katakana are both kana systems; they have corresponding character sets in which each kana, or character, represents one mora (one sound in the Japanese language). Each kana is either a vowel such as "a" (hiragana ); a consonant followed by a vowel such as "ka" (hiragana ); or "n" (hiragana ), a nasal sonorant which, depending on the context, sounds either like English m, n, or ng (Template:IPAblink), or like the nasal vowels of French.

Hiragana is used to write native words for which there are no kanji, including particles such as から kara "from", and suffixes such as さん ~san "Mr., Mrs., Miss, Ms." Likewise, hiragana is used to write words whose kanji form is obscure, not known to the writer or readers, or too formal for the writing purpose. There is also some flexibility for words that have common kanji renditions to be optionally written instead in hiragana, according to an individual author's preference. Verb and adjective inflections, as, for example, be-ma-shi-ta (べました) in Template:Nihongo, are written in hiragana, often following a verb or adjective root (here, "食") that is written in kanji. Hiragana is also used to give the pronunciation of kanji in a reading aid called furigana. The article Japanese writing system discusses in detail how the various systems of writing are used.

There are two main systems of ordering hiragana, the old-fashioned iroha ordering, and the more prevalent gojūon ordering.


Writing system

Hiragana base characters
a i u e o
Functional marks
and diacritics

The complete hiragana syllabary consists of 48 characters:

  • 5 singular vowels
  • Notionally, 45 consonant-vowel unions, consisting of 9 consonants in combination with each of the 5 vowels, of which:
    • 3 (yi, ye, wu) are unused
    • 2 (wi and we) are obsolete in modern Japanese
    • 1 (wo) is usually pronounced as a vowel (o) in modern Japanese, and is preserved in only one use, as a particle
  • 1 singular consonant

These are conceived as a 5×10 grid (gojūon, 五十音, lit. "Fifty Sounds"), as illustrated in the adjacent table, with the extra character being the anomalous singular consonant ん (n).

Romanisation of the kana does not always strictly follow the consonant-vowel scheme laid out in the table. For example, ち, nominally ti, is very often romanised as chi in an attempt to better represent the actual sound in Japanese.

These basic characters can be modified in various ways. By adding a dakuten marker ( ゛), a voiceless consonant is turned into a voiced consonant: kg, ts/sz, td, hb and ch/shj. Hiragana beginning with an h can also add a handakuten marker ( ゜) changing the h to a p.

A small version of the hiragana for ya, yu or yo (ゃ, ゅ or ょ respectively) may be added to hiragana ending in i. This changes the i vowel sound to a glide (palatalization) to a, u or o. Addition of the small y kana is called yōon. For example, き (ki) plus ゃ (small ya) becomes きゃ (kya).

A small tsu っ, called a sokuon, indicates that the following consonant is geminated (doubled). For example, compare さか saka "hill" with さっか sakka "author". It also sometimes appears at the end of utterances, where it denotes a glottal stop, as in いてっ! (Template:IPA-ja Ouch!). However, it cannot be used to double the na, ni, nu, ne, no syllables' consonants – to double them, the singular n (ん) is added in front of the syllable.

Hiragana usually spells long vowels with the addition of a second vowel kana. The chōonpu (long vowel mark) (ー) used in katakana is rarely used with hiragana, for example in the word らーめん, rāmen, but this usage is considered non-standard. In informal writing, small versions of the five vowel kana are sometimes used to represent trailing off sounds (はぁ haa, ねぇ nee). Standard and voiced iteration marks are written in hiragana as ゝ and ゞ respectively.

Table of hiragana

The following table shows hiragana together with their Hepburn romanization and IPA transcription in the gojūon order. Hiragana with dakuten or handakuten follow the gojūon kana without them, with the yōon kana following. Obsolete and normally unused kana are shown in gray. For all syllables besides ん, the pronunciation indicated is for word-initial syllables, for mid-word pronunciations see below.

An early, now obsolete, hiragana-esque form of ye may have existed (𛀁 Template:IPA-ja<ref>Unicode Kana Supplement</ref>) in pre-Classical Japanese (prior to the advent of kana), but is generally represented for purposes of reconstruction by the kanji 江, and its hiragana form is not present in any known orthography.Template:Contradiction-inline In modern orthography, ye can also be written as いぇ (イェ in katakana). Though ye did appear in some textbooks during the Meiji period along with another kana for yi in the form of cursive 以.<ref>(ja)「いろは と アイウエオ」</ref><ref>(ja) 伊豆での収穫 : 日本国語学史上比類なき変体仮名</ref>
File:Hiragana I 01.png
Cursive 以 (Yi)

In the middle of words, the g sound (normally Template:IPA) often turns into a velar nasal Template:IPA and less often (although increasing recently) into the voiced velar fricative Template:IPA. An exception to this is numerals; 15 juugo is considered to be one word, but is pronounced as if it was and go stacked end to end: Template:IPA.

Additionally, the j sound (normally Template:IPA) can be pronounced Template:IPA in the middle of words. For example すうじ sūji Template:IPA 'number'.

In archaic forms of Japanese, there existed the kwa (Template:Lang Template:IPA-ja) and gwa (Template:Lang Template:IPA-ja) digraphs. In modern Japanese, these phonemes have been phased out of usage and only exist in the extended katakana digraphs for approximating foreign language words.

The singular n is pronounced Template:IPA before t, ch, ts, n, r, z, j and d, Template:IPA before m, b and p, Template:IPA before k and g, Template:IPA at the end of utterances, Template:IPA before vowels, palatal approximants (y), consonants s, sh, h, f and w, and finally Template:IPA after the vowel i if another vowel, palatal approximant or consonant s, sh, h, f or w follows.

In kanji readings, the diphthongs ou and ei are today usually pronounced Template:IPA (long o) and Template:IPA (long e) respectively. For example とうきょう toukyou is pronounced Template:IPA 'Tokyo', and せんせい sensei is Template:IPA 'teacher'. However, とう tou is pronounced Template:IPA 'to inquire', because the o and u are considered distinct, u being the infinitive verb ending. Similarly, している shite iru is pronounced Template:IPA 'is doing'.

For a more thorough discussion on the sounds of Japanese, please refer to Japanese phonology.

Spelling rules

With a few exceptions for sentence particles は, を, and へ (pronounced as wa, o, and e), and a few other arbitrary rules, Japanese, when written in kana, is phonemically orthographic (i.e. there is a one-to-one correspondence between kana characters and sounds). This has not always been the case: a previous system of spelling, now referred to as historical kana usage, had many spelling rules; the exceptions in modern usage are the legacy of that system. The exact spelling rules are referred to as Template:Nihongo.

There are two hiragana pronounced ji (じ and ぢ) and two hiragana pronounced zu (ず and づ), but to distinguish them, sometimes is written as dji and is written as dzu. These pairs are not interchangeable. Usually, ji is written as じ and zu is written as ず. There are some exceptions. If the first two syllables of a word consist of one syllable without a dakuten and the same syllable with a dakuten, the same hiragana is used to write the sounds. For example chidjimeru ('to boil down' or 'to shrink') is spelled ちぢめる and tsudzuku ('to continue') is つづく. For compound words where the dakuten reflects rendaku voicing, the original hiragana is used. For example, chi (Template:Lang 'blood') is spelled ち in plain hiragana. When Template:Lang hana ('nose') and Template:Lang chi ('blood') combine to make hanadji Template:Lang 'nose bleed'), the sound of 血 changes from chi to dji. So hanadji is spelled はなぢ according to ち: the basic hiragana used to transcribe Template:Lang. Similarly, tsukau (Template:Lang; 'to use') is spelled つかう in hiragana, so kanadzukai (Template:Lang; 'kana use', or 'kana orthography') is spelled かなづかい in hiragana.

However, this does not apply when kanji are used phonetically to write words which do not relate directly to the meaning of the kanji (see also ateji). The Japanese word for 'lightning', for example, is inazuma (Template:Lang). The Template:Lang component means 'rice plant', is written いな in hiragana and is pronounced: ina. The Template:Lang component means 'wife' and is pronounced tsuma (つま) when written in isolation—or frequently as zuma (ずま) when it features after another syllable. Neither of these components have anything to do with 'lightning', but together they do when they compose the word for 'lightning'. In this case, the default spelling in hiragana いなずま rather than いなづま is used.

Officially, ぢ and づ do not occur word-initially pursuant to modern spelling rules. There were words such as ぢばん djiban 'ground' in the historical kana usage, but they were unified under じ in the modern kana usage in 1946, so today it is spelled exclusively じばん. However, づら dzura 'wig' (from かつら katsura) and づけ dzuke (a sushi term for lean tuna soaked in soy sauce) are examples of word-initial づ today. Some people write the word for hemorrhoids as ぢ (normally じ) for emphasis.

No standard Japanese words begin with the kana ん (n). This is the basis of the word game shiritori. ん n is normally treated as its own syllable and is separate from the other n-based kana (na, ni etc.). A notable exception to thisTemplate:Clarify is the colloquial negative verb conjugation; for example わからない wakaranai meaning "[I] don't understand" is rendered as わからん wakaran. It is however not a contraction of the former, but instead comes from the classic negative verb conjugation ぬ nu (わからぬ wakaranu).

ん is sometimes directly followed by a vowel (a, i, u, e or o) or a palatal approximant (ya, yu or yo). These are clearly distinct from the na, ni etc. syllables, and there are minimal pairs such as きんえん kin'en 'smoking forbidden', きねん kinen 'commemoration', きんねん kinnen 'recent years'. In Hepburn romanization, they are distinguished with an apostrophe, but not all romanization methods make the distinction. For example past prime minister Junichiro Koizumi's first name is actually じゅんいちろう Jun'ichirō pronounced Template:IPA

There are a few hiragana which are rarely used. ゐ wi and ゑ we are obsolete outside of Okinawan dialects. ゔ vu is a modern addition used to represent the /v/ sound in foreign languages such as English, but since Japanese from a phonological standpoint does not have a /v/ sound, it is pronounced as /b/ and mostly serves as a more accurate indicator of a word's pronunciation in its original language. However, it is rarely seen because loanwords and transliterated words are usually written in katakana, where the corresponding character would be written as ヴ. ぢゃ, ぢゅ, ぢょ for dja/dju/djo are theoretically possible in rendaku, but are practically never used. For example 日本中 'throughout Japan' could be written にほんぢゅう, but is practically always にほんじゅう.

The みゅ myu kana is extremely rare in originally Japanese words; linguist Haruhiko Kindaichi raises the example of the Japanese family name Omamyūda (小豆生田) and claims it is the only occurrence amongst pure Japanese words. Its katakana counterpart is used in many loanwords, however.


File:Treatise On Calligraphy.jpg
Hiragana characters' shapes were derived from the Chinese cursive script (sōsho). Shown here is a sample of the cursive script by Chinese Tang Dynasty calligrapher Sun Guoting, from the late 7th century.

Hiragana developed from man'yōgana, Chinese characters used for their pronunciations, a practice which started in the 5th century.<ref>Yookoso! An Invitation to Contemporary Japanese 1st edition McGraw-Hill, page 13 "Linguistic Note: The Origins of Hiragana and Katakana"</ref> The oldest example of Man'yōgana is Inariyama Sword which is an iron sword excavated at the Inariyama Kofun in 1968. This sword is thought to be made in year of 辛亥年 (which is A.D. 471 in commonly accepted theory).<ref>Seeley (2000:19-23)</ref> The forms of the hiragana originate from the cursive script style of Chinese calligraphy. The figure below shows the derivation of hiragana from manyōgana via cursive script. The upper part shows the character in the regular script form, the center character in red shows the cursive script form of the character, and the bottom shows the equivalent hiragana. Note also that the cursive script forms are not strictly confined to those in the illustration.

When they were first developed, hiragana were not accepted by everyone. Many felt that the language of the educated was still Chinese. Historically, in Japan, the regular script (kaisho) form of the characters was used by men and called Template:Nihongo, "men's writing", while the cursive script (sōsho) form of the kanji was used by women. Thus hiragana first gained popularity among women, who were generally not allowed access to the same levels of education as men. From this comes the alternative name of Template:Nihongo "women's writing". For example, The Tale of Genji and other early novels by female authors used hiragana extensively or exclusively.

Male authors came to write literature using hiragana. Hiragana was used for unofficial writing such as personal letters, while katakana and Chinese were used for official documents. In modern times, the usage of hiragana has become mixed with katakana writing. Katakana is now relegated to special uses such as recently borrowed words (i.e., since the 19th century), names in transliteration, the names of animals, in telegrams, and for emphasis.

Originally, all syllables had more than one hiragana. In 1900, the system was simplified so each syllable had only one hiragana. Other hiragana are known as Template:Nihongo

The pangram poem Iroha-uta ("ABC song/poem"), which dates to the 10th century, uses every hiragana once (except n ん, which was just a variant of む before Muromachi era).

Stroke order and direction

The following table shows the method for writing each hiragana character. It is arranged in the traditional way, beginning top right and reading columns down. The numbers and arrows indicate the stroke order and direction respectively.


Hiragana was added to the Unicode Standard in October, 1991 with the release of version 1.0.

The Unicode block for Hiragana is U+3040 ... U+309F. Grey areas indicate non-assigned code points:

Template:Unicode chart Hiragana

The Unicode hiragana block contains precomposed characters for all hiragana in the modern set, including small vowels and yōon kana for compound syllables, plus the archaic ゐ wi and ゑ we and the rare ゔ vu; the archaic 𛀁 ye is included in plane 1 at U+1B001 (see below). All combinations of hiragana with dakuten and handakuten used in modern Japanese are available as precomposed characters, and can also be produced by using a base hiragana followed by the combining dakuten and handakuten characters (U+3099 and U+309A, respectively). This method is used to add the diacritics to kana that are not normally used with them, for example applying the dakuten to a pure vowel or the handakuten to a kana not in the h-group.

Characters U+3095 and U+3096 are small か (ka) and small け (ke), respectively. U+309F is a ligature of より (yori) occasionally used in vertical text. U+309B and U+309C are spacing (non-combining) equivalents to the combining dakuten and handakuten characters, respectively.

Historic and variant forms of Japanese kana characters were added to the Unicode Standard in October, 2010 with the release of version 6.0.

The Unicode block for Kana Supplement is U+1B000 ... U+1B0FF. Grey areas indicate non-assigned code points:

Template:Unicode chart Kana Supplement

See also




  • "The Art of Japanese Calligraphy", Yujiro Nakata, ISBN 0-8348-1013-1, gives details of the development of onode and onnade.


External links

Template:Commons Template:Wiktionary

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