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What is Japanese Hiragana?

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Hi betita03

Japanese consists of Hiragana, Katakana and Kanji.

Hiragana is the basic Japanese script schoolchildren learn whereas Kanji are the characters loaned from Chinese.

Katakana is used to write foreign words such as McDonalds, coffee etc.

If you want to understand written Japanese you have to know all these three alphabets. Hiragana is by far the easiest and can be learned in a couple of hours. Kanji on the other hand consists of thousands of characters and may take you years to write/read/memorize.

I hope I could help you with my answer.



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  • 2 weeks later...

To understand what hiragana is you first need to know the etymology. The kanji or Chinese characters for "hiragana" are 平仮名.

平 or "hira" means "flat", "even" or "smooth". 仮名 or "gana" is actually derived from "kana" due to a process of phonological change called "rendaku" (too complex to describe here but I'll be happy to make more posts about it at some other area in the subforum".

Back to "kana" - it is derived from 仮 or "kari" meaning "borrowing" and 名 or "na" meaning "name" (it's the same character in "O-namae wa?" or "What's your name?"). Hence the meaning of hiragana is "a flat, even or smooth borrowed name". Here "name" refers to Chinese characters. Therefore they originally referred to Chinese characters that were borrowed and then modified to represent Japanese sounds. The "hira" part refers to the smooth or even strokes used to write hiragana as opposed to the blocky, angular, style of katakana. Hiragana derived from Chinese characters simplified in a smooth, calligraphic style, so they sometimes were referred to as "women's writing" for there delicate feminine appearance.

Another reason they were sometimes called "women's writing" is because in ancient times they were commonly used by women (Lady Murasaki wrote her iconic "Tale of Genji" almost entirely in hiragana, except for a few Chinese loanwords written in kanji - this is the precursor of its current usage in modern Japanese) since the study of kanji or Chinese characters, a thousand years ago was considered only suitable for men.

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The basic Japanese phonetic script is known as Hiragana. This is basically the Japanese writing system. I'm just wondering if we can learn how to speak Japanese without learning Hiragana. How important Hiragana is in learning the Japanese language?

It's the absolute basics. I don't see why would anybody try learning Japanese without learning hiragana. If it's because learning another writing system is too difficult, then I would suggest those people to give up on trying to learn Japanese, because pretty much everything else in this language is more difficult than hiragana.

I don't think it's possible to learn how to speak Japanese without hiragana, even if you don't want to read or write. And even if it were possible, I can't imagine why anybody would do that.

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Learning your kana is important, since they're the alphabets upon which every phonetic in Japanese is based.

When I took my intro Japanese course, I was absolutely confused as to why we didn't bother with any kana. The book itself was romanized, with the kana to the right of the word and its translation. We were never told to memorize them, but that was something I had already done in preparation for the class (I had to take some lame poetry/English elective and a physics class to get to it). Not once did we touch them, then close to the end, we had kanji as extra credit, which ended up being a "list all the kanji you were able to learn (max of 10 for credit)" sort of deal at the end of the final exam.

This said, I suppose you can do an intro without hiragana (or katakana) and still learn some basic conversation vocabulary, but it's not a particularly good idea, especially if you want to become literate and fluent. It did work out, however, with the fact that at my college, you're only allowed one arts/foreign language elective in your associate program, and one in your bachelor program. I still enjoyed the class a lot (the teacher was a great guy, and the Japanese woman we had as a substitute for two classes was absolutely wonderful).

If you're studying Japanese independently, you may as well start memorizing your kana and kanji. A lot of the best teaching tools try to get you in the habit of reading Japanese, starting with mostly kana, until few to no kanji are replaced.

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  • 1 month later...

I started leaning Japanese years ago by first starting with hiragana and then katakana. After that a gradual transition to more and more complex kanji. This strategy worked best for me and I think it's a pretty good way to introduce the Japanese writing system to beginners.

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