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Nihongo - Japanese Language Lesson - 101


Okay Boys and Girls! It's time for the FIRST SaruDama Japanese Language Lesson (SJLL!!) brought to you by, well, me.

First off, let's focus on the name of our task. In other words, how do you say "Japanese Language" in Japanese? The answer is Nihongo (ni-hon-go). We call that pronunciation and writing system ROMAJI since if utilizes only Roman characters. And that's cheating.

You can correctly "spell" the word nihongo like this 日本語 or this にほんご.

If you can aesthetically sense or recognize a difference between the appearance of these two versions, you are well on your way of distinguishing amongst the three (3) writing systems of the Japanese.

The first version represented (日本語)is known as KANJI and is derived from the Chinese writing system. In the term "日本語" there are three "ideograms" named such due to the fact that each graphic depiction (gram) conveys a certain conceptual (ideo) content. Since the emphasis is upon conceptual content (versus mere "letters" or "spelling" for example) each ideogram can have several pronuniciations based on its syntactic or semantic location. (THIS, my friend is the core difficulty of mastering the Japanese language.)

The second version (にほんご) represents the same pronunciation of the kanji version but is spelled out in exclusively Japanese "alphabetic" characters known as HIRAGANA. Hiragana is a pronunciation-based (versus conceptual-based) system established in the 5th century AD. (Trivia: Though wholly unrecognizable to readers, each Hiragana element is an abstracted form of a Chinese ideogram.)

Thus the Hiragana character に always is pronounced "ni"; ほ always reads "ho"; ん always reads (syllabic ending) "n"; and ご (notice the little dashes) always reads "go". Unlike Kanji where each ideogram has a meaning, and LIKE the English alphabet, the individual characters of Hiragana do NOT possess a meaning of their own. (For example, in English there is no meaning to the letter "s".)

Normal Japanese use of language wholly combines these two systems. For example, here's a headline from today's Japanese weather report:

東北から中国にかけ大荒 大雨、ひょうに注意

Let's not worry about the translation and don't get confused on all the bizarre characters. Simply look at the construction of the sentence. The HIRAGANA has been colored and underlined while the KANJI has been left untouched.

Can you see how it works? The combination of writing systems (and there is a THIRD I have not mentioned yet) makes Japanese language wholly unique. The Chinese use only ideograms. The English, Spanish, French, Arabic, Hebrew, etc use only pronuniciation-based systems.

With Japanese you get the best of both worlds.

And thus (for curious souls) the name of this site is ALL OF THE FOLLOWING: 猿玉 (kanji), さるだま (hiragana), and "sarudama" using Romaji.

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