日本語の秘密 1/33


日本語の秘密/ The Key to NIHON-GO

by 岸本建夫 [Kishimoto Tatsuo] 1999
OCR/Corr by most.cyak@gmail.com, Oct 2014


Section 1 The Extremely Simple Rules of Japanese

→ Japanese Characters are Phonetic Symbols

  The most surprising thing about Japanese, which you can see if you look at the “a-i-u-e-o” table (Table ①), is the consistency of characters and pronunciation. This is one of the great things about the Japanese language. The character あ(represented by a in Roman letters) is always pronounced the exact same way. Whether あ it’s used on its own, or in combination with other characters (e.g. あめ ame ‘rain’ or あさ asa ‘morning’), its pronunciation is still a, and that does not change. The only two exceptions are the two characters は (pronounced ha or wa) and へ (pronounced e or he).

  Therefore, just by looking at the character and knowing its one and only pronunciation, you can pronounce any word or sentence. That’s why, if you memorize the pronunciations of each of the kana characters and then pronounce each character of a word in succession, you will be able to pronounce any word. Also, when you’re listening to Japanese, even if you don’t understand the meaning of a word, you can find out what it means if you look it up in the dictionary according to its pronunciation. If you memorize the 46 characters of the “a-i-u-e-o” table (Table ①), you can read Japanese.

  In comparison, letters and their pronunciations are quite inconsistent in English. The English letter a has many different pronunciations, like those in apple [ˋæpl], already [ɒ:lˋrєdi], any [ˋєni], apartment [әˋpɑ:tmәnt], and age [єidʒ], so you can’t tell the pronunciation of a word just by looking at it. In Chinese, Chinese characters generally have only one pronunciation, so you can read words and sentences if you memorize the pronunciations of the characters, but it’s extremely difficult to memorize all these characters. The Chinese have already developed systems such as Pinyin, (where Chinese characters are expressed in Roman letters), and this is very useful because if you write a word in Pinyin, then you can understand the pronunciation (e.g. 朝 chao ‘morning’). They generally use the kanji, however, and Pinyin only plays a part in helping people learn the pronunciations of the characters.

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