Instead of preparing for the finals of the speech contest tomorrow, I have decided to start a series of lessons to introduce some aspects of Japanese grammar to the those who are interested in learning about this curious language we all know as “moonspeak”.
This is not intended as a lesson to teach Japanese to any point of fluency, but rather it’s just a brief introduction to various Japanese grammar forms and whatever else I think of when I am typing them. I intend to make this a semi-regular section, but I might run out of things or feel lazy along the way, so we’ll see how many chapters I can last.
First, we need to go through some basic terms… just in case.
Japanese has three sets of written characters, hiragana (ひらがな), katakana (カタカナ) and kanji (漢字). Katakana and hiragana are collectively refered to as kana.
There are 48 characters in hiragana (two of which are obsolete except in names) and it is considered the most basic writing system.
Hiragana works phonetically. Each character has only one reading, but there are 104 possible readings due to permutations and combinations.
For every character in hiragana, there is a katakana counterpart. Katakana is usually used in words of foreign origin (eg. ロボット (robotto) is “robot”).
Katakana also has more permutations than hiragana in order to more accurately match certain pronounciations not native to Japanese. For example, ヴァ is “va” and is used for エヴァンゲリオン (evangerion), or Evangelion. It is technically impossible to write “evangerion” in full hiragana due to the “va”, but some manga writers have been known to do whatever they like with the language. Ken Akamatsu, the mangaka of Love Hina, is one of them.
Some of the hiragana permutations invented by modern usage, such as ゔ, have found their way into the unicode charset, but not the SJIS charset which is still used by most Japanese websites.
Kanji characters originated from China and there are a few thousand of them.
Unlike hiragana and katakana, kanji characters are ideographical and not phonetical. Each character can have multiple readings depending on the usage. Hiragana and katakana written above kanji characters to indicate their readings are known as furigana.
While it is theoractically possible to write Japanese with only hiragana, practically speaking you need to master all three sets of characters in order to write Japanese in any capacity.
Phonetic transliteration of Japanese using the roman alphabet is known as ro-maji (ローマ字).
Although you can frequently see signboards and posters with ro-maji writings on them in Japan, it is not really considered part of the Japanese writing system.
A typical sentence in Japanese goes: topic subject object verb. Topic, subject and object may be implicit.
ro-maji: watashi wa itsumo meronpan wo tabemasu.
english: I eat melon bread all the time.
In the example above,
watashi is the topic and also the implied subject,
itsumo is an adverb,
meronpan is the object,
tabemasu is the verb
and wa and wo are what we call particles.
Particles are used to identify the relationship of the terms to each other. The particle wa is usually used to identify the topic and the particle wo is usually used to identify the object of a transitive verb. As for the difference between a “topic” and a “subject”, that is a whole different can of worms that I will only open at a later date.
That should be all the terms you need to know for this series of lessons… I hope. Let’s move on to Chapter I.