Included in the free version of Kanjilicious is the full set of hiragana characters, so first year students can work through the introduction to Japanese reading quickly and get right to the fun.
Hiragana (平仮名, ひらがな or ヒラガナ) is the native Japanese syllabary used to complement the imported Chinese characters, and fill out the writing system. It is one of three basic Asian systems, along with katakana and kanji. The Japanese also use roman letters, which they call romaji. Hiragana and katakana are both referred to as "kana" systems; for every hiragana there is an equivalent katakana character. Each character represents one "mora" (one sound in the Japanese language). Each kana is either a vowel such as "e" (え); a consonant followed by a vowel such as "ha" (hiragana は); or "n" (ん), a nasal sonorant which, depending on the context, sounds either like the English "m", "n", or "ng" ([ŋ]), or like the nasal vowels in French. Because the characters of the kana do not represent single consonants (except in the case of ん "n"), the kana are referred to as syllabaries and not alphabets.
Hiragana is used to write native Japanese words if there are no kanji specified, including grammatical particles such as に ni "to", and suffixes such as さん ~san "Mr., Mrs., Miss, Ms." Hiragana is used to write words that are unknown to the writer or the readers, in order to spell things out for clarity. 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. Okurigana, or verb and adjective inflections like, ma-shi-ta (ました) in ikimashita (行ました?, "went"), are written in hiragana, often following a verb or adjective root (here, "行") that is written in kanji. When Hiragana is used to show the pronunciation of a kanji, it is referred to as furigana. Youll often see very small Hiragana set aside the kanji as a reading aid.
The full hiragana syllabary has 48 characters:
- 5 singular vowels あ、い、う、え、お.
- 45 consonant–vowel sets, made up of 9 consonants in combination with each of the 5 vowels, of which:
- 2 (yi, and wu) are not unused in common practice
- 3 (ye, wi, and we) are obsolete in present-day 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 ん (n)
These are conceived as a 5×10 grid (gojūon, 五十音, which means "Fifty Sounds"), as illustrated in the table below, with the extra character being the anomalous singular consonant ん (n).
A collection of hiragana images from our Pintrest boards.
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