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Re: Orthography Question

From:Douglas Koller <laokou@...>
Date:Tuesday, November 10, 1998, 12:24
Christophe Grandsire wrote:

> In the 10th century, the Japanese (only men) used Chinese ideograms > to write Japanese words. They used them only with their phonetic value
I don't think so. Characters were used with their meanings with a *subset* used just phonetically (or rather with their meanings temporarily "turned off" [Chinese does this too for foreign names and loanwords]) to mark stuff like inflections. Then streamlining - if you had to write a seven-stroke character every time you encountered the English past tense "-ed", you too would probably develop a simpler, cursive form.
> (actually approximately as Japanese phonetics are very different from > Chinese phonetics). Then a "female" literature began to appear. Women didn't > have the right to write and read, but they passed through it inventing from > some Chinese ideograms the first syllabary which was hiragana.
>Only a century later, men created another syllabary (I think they > were bored of writing ideograms) from a different set of ideograms. It was > thought, I think, as a kind of stenography, so it was simpler than hiragana. > Now that syllabary is called katakana.
The sources I link below reverse this time line; katakana come before hiragana.
> Then I don't know really what > happened but the ideograms were reintroduced with, this time, their meaning > (not only their pronunciation),
Doesn't make sense. Who in their right mind if they already had a phonetic writing system in place would go *back* to ideograms? Again, see sites below - they place kanji writing - with their meanings - before kana writing.
> the hiragana came to be used for the > gramatical endings and some native Japanese words, and the katakana lost > position and finally were only used for loanwords (very much used nowadays),
Okay here.
> 'onomatopees' (don't know the word in English) (with a much broader use than > in European languages, one can speak in Japanese only with those > 'onomatopees')
I don't see how. With some function words thrown in, you *might* be able to come up with some funky sentences this way, but to say "one can speak only" this way (outside the most contrived circumstances [like children's or Tarzan speech or perhaps a comedy routine to show the zany hilarity that would ensue if you tried it]) doesn't sound right.
>(even if 'onomatopees' are considered as very normal, though > very familiar -and a little childish sometimes-).
Perhaps to Western ears. Japanese writing peppered with onomatopoeia is considered quite descriptive and evocative. For a brief history of hiragana, go here: and for katakana, here: and for the truly adventurous, on kanji, here: Kou