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In a message dated 10/4/00 8:00:08 PM Eastern Daylight Time,
[log in to unmask] writes:

> Then, when the Japanese developed characters for pronunciation
>  (I always forget which is hiragana and which is katakana!)
kanji: pictographic characters, each of which has a meaning or meanings.
Various meanings may have seperate sounds, AND even one meaning may have both
a Japanese and a Chinese (kun and on, I think respectively) pronunciation,
depending if it's in a compound.
hiragana: syllabic characters, used for native words and for grammatical
affixes on words written in kanji. When hiragana are written small beside or
above kanji to mark pronunciation, they are called (I think) rubii or
okurigana (I might be wrong; okurigana may refer to hiragana used in affixes).
katakana: syllabic characters that match basically one for one to the
hiragana, although some characters have recently been added (for things like
"che" that the hiragana can't reproduce). Katakana are used for borrowed
words (The words "iced tea", "aisu tii", are written in katakana, for
example), or the way we use italics for emphasis. Katakana are much more
angular than the curved hiragana, and rather than using the vowel character
for the second half of long vowels, a horizontal line is used.

I'm afraid I don't know what the roots in the words mean, aside from the fact
that "kana" in general covers all the syllabic characters, from both sets
(and I suspect "kana" is related to "kanji").