Does Kana represent the Japanese alphabet?

Not really. Japanese Kana are syllabic writing (each character represents one syllable), consisting of Hiragana and Katakana characters – though you might consider this is somewhat similar to an alphabet.

What are Hiragana?

The more cursive and widely used form of Kana.

  • For most words (nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc) of a Japanese origin.
  • Show the pronunciation and Okurigana (endings) of Kanji characters.
  • Used for grammar particles in sentences – for example, to highlight sentence topics, subjects and objects and prepositions.

What are Katakana?

The more angular form of Kana, primarily for words of foreign origin – these have the same sounds and pronunciations as Hiragana.

  • Foreign words and names, such as コンピュータ (konpyu-ta, “computer”)
  • Onomatopoeia, such as ワンワン (wan-wan, “woof-woof”)

What are diacritics?

Diacritics are accent characters which change the voiced sound of certain characters – for example カ (“ka”) becomes ガ (“ga”).

What are digraphs (compound characters)?

Compound characters (digraphs) are two Kana which are pronounced as one sound, not individually. These are formed by appending smaller versions of “ya”, “yu” and “yo” to the syllables from the “i” sounding Kana (“ki”, “shi”, “chi”, “ni”, “hi”, “mi”, “ri” and their variations) – for example キ (“ki”) + ョ (small “yo”) = キョ (“kyo”).

How are long vowels written?

A long vowel is written in Hiragana with an extra “あ”, “い”, “う” “え” or “お” depending on the previous vowel sound – for example おねえさん (oneesan, “older sister”) or おおきい (ookii,”big”). In katakana, it’s written with a dash – for example, メール (me-ru, “email”).

How are double consonants written?

The double consonant is written by adding a small “tsu” (“っ” or “ッ”) in front of the doubled consonant syllable – for example, “どっち” (docchi, “which”).

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