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TYJ Hiragana table

This article is in the series Teach Yourself Japanese

4.2. Hiragana table

A table of the hiragana (ひらがな "hiragana") is called ごじゅうおんず "gozyûonzu", which means a fifty-sound chart. It contains all the hiragana except ones with voiced sound marks, ones with semi-voiced sound marks, and small hiragana (/Q/ and double hiragana). Since Japanese characters are ordinarily written vertically from top to bottom, the table items are written in that way. The lines are written from right to left.

-i*2ri-mihiniti (chi)si (shi)kiii
--ruyumuhu (fu)nutu (tsu)sukuuu

*1 There are special single-kana words with these kana.
*2 These two kana are not used in modern Japanese.
*3 This kana doesn't contain the vowel "a".

This is an additional table that contains hiragana with voiced sound marks and semi-voiced sound marks:

pibizi (ji)zi (ji)gii

Consonant groups are called ぎょう "gyô", which means lines in Japanese, and vowel groups are called だん "dan", which means columns. So the hiragana し is the hiragana of さぎょう いだん "sagyô idan" (sa-line, i-column). The hiragana ん is the only exception; it doesn't belong to a vowel column because it has no vowel.

Voiced sound marks and semi-voiced sound marks do not affect the order of characters in dictionaries. So は, ば and ぱ have the same order. Small hiragana also have the same order as ordinary ones. So や and ゃ have the same order.

As you know, some of the hiragana have different pronunciations from what you might expect them to have. You may think the vowel "i" works almost like "yi". Linguists call it palatalisation. That's why "si" is like "shi" and "ti" is like "chi".

The order of kana came from Devanagari, which is a phonetic alphabet used for Indian languages such as Sanskrit and Hindi. Devanagari's vowel order is: a, â, i, î, u, û, r, e, ê, o, ô. Its consonant order is from the back of the tongue to the lips: velars (k, g, ng), palatals (ch, j, ny), retroflexes (.t, .d, .n), alveolars (t, d, n), bilabials (p, b, m), semivowels (y, r, w), and fricatives (sh, s, h). Japanese doesn't have retroflexes, and the consonant of the syllables now represented by "h" + vowels was "p". Also, some linguists think the consonant of the syllables now represented by "s" + vowels was "ch". (Other linguists think it was either "ts" or "sh".) Devanagari's consonant order thus gives the Japanese consonant order: k, ch (later s), t, n, p (later h), m, y, r, and w.
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About author
My name is TAKASUGI Shinji. TAKASUGI is my family name, and Shinji is my given name; a family name is placed before a given name in Japan, as in other Asian nations. My family name is capitalized to avoid misunderstanding.

I have been living in Yokohama since I was born. Yokohama is the second largest city in Japan, which is just 30 kilometers away from the biggest city Tôkyô. It takes 30 minutes to go by train from home to Shibuya, which is the hottest town now in Tôkyô.

I work as a display engineer.

One of my hobbies is creating things with computers; creating programs, computer graphics and web pages is the thing I spent a lot of time doing. I am also interested in a wide range of sciences, and linguistics is my favorite. I like English and I like using it, but my focus is mainly on Japanese, which is my native language. I'm proud of knowing the language, and the difference between English and Japanese has been fascinating me. I have been thinking whether I can introduce it to people outside of Japan. My attempt of introducing Japanese with some Java applets has had more than 1 million visitors.


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