ごじゅうおんず【五十音図】


The kana table, (literally) the 50-sound table



ひらがなの五十音図 The Hiragana Table

  w r y m h n t s k    
 a
     i
     u
     e
   o


かたかなの五十音図 The Katakana Table

  w r y m h n t s k    
a
    i
    u
    e
  o


(Letters of the alphabet are not normally included in the tables.)



Notes

(1) This is the あ・い・う・え・お ordering. Although the 五十音図 is said to be as ancient as the 平安時代, the more traditional way of ordering the かな is the いろは sequence, soon forgotten by most schoolchildren, though still used in law and older institutions.

(2) The tables are traditionally read the same direction as traditional Japanese: top to bottom, right to left. With increased writing top to bottom, left to right, however, tables with あ・い・う・え・お on the top can now be found. See Iroha for this ordering and the more traditional いろは sequence (generally forgotten fairly quickly by schoolchildren.

(3) The columns are called 行(ぎょう)and are referred to by the kana at the top of the column. So the column on the right is called the あ行, after which is the か行, etc. The rows are named for the kana in the right-hand row. The top row is called a-retsu (あ列), the next i-retsu, etc. Collectively, the hiragana and katakana are called kana.

(4) There is a one-to-one correspondence between the hiragana and katakana, and the pairs are pronounced identically. They have different functions, however.

See ひらがな and かたかな for differences in function.

(5) The first column on the right is simply vowels. ア = /a/, イ = /i/, etc.

(6) To find the pronunciation of a kana, read the consonant at the top of the column, followed by the vowel at the right of the row.

Hiragana:
か /ka/
す /su/
ね /ne/

Katakana:
カ /ka/
ト /to/
ミ /mi/

(7) The pronunciation of the hiragana は and へ in the h-column are ambiguous. When used for 助詞, they are pronounced /wa/ and /e/ respectively. This is also true for katakana in older or special writing, when the katakana is used instead of the hiragana as the basic writing script.

を in the w-column is used as a 助詞 and should be pronounced as /o/. In formal speeches, its older pronounciation of /wo/ is occasionally still used.

(8) ふ and フ in the h columns are pronounced more like /fu/ than /hu/, though the upper teeth and bottom lip do not come together. They are commonly romanized as fu.

(9) In the s column, し・シ is /shi/; in the t column, ち・チ is /chi/ and つ・ツ is /tsu/.

(10) In the w column, ゐ・ヰ and ゑ・ヱ are obsolete. If they are pronounced, they are pronounced as /i/ and /e/. ヱ is sometimes used in foreign names to represent ye.

(11) ん and ン in the upper left are a syllabic n sound.

(12) Although in Japanese, a かな table is called the 50-sounds table, there are only 46 かたかな (48 including the obsolete kana). Counting all the columns (except the one on the left) and multiplying by the five vowels, however, gives 50.

(13) At the end of World War II, the spelling system was updated to reflect current pronunciation. Although not as bad as English spelling, the old system required a great deal of memorization. A famous example is テフテフ, the old spelling for ちょうちょう, butterfly.


To learn more about Japanese writing, see 文字

Vocabulary

助詞(じょし), a small word that indicates the grammatical function of the word or phrase before it. In English they are variously called particles, relationals or postpositions.

平安時代(へいあんじだい), the Heian Period, one of high culture, extending from 794 to around the end of the twelfth century.


This entry was created by Benjamin Barrett with contributions from Brian Chandler.


Revised by BB 2000.06.25.

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