Have you ever wondered about the creative origin of so many Pokemon? Although it took a great deal of creative genius and ingenuity to come with certain Pokemon like bird, rat or even rock, other Pokemon were ripped straight from the depths of traditional Japanese folklore and tradition.
In a previous post, I explained a few fun Japanese words that succinctly express ideas that can only be clumsily talked around in English. Well those were just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Here are a few more useful and unique words to add to your vocabulary.
Over the course of this five part series, I’ve been talking at length about homophones in Japanese, how they came to be so numerous and strategies to avoid them. But all of these points have skirted the most important and fundamental question of all, which is, does it even really matter?
One of the best parts of learning any foreign language is coming across unique words and phrases that just don’t exist in your native language. This is one of the things that make studying Japanese so interesting, as it is full of these kinds of words. As a result, learning them can really enrich your vocabulary and bring you one step closer to sounding like a native speaker.
In the previous installment of this series, I discussed how class divisions in Japanese society exacerbated the problem with homophones already present with on-yomi. Here I will be discussing a few possibilities to reduce the number of homophones in use.
When first starting out in Japanese, the best thing one can do is to learn Kana as soon as possible. Despite missing some key features of pronunciation such as pitch accent, kana serve as a very accurate guide to Japanese pronunciation.
As discussed in the previous segment, many homophones have arisen due to the overuse of on-yomi, which are short and phonetically limited, as well as phonological drift.
To better understand why this phonological drift happened the way it did, we need to understand the state of affairs in Japan before the modern era. Like most places around the word, access to literacy and education was limited to the wealthy, higher classes, and back then, being educated meant knowing Chinese and Chinese culture, in much the same way that in Europe, being educated meant knowing Latin.
Plosive consonants, what are they? Plosives, also known as stops, are consonants that when articulated, block your vocal tract and constrict airflow.
In Japanese, these are the sounds <k>, <g>, <t>, <d>, <b> and <p>. Although these phonemes sound similar to their English counterparts, there are a few key differences to keep in mind in order to improve your pronunciation.
As we explored in the previous segment, there is nothing inherent to Japanese phonology itself that accounts for the large number of homophones. Given the language’s inventory of phonemes and phonotactics, it is more than capable of coming up with enough unique words to avoid homophones altogether.
The third and final script used in Japanese is Kanji. The word Kanji itself means Chinese Characters. Kanji are a system of logograms that were originally borrowed from China and retrofitted to meet the needs of the Japanese language. Logograms are characters that are used to represent words and morphemes directly. For example, the words ひと (person) and みず (water) can be written in kanji as 人 and 水。
At first glance this seems pretty straight forward. However, Japanese is a language that is fundamentally different from all varieties of Chinese, and this has severely complicated the way kanji have been adopted into Japanese.