Why were katakana and hiragana created

The Japanese script

As in the 5th-6th In the 19th century when Buddhism came from China to Japan via Korea, there was still no writing system in Japan. Therefore the Chinese characters, the Kanji, were adopted.

This was also a good solution for the content words like "house", "beautiful" or "go-". However, there were and are words in Japanese that have no actual meaning but only a grammatical function: verb endings (e.g. for the past and the negation) and particles that indicate the function of a noun in a sentence. In the beginning these were also written with Kanji. Kanji were chosen that had a pronunciation similar to the word to be written. But this strategy was quite laborious because these words occur very often.

Therefore, in the 8th-9th The two syllabary scripts Hiragana and Katakana were developed independently from each other in the 19th century. The two scripts are called syllable scripts because each character corresponds to a Japanese syllable. In other words, you can actually write a Japanese text entirely with Hiragana or Katakana. They are also the scriptures Japanese children learn first.

Hiragana were created by simplifying some Kanji (in grass script), they are rounder in the typeface. Katakana only take up part of a Kanji and appear more angular.

a became あ aa became ア a
i became い i i became イ i
u became う uu became ウ u

Today Kanji, Hiragana and Katakana are used in parallel in Japanese texts:

  • Kanji for content words
  • Hiragana for verb endings, particles and words whose Kanji is too difficult
  • Katakana for foreign words, onomatopoeic words or for graphic emphasis

The following pages contain instructions for learning Hiragana and Katakana. Please start with the hiragana, as they are simply more common than katakana and should sit well at the beginning of the lesson.

The debate continues here.

created by Dr. Martina Ebi