Help: Japanese


January 24, 2022

This page introduces the reader to the Japanese language, especially its writing and pronunciation, and offers guidelines for its correct use on Wikipedia in Italian. To display Japanese characters correctly, you may need to install Japanese language support on your computer and make sure your web browser uses Unicode UTF-8 encoding on this site.


On Italian Wikipedia the Hepburn transliteration is used to represent Japanese sounds with the Latin alphabet. Here are some basic rules for pronouncing Japanese words correctly. Note that the transliteration of the kanji is in italics, the phonemes are placed between /.../, the phones between [...] and the graphemes between ⟨...⟩. The Japanese language has a pentavocalic system, very similar to that of the Spanish language (except for the realization of / u /): the phonemes are / a, i, u, e, o / which are respectively realized in [ä, i, ɯᵝ, e̞, o̞]. The consonant system is subject to many phonetic and phonological changes which mainly concern the voicing of some phonemes and the affrication of some stops due to the influence of / u, i /. The consonants of the Japanese language can be geminate and in this case have a distinctive value: 来 た (き た kita, [kitä]) has a different meaning from 切 っ た (き っ た kitta, [kittä]), respectively "arrived" and "cut off ". The basic unit of Japanese phonology is the mora, which determines the quantity of the syllable and consequently also the accent system. A syllable can be monomoraic, like the foolish sounds [ä], [tä], or bimoraic, like the long or twinned sounds [äː], [täː], [tːä]. The [n] in the syllabic tail position corresponds to a mora. The accent is of a musical type, in which the pitch of the voice usually increases when the accented mora is pronounced, and then decreases in subsequent mora. That is, it is different from the dynamic accent, present in Italian, in which the stressed syllable is pronounced with more intensity. The kana are Moraic syllabaries, for which each character reproduces a mora (except in the cases of some yōon): Nagasaki has four more (な が さ き na-ga-sa-ki); Ōsaka has four blackberries (お お さ か o-o-sa-ka); Nippon has four blackberries (に っ ぽ ん Ni-p-po-n). Phonologically, however, Nagasaki has four syllables, Ōsaka three syllables (Ō-sa-ka) and Nippon two syllables (Nip-pon). The difference between division into blackberries and syllables is the basis of the mistaken belief that haiku are divided into syllables, when they are divided into blackberries.


Kanji and kana

The Japanese language is usually written using simultaneously a logographic system, composed of kanji, and two syllabic systems, the hiragana and the katakana (collectively called kana), but in some cases Latin characters are also used. Japanese can be written vertically (starting from right to left) or horizontally (from left to right). Almost all kanji derive from the Chinese hànzì and have one or more meanings and pronunciations. The meaning of a word made up of several kanji generally refers to the meanings of the kanji that compose it. For example, Tōkyō (東京?) Is written with two kanji: "east" (東?) And "capital" (京?). The name was chosen because Tōkyō was to be the capital of Japan east of the already existing capital, Kyōto. Then there are some compounds of kanji, called ateji, whose ideograms have instead been chosen mainly for the sound and not for the meaning, as in the case of the name of Fuji or sushi. The kana, that is hiragana and katakana, derive from specific kanji, but unlike them, they have no meaning of their own and are used only to represent certain sounds, usually syllabic. Some words crystallized into hiragana, such as the word す

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