There are three types of kana:
- Manyogana (万葉仮名) is the use of Chinese characters (or kanji) to represent each sound in spoken Japanese.
- Hiragana (ひらがな) is the script used to write native Japanese words and grammatical elements.
- Katakana (カタカナ) is the script used to write loanwords (or gairaigo) and onomatopoeia.
Although manyogana is the oldest of the three types of kana, being used as early as the seventh century, it was soon replaced by hiragana and katakana. Both of these characters came from the kanji characters that made up manyogana.
Today, there are 46 basic sounds in Japanese that are each represented by a hiragana and a corresponding katakana character as seen in the chart below. (The characters for the sounds wi and we are no longer used.) There are 25 other sounds that can be made by adding one of two diacritics: a dakuten or a handakuten. Also, 12 of the kana come in a smaller size to make other combinations of syllables.
Japanese sentences are usually written using a mix of hiragana, katakana, and kanji. Although it is possible to write a sentence in only hiragana or katakana characters, it is hard for most Japanese people to understand because the kanji symbols represent a concept which the kana do not show. Small kana symbols, however, can be put above kanji to show how it is pronounced (this is called furigana and is used a lot in karaoke).
- "History of Kanamoji (Katakana and Hiragana)". Nihongo Mousou Project. 2013-07-11. Retrieved 2018-01-08.
- "What is man'yōgana?". www.sljfaq.org. Retrieved 2018-01-08.
- Hadamitzky, Wolfgang. "Kana". www.hadamitzky.de. Retrieved 2018-01-08.
- Baseel, Casey (2016-05-13). "Why does Japanese writing need three different sets of characters?". Japan Today. Retrieved 2018-01-08.
- "Kana or Romaji: Which is best?". v10japan.com. 2010-06-23. Retrieved 2018-01-08.
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