Saturday, March 23, 2019

Same Word Spelled in Multiple Ways

WIP: this article is incomplete and might change in the unforeseeable future.
In Japanese, words can be spelled in multiple ways, for multiple reasons.

A same Japanese word can be romanized in various ways. For example, ローマ字 can be romanized as roomaji, rōmaji, or romaji.

There are three Japanese "alphabets": hiragana, katakana, and kanji. The hiragana and katakana are both kana, they're interchangeable, like lower-case letters and UPPER-CASE LETTERS. Thus, anything that can be written with hiragana can be written with katakana and vice-versa.

The kana comprise all sounds of the Japanese language, so any Japanese word can be written with either hiragana or katakana.

The kanji are assigned to words and morphemes. Words that have kanji assigned to them can also be, and often are, spelled with kanji, but not everything has a kanji assigned to it; some words do not have kanji.

Furthermore, sometimes a word that has kanji is written without kanji. This can happen because the word is too simple and its kanji too complex. Or the kanji is too uncommon, it's not a Jouyou Kanji 常用漢字.

In such cases, adverbs tend to be written with hiragana. For example: "already," sude ni すでに, or sude ni 既に. While nouns and adjectives tend to be written with katakana. For example: the flower "rose," yarou ヤロウバラ, or bara 薔薇, the adjective "stupid," baka バカ, or baka 馬鹿.

Some words are regularly written in all three ways: dame だめ, dame ダメ, dame 駄目.

The choice of one script over the other can also be due to aesthetics: hiragana looks chummy, katakana looks cool, kanji looks serious.

Loan words, or rather, gairaigo 外来語, katakanizations, and wasei-eigo 和製英語, generally don't have kanji and are spelled only with katakana. So much that they're even called katakana-go カタカナ語, "katakana words."

The middle dot ・ and, sometimes, the = symbol, are, sometimes, used to separate katakanized words in names and titles, sometimes not. They would be used instead of spaces, but sometimes they are not. Thus sometimes the same words are spelled with and without such middle dots.

For example: soodoaato onrain ソードアート・オンライン is the katakanization of "Sword Art Online." There's a middle dot between "sword art" and "online," but not between "sword" and "art."

Certain words, mostly slangs, are is spelled with alphabet letters. Some are abbreviations, like JK, meaning joshi kousei 女子高生, "high school girl."

Others are plays on the pronunciation of katakanized English letters. For example: W, the "double u" letter, would be called daburyuu ダブリュー, but daburyuu also means "double." So you can spell "double," daburyuu, as just W. A "double date" would be a daburyuu deeto Wデート.

Another example: QK is pronounced kyuukee キューケー in Japanese, and can be used to spell kyuukei 休憩, which means "rest" or a "break."

Some words can be written with various, different kanji. And the spelling can affect the meaning of the word according to the meaning of the kanji. For example, hayai 速い is "fast," while hayai 早い is "early." Something that's fast usually arrives early.

In such cases it could also be said that there are two different words, since they mean different things, but they sound the same, while spelled differently, which means they're a kind of homonym: a homophone

The other kind would be a homograph, like the same kanji being two different words. For example: kane 金, "money," and kin 金, "gold," are two different ways to read the same kanji.

Then we have the extreme: ii いい and yoi よい. Both mean "good," and both can spelled as 良い, 善い, 好い, 佳い, 吉い and 宜い, each spelling meaning "good" in a slightly different way. So they're words that mean the same thing and are spelled the same different ways, too.

The word otaku お宅 means "your house" or "you." When spelled with katakana, otaku オタク it's a slang that refers to a "hobbyist." Originally it referred to hardcore anime hobbyists. After otaku became a mainstream word, those hardcore otaku started using the spelling wotaku ヲタク to refer to themselves, which is pronounced identically, because wo を is pronounced the same as o.

Words can have their official spelling changed over time. The Japanese language has underwent multiple reforms, in which lists of kanji such as the "present-use kanji," Touyou Kanji 当用漢字, and then "normal use kanji," Jouyou Kanji 常用漢字, were created, and words that had kanji outside those lists were assigned other, more common kanji.

For example, kakkou 格好, "appearance," was originally spelled kakkou 恰好. Since 恰 wasn't a touyou kanji, the official spelling of the word was changed. During a time, it was even spelled with mixed hiragana and kanji: kakkou かっ好, probably because publishers knew they shouldn't write the old 恰好, but they weren't sure readers would understand the new 格好.

Sometimes, words that didn't have kanji are assigned new kanji, and such assignments may not make any sense at all. This is called an ateji 当て字.

Notably, mechakucha メチャクチャ, "terribly," has two ateji: one is mechakucha 滅茶苦茶, the other mechakucha 目茶苦茶. The meaning of those kanji make no sense: eye-tea-pain-tea.

The word kawaii 可愛い means "cute" most of the time, but it has second, less common meaning: "pitiable." When it's added the -sou ~そう suffix, becoming kawaisou 可愛そう, it normally means "seems pitiable" rather than "seems cute." This peculiar usage was given ateji, that is kawaisou 可哀想, so you don't make "seems pitiable" with "seems cute."

Authors may assign kanji (ateji) to basically whatever words and even phrases they feel like by just literally writing the word as furigana for whatever it is they want. Such absurd technique is called a gikun 義訓, and it essentially means that in Japanese any word can be spelled in any way if the author wills it.

Normally, however, authors aren't insane, so gikun is used to associate two things that actually relate somehow. It's often used to spell katakanizations and made-up terms of the manga or novel with more native-looking kanji.

For example: ekusoshisuto エクソシスト is the katakanization of the English word "exorcist," while futsumashi 祓魔師 is the native Japanese term for "exorcist." The Japanese title of the manga "Blue Exorcist" spells エクソシスト as 祓魔師 through gikun. It's rendered Ao no Ekusoshisuto 青の祓魔師(エクソシスト).

Verbs in noun form can be written without okurigana for aesthetic reasons: warau 笑う,"to laugh," is a verb, its noun form is "laughing," warai 笑い, which can be written as warai 笑 in some cases. See: kakko-warai(笑).

Extended vowels can also be spelled in multiple ways: by using small kana and the prolonged sound mark, specially in relaxed pronunciation. For example: janee じゃねえ, janee じゃねぇ and janee じゃねー aren't exactly the same thing, but are all the same word.

The ヶ symbol, which looks like a ke ケ but isn't, is an abbreviated way to write 箇. Thus, ikkagetsu 一箇月, "one month," is also spelled ikkagetsu 一ヶ月.

The ヶ symbol is also used instead of the possessive ga が particle in names and titles. For example, Senjougahara 戦場ヶ原 is the same thing as senjou ga hara 戦場が原 which means the same thing as senjou no hara 戦場の原, "plains of battlefield."

Iteration marks can be used instead of the reduplicant in words that feature reduplication. For kanji, the iteration mark is always used, but with hiragana and katakana they're rarely used.

For example, dandan 段段, "gradually," is normally spelled dandan 段々, with the 々 iteration mark. The iteration mark is still used if the reduplicant features rendaku. For example: tokidoki 時時, or tokidoki 時々.

If the reduplicant has more than one kanji, it's now deemed orthographically incorrect to use an iteration mark, but the usage can still be seen: hitori-hitori 一人々々, baka-baka-shii 馬鹿々々しい.

The iteration marks for hiragana and katakana are ゝゞヽヾ, among others. An example: kokoro 心, kokoro こころ, or kokoro こゝろ. Another example: suzushii 涼しい, suzushii すずしい, or suzushii すゞしい.

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  1. Thank you for the line about ケ not being ”け” but ”が”. I was so confused and you literally used it in the context that I'm trying to understand :D

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