こんにちにゃあ～！Welcome to Kiki+Koko: Let’s NihonGO!! Online! ♪こんな時、こんなとき、こんな時、こんなとき、どうします～？♪ 日本語を学びたい時、日本の文化が知りたい時、お出で下さい。
♪ 嬉嬉と興子、いい気分。♪ あいててよかった☆！
Late-seventies era Japanese convenience store commercial references aside, we’re Kiki and Koko, your guides to Japanese language and culture; here, again, to lead you through the ins and outs of Japanese characters. With the help of our bilingual computer robot friend, QUIZBO™’s voice and display, we’re going to teach you how to read more hiragana characters! If you’ve learnt the first 五十音, gojuuon, then stick around to learn about what those fun little dots above the character does to its sound! It may be less straightforward than you think, but we’ll do our best to make things crystal clear. 🔔きーん♪こーん♪かーん♪こ－ん 🔔 It looks as though this class is ready to begin!
If you’re not sure about the Japanese writing system or hiragana, we recommend you take a moment to have a read of our article: How Do You Write in Japanese? | Japanese Writing System Demystified. Maybe you’ve just stumbled upon our lessons, but you’re not totally convinced you should take the time to learn how to read and write in Japanese. We tell you if it’s all one big plastic hassle in several lessons, but we focus on the dangers of romaji, but also its practical uses. But, today, if you’re already caught up on your hiragana homework and ready to learn more about these modifiers and how they affect the characters you know and love. We’re talking of 濁点, dakuten, the concept of which we introduce and explain in the previous lesson: 🔊 Let’s Read!! w/ QUIZBO™ 【がぎぐげご】| 濁点とは？| What is Dakuten? (+ Helpful Hints with Kiki+Koko!)
Now, funnily enough, this is the perfect time for throwbacks to previous lessons. In one of our earlier lessons about ‘rōmaji’—romanised more accurately as roomaji from , ローマ字, but SEO and popular spelling constrains us a bit—we introduced some conundrums related to one of these letters which may not have made as much sense at the time, but will make much more sense looking at this set of hiragana.
In Romaji: The Discouraging Double-Crossing Crutch , we reference the fact that 「ローマ字」, roomaJI, in some romanisation methods, is seen as roomaZI. Therein lies the crux of the issues with dissenting romanisation methods, and yes, it may seem as though it’s very random if you haven’t learnt the current ‘row’ of 五十音, gojuuon. However, this discrepancy isn’t seen with any of the other characters in the row, but when you’ve learnt other dissenting rows that don’t exactly play by the rules, then you’ll see it’s not as confusing as it may seem at first.
Before we look at this current row, let’s remember 「たちつでと」, or better yet, this exact row’s original characters: 「さしすせそ」One of these characters isn’t like the other, which plainly explains why there’s a difference in the way it’s modified. To explain, if you’ve already read about the concept of濁点, dakuten,they work in different ways depending on the character they’re modifying. 「し」, initially having a different sound and pronunciation overall is going to sound different than 「さ」.After you’ve heard the pronuncaiton for 「ざ」and 「じ」, try switching back and forth between 「さ」and「ざ」. Notice the difference in the pronunciation and where your tongue and teeth are in your mouth. Then do the same with「し」and「じ」. You’ll notice that technically, they’re being modified in the same way, but being different characters initially, it’s just a similar shift from a different starting point which changes the pronunciation to sound more like something that should be in a row of its own. But, then it wouldn’t be so organised.
In Chinese, the reading of 漢字, kanji, is hanzi, pronounced much differently. Of course, the first character is read and therefore romanised differently, but let’s just do a bit of pronunciation comparison. Now, 「字」、じ、is modified from the pronunciation of し. Watch a bit closelyーbut if you don’t know any Chinese pronunciations, you can probably skip to the next paragraphーwhen you start to say 「si」and switch to 「zi」, there’s something very similar changing in your pronunciation. It’s the same part of the mouth that’s changing between 「し」「じ」even if the vowel is elsewhereー not to mention, it can also be romanised as 「si」despite the sound not existing as such in Japanese. But, at the same time, if you’re someone who has learnt how to read Korean’s hangul, then you’ll have probably heard the argument that certain consonants come from the same part of the mouth, therefore aren’t different, and therefore aren’t romanised the way someone would pronounce them. Linguists are a bit more meticulous, but that’s just the road you walk when you rely on romanisation. So, no matter the language, you should always do your best to learn how to read as soon as you can, but at your own pace. Again, some Japanese romanisations (that we don’t use here) tend to have sounds that don’t even exist in Japanese.
But, this nonexistence of sounds even if they’re romanised this way in certain scripts brings us to a verdict on the whole 「zi」vs「ji」debate. And, we won’t put off telling you that it’s definitely 「ji」, but in the case of words being adapted, usually into katakana rather than hiragana, due to the loosely based fact that Japanese technically does not have a 「zi」sound, anything that does have a 「zi」 sound will be converted to a 「ji」sound in Japanese. Maybe you’ve heard more of a dental 「zi」-like sound in Japanese, though, and maybe it’s even often written with a 「z」, but that’s actually an entirely different sound altogether that we’ll cover in a future lesson. In modern Japanese, even the sound we’re referencing has softened into a different sound when it’s changed its spelling to be a part of this row’s hiragana.
Even though we definitely agree 「じ」is most accurately romanised as 「ji」, that isn’t to say you’ll never see it romanised as 「zi」, despite the pronunciation being 「ji」. But, that’s honestly one of the biggest reasons it’s lucky you’re studying to read, now, as you won’t be misinformed as to pronunciation via inconsistent romaji again! It’s really the only way to solve it, as obviously, if someone who only speaks Japanese is romanising something, they’ll reference their own pronunciation and it won’t change the way they say it, but anyone who doesn’t know will pronounce it closer to their own language’s pronunciation and will be tripped up by one of the classic blunders.
After completing this lesson and returning to revise at your own pace, you won’t be one of those who fall into the trap of what seems to be easier now, but much more difficult in the longrun. That’s right, it’s almost time for the main lesson, that, ironically, will be shorter than this introduction. But, before we jump into this, you should probably take a look at the initial characters that are being modified so that you can properly differentiate them. That’s something we’ll continue to work on during future lessons and quizzes.
Above are the tools that you’ll need to compare the original character and the modified character. But, without further ado, we should probably welcome back your computer friend and ours, QUIZBO™くん！(The ™ is silent)
If you remember from previous instalments, this is a portable version, QUIZBO™ Mini, who lives here on the site. He’ll be here to help sound out these hiragana for you. You can click the sound ‘bytes’ as many times as you’d like, QUIZBO™ won’t mind. ( Get it, bytes? … Computer? …We’ll stick to teaching Japanese. ) Afterwards, you’ll be able to take a quiz with QUIZBO™ to help you review them or test your knowledge!
Are you ready!?
Let’s NihonGO!! ざじずぜぞ!!
We’re going to show you the character, then you you can click the play button to hear QUIZBO™ sound it out for you. But, as a better visualisation of each sound, we also have the romanised pronunciation of each character so you have something in English to which you can compare it.
In romaji, 「ざ」 is transliterated as「za」which sounds sort of like 「zahh」**
Helpful Hints with Kiki+Koko:
When you think of the way you say the letter ‘s’ and the letter ‘z’, it may become more apparent that they have more in common than you think. So, when you look at ざ, it’s okay to initially think of さ then see the dots and remember it’s time to modify that sound. After a while, it’ll become more natural.
In romaji, 「じ」 is transliterated as 「ji」which sounds sort of like the letter 「G」**
Helpful Hints with Kiki+Koko:
Note that just as し has many differences to the rest of the さ row, you’ll want to pronounce this as if you were modifying し into a Z, but as a J… It’s a J sound, but just a tiny bit softer depending on dialect.
In romaji, 「ず」 is transliterated as 「zu」which sounds sort of like the word「zoo」**
Helpful Hints with Kiki+Koko:
Again, just remember the original character’s pronunciation, then look out for the dots, and be sure to modify! With practise, it’ll feel more natural.
In romaji, 「ぜ」 is transliterated as 「ze」which sounds sort of like「zay」**
Helpful Hints with Kiki+Koko:
Well, there’s not much else to add… But, this is an emphatic sentence ender you’ll hear often in cartoons.
In romaji, 「ぞ」 is transliterated as 「zo」which sounds sort of like 「zoh」
Helpful Hints with Kiki+Koko:
Again, the same hints apply here, and oddly this is another one you’ll see and hear as an emphatic sentence ender.
And, that’s 「ざじずぜぞ」!! We hope you feel a little more comfortable with these characters and the concept, but you still have as much time as you need to become accustomed to dakuten. When there are characters that are similar, it’s important to mentally point out those differences and make them stand out in your mind. That’s a bit of the method to our hiragana lessons, as technically, when ordering all hiragana, さ and ざ would be near each other. But, when learning, it’s important to get the basis for the character solidified in your mind, then to add onto that knowledge, as it allows you to learn it in a similar way to the way it’s taught in schools.
Remember, take your time and make this a relaxing excursion of an experience. There’s no rush, and if you ever get overwhelmed, you can just step away and come back to it. Think of learning how to read and write in your own language, it’s not as easy for everyone, and it takes time and a bit of effort to master. Even in Japan, of course, there are kids who need more and less time to learn to read hiragana then katakana and then kanji. It’s a process, so be sure to enjoy the journey since there’s always something new to learn. And, that’s the beauty of it all, and it’s what brings adventure and spice to life.
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