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Why have 2 alphabets?

I'm just having trouble understanding why they have 2 alphabets for the same sounds :/

February 22, 2018



Someone has provided it in Japanese Wiki (but not in the English one). In short, historically Japanese had their own verbal language but not a writing system. Chinese literature along with the writing system are borrowed (mainly by monks hypothetically). The 2 types of alphabets were developed during 6th - 9th century out of simplified strokes of Chinese characters, for the sound only, for different types of annotation of Chinese literature. Adding to Kanji (borrowing the Chinese characters and also its meaning), then it has come to 3 different writing. Also different sounds were borrowed depending on their originating area in China. Hence 1 Kanji may have several different pronunciation, which may be a Japanese sound, or variations of Chinese sounds.

This certainly makes learning more difficult, but I hope that you find it interesting after knowing the origin.


Hiragana (the one taught first in the lessons) is used for "normal" Japanese words. Katakana is used for words borrowed from other languages. And there's also kanji - the signs for word stems or whole words. Most sentences in Japanese are written using kanji and hiragana, sometimes also katakana.

I wrote more about it here.

Don't get discouraged - learn hiragana first. Then, slowly add some kanji and katakana. But definitely focus on understanding hiragana first - without it, you won't be able to progress much in the course.


English also has two sets of letters, UPPERCASE & lowercase :)

And there was more than one hiragana for each syllable before the reform.


kanji and katakana are both in japanese for historical reasons. but i like them being there and i think they help a lot with reading. japanese doesn't have any spaces and a lot of the characters look similar, so imagine trying to quickly read a passage! kanji's really useful in helping break up sentences into smaller chunks, and for distinguishing between homophones.

it's a bit annoying to learn at first, but i think that's it's extremely useful to the natives and makes japanese more fun & challenging for us :0

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