n Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe - 'n Ortografiese brug tussen Japannees en Afrikaans - die keuse van 'n romeinse transliterasiesisteem

Volume 56 Number 2-1
  • ISSN : 0041-4751



In this article the focus is on the linguistic, and more particularly the orthographic, aspect of a translating dictionary between Afrikaans and Japanese to be published shortly. The orthographic aspect specifically relates to the transliteration of the indigenous Japanese script in the roman alphabet and the linguistic considerations which influenced the choice of particular forms. The fact that the two languages are typologically, genealogically and geographically as far apart as is possible on this planet, brings about certain challenges to ensure optimal accessibility to the other language, and in particular to Japanese. These challenges led to decisions regarding the representation of Japanese words written in the roman alphabet - this forms the basis of the article. Japanese utilises various systems of writing, but the most general and default form is the logographic writing system, which is based on Chinese. This fact makes it extremely difficult for the average Western learner of Japanese to master simultaneously the orthography, the pronunciation and grammar of the language. Unlike Chinese, Japanese utilises, in addition to the logographic system (kanji), also a phonetic system of 46 basic syllabic symbols (hiragana), mainly to represent grammatical words and affixes, but also as pronunciation guidance for words written in kanji. A parallel phonetic system (also 46 symbols), to wit katakana, which is a mirror image of hiragana, is used for loan words, to express emphasis, for onomatopoeic words,terminology and some names of Japanese companies and products. In addition to the above mentioned writing systems, Japanese is also written in the roman alphabet. Three comparable writing systems exist, namely the so-called Hepburn-system (or Hebon-shiki), Kunrei-shiki, and Nihon-shiki. In Japanese, the systems are collectively known asroomaji [rc:madZi], and all Japanese already learn at primary school level to use one of the systems, in particular Kunrei-shiki. (In translating dictionaries a choice for a specific system is normally done, mostly for Hebon-shiki, or adapted versions, for reasons to be discussed shortly.) In short, romanised Japanese is used predominantly to make texts accessible to non-Japanese foreigners, while the logographic-cum-syllabic system is used by Japanese among themselves. As an introduction, an outline is given of the historical development of roomaji from the first Japanese-Portuguese dictionary in 1603 to the present-day situation.

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