濁点と半濁点 Dakuten & Handakuten [90/365]

When learning Japanese it is essential to know hiragana and katakana – the two phonetic scripts – simply to read words. Some learners use romaji (Romanised script, like English) but sooner or later you need to be able to read pronunciation the way Japanese people actually write it – in hiragana or katakana – and it is best to move away from romaji as quickly as possible.

ひらがな
“hiragana”
the phonetic writing system in Japanese, typically for native words

かたかな
“katakana”
the phonetic writing system in Japanese, typically for loan words

かな
“kana”
hiragana and katakana


BONUS:

ふりがな, ルビ
“furigana”, “rubi”
small kana used around kanji to show the pronunciation

furigana or rubi example

Note: there is a meaningful difference between the words “furigana” and “rubi” but it is subtle and the sources I read about it seemed not to be in total agreement. Anyone?


There are many materials to learn kana (you can even just read the wikipedia article and memorise the tables), and when you do this you notice that there are two modifying symbols which change the pronunciation of some of the characters.

Dakuten and Handakuten

What is the name for these symbols? They are called “dakuten” and “handakuten”.

濁点
(だくてん)
“dakuten”
the diacritic mark that turns an unvoiced consonant into a voiced consonant: ゙

半濁点
(はんだくてん)
“”handakuten”
the diacritic kana mark that turns h into p: ゚

When this topic came up last week with a native speaker (Yusuke) he explained that the kanji for “daku” comes from “odaku”:

汚濁
(おだく)
“odaku”
pollution; contamination; corruption; graft

Yusuke was very firm about the fact that this word can only be used for certain things, mostly related to liquid and gas. Lotti and I trolled him a tiny bit by coming up with silly examples and asking if they would count as “odaku”, such as wearing one of each shoe instead of two the same. He seemed to find it as amusing as we did, luckily! 🙂


Dakuten and handakuten are very useful words for non-native speakers to describe characteristics of Japanese. It actually came up with Yusuke because Lotti wrote a word down without the dakuten and I was able to say “don’t forget the dakuten!”

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