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Japanese Language/How are syllabaries, such as Kana, learned by children?


In English, we have the alphabet song. There is an order to the Latin alphabet, though lord knows why it's in the order it is!

Do syllabaries in general (or if you only know about Kana, then those specifically) have an analogous learning device? What is the "alphabetic" order?

When you look syllabaries up online, they are always presented as a table, with consonants along one axis and vowels along another. Is this a standard in schools? If so, if you were to linearize the syllabary (for a dictionary, for instance), would a person progress through the consonants, then vowels, or vowels, then consonants? If that makes sense.... Or is there some other order?

Thank you!

Yes, the Japanese have a systematic order to learning the syllabary of the language, called "The 50 Sounds" which are then written using one of the two scripts, hiragana and katakana. There are not actually 50, more like 46, but they form the basis for ordering in dictionaries, etc. similar to the Roman alphabet for English speakers. Basically, yes, they are ordered by vowel and then a different consonant is prepended to the vowel in each new line and that line is memorized.

A, I, U, E, O

Then, "k", so…KA, KI, KU, KE, KO


Some consonants are not directly translatable in English such as 'shi' in the next "s"-row:


Also, the 't'-row:



And some rows don't have sounds for each box in the matrix, like the "y"-row:


Historically, there was a "ye", but it eventually lost usage. There was also never a "yi".

There is another older system in play for ordering called "iroha" that has gone out of fashion, but it involved a Japanese poem with each syllable appearing only once and kids learned the poem to learn the syllables.

For kanji, there is no order other than stroke order, learning the base radicals, and then the kanji that use them. When searching in modern kanji dictionaries, you can thus search by radical, by total stroke count, by Chinese/Japanese pronunciations (on/kun-yomi), as well as the numerous indexing systems that have cropped up through the years. Considering there are about 6000 in total circulation in Japanese literature, with about 2000 of those being used as "everyday" kanji, this makes sense.  

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Michael DePaula


Anything pertaining to daily conversation, music, historical/modern forms of Japanese-character writing, computer/IT-related vocabulary, and aquatic sciences.


14 years of Japanese study with about 10 of those years in Japan.

Global Underwater Explorers, Okinawa Underwater Explorers, Okinawa Freethought Society

Degree in Music Performance, University of Southern California. 10+ years working the IT/computer programming world. 8 years of amateur translation assistance. 8 years in marine conservation/technical dive exploration in Japan.

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