not quite friday anymore, and not a haiku

A little while ago, I was looking for sentences for my RTK2 deck, and while attempting to find something for the character 伊 I stumbled across something that is, I suppose, near universal knowledge in Japan, but which I’d never heard of before – namely, the 伊呂波 「いろは」.

This Heian-era work is, to the best of my knowledge, the only poem that has ever become an alphabet.  It achieved this feat by containing within its seven lines every kana that was used at the time, once and only once.  It was originally written using the old system of using kanji to represent sounds only (a closely related practice survives to this day, known as ateji), and looked like this:


For which the kana were:


Note the use of the archaic kana ゐ (wi) and ゑ (we).

The 伊呂波 was used as the ordering of the kana up until the Meiji reforms, when the modern system we are all familiar with was adopted.  Even to this day, some uses survive; interestingly, considering its origin as a poem, the notes of the musical scale and the files of the Go board are named according to the beginning of the 伊呂波.  As well, it is used as a sort of idiom corresponding to the English “ABCs” – indicating the fundamental set of knowledge in a given subject.

In English, it means something like:

Although its scent still lingers on

the form of a flower has scattered away

For whom will the glory

of this world remain unchanged?

Arriving today at the yonder side

of the deep mountains of evanescent existence

We shall never allow ourselves to drift away

intoxicated, in the world of shallow dreams.

translation: Ryuichi Abe

There’s quite a lot more information at the wikipedia article, if you want to dig further.

Comments Off on not quite friday anymore, and not a haiku Posted in haiku friday, Trivia

core2k kanji stats

I was curious about kanji stats for the core 2000 anki deck I made, so I fiddled with the tags and model names and so forth until JxPlugin deigned to give me some numbers.  This includes kanji in all sentences, not just vocabulary words, although I think those two figures should be the same.  So a bit over half the jouyou kanji are present in these sentences.

core 2000 kanji stats

Comments Off on core2k kanji stats Posted in kanji, Trivia

katakana :(

Some people claim that katakana are harder than kanji.  They have a point.  The trouble with katakana is that since they’re only used for loan words, you end up not seeing them very much in the course of study.  And since they don’t have a meaning, there’s no “hook” to remember them by.  Picture a case where every English word that was borrowed from a foreign word – like ennui or schadenfreude* – was written in a completely different alphabet.  Might be a little hard to recall letters like z and q, no?

There’s an English sentence – “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog” – that uses every letter in the alphabet in a single sentence.  Someone much cleverer than myself needs to make something like this for katakana.

*I coulda picked more pleasant examples I guess?