Knowing how a Japanese word is usually written

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Jinx
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Knowing how a Japanese word is usually written

Postby Jinx » Thu May 13, 2021 1:19 pm

Hi all, it's me back with another silly beginner question about Japanese. I'm really rather embarrassed about this one, but my Google-Fu is failing me.

My question is this: what's the most reliable way to know how a word/phrase is normally written – specifically whether it uses kanji, is normally written in hiragana alone, is written in katakana, etc.?

Let's take a simple example, the word that appears in my old-fashioned Cortina textbook as "arigatou". I'm wondering, does this word involve kanji or not?

My favorite online dictionary I've found so far is Jisho. (Alternative recommendations welcome.) But when I search for "arigatou" there, I see this rather confusing sight:
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On the left, it clearly shows the term written using two kanji (plus two hiragana). However, in the dictionary entry itself, it says "usually written using kana alone". Then, under "Other forms", I see three more options, one of which is listed as "irregular". How do I know which of these is standard?

So far I've been double-checking myself by going to Google Translate EN>JP, typing e.g. "thanks" into the source, and checking what the Japanese output says. In this case, it uses nothing but hiragana:
Screen Shot 2021-05-13 at 3.12.19 PM.png
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So, can I assume that it's normally written with only hiragana?
It feels frustratingly awkward to have to go through this rather persnickety process involving two separate websites to figure out something that ought to be so simple.

Obviously this is just a single example, and my real question is a much more general one: what's the best online source for reliably telling me the standard way of writing any phrase or word or Japanese?
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Re: Knowing how a Japanese word is usually written

Postby lichtrausch » Thu May 13, 2021 2:08 pm

One way is to type the word out in Google search in hiragana and see what search results Google suggests.
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Re: Knowing how a Japanese word is usually written

Postby alaart » Thu May 13, 2021 3:31 pm

Jinx wrote:[...]
So, can I assume that it's normally written with only hiragana?
It feels frustratingly awkward to have to go through this rather persnickety process involving two separate websites to figure out something that ought to be so simple.

Obviously this is just a single example, and my real question is a much more general one: what's the best online source for reliably telling me the standard way of writing any phrase or word or Japanese?


Simple answer:
If Jisho has the suffix "Usually written using kana alone" it is written in Kana (mostly Hiragana, but for example Animal and Plants that have rare Kanji are often written in Katakana).

And yes, Jisho is a good reliable online source for this. Since you asked for an alternative dictionary and your profile states that you speak advanced German. I am also using wadoku - a German-Japanese dictionaries. I mainly use Jisho though, wadoku just supplementary.

---

More details:
So what does "usually" mean? Why are there alternative spellings? Simple put there is more than one correct way to write some words in Japanese. And while these ways are not common they can be used. Depending on the context, text form (poem, novel etc.) and personal preferences, historic age, region... etc. the Kanji writings appear from time to time. Some words have several possible Kanji combinations and so on.

You don't really need to worry about it. Just use the standard way (not one of the alternative variations) and use Kana if it is commonly written in Kana. Then as time goes on you will sometimes discover that some people write the word differently sometimes.
It could be for aesthetic reasons because the Kanji also have individual meanings. Or to save space (in a Manga), or whatever the writer was thinking.
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Re: Knowing how a Japanese word is usually written

Postby Jinx » Thu May 13, 2021 4:19 pm

Thanks so much for your help, lichtrausch and alaart!

alaart wrote:If Jisho has the suffix "Usually written using kana alone" it is written in Kana (mostly Hiragana, but for example Animal and Plants that have rare Kanji are often written in Katakana).

So in this case, the correct way to write it would be the middle option under "Other forms", the one in dark brackets? It seems to be the correct one. But if so, I wonder why that's not the option given on the left side of the results screen – where the "main" translation seems to be shown. I am mostly just confused by Jisho's layout, I guess :(

I suppose I can keep using Jisho and also do the Google search trick to confirm spelling when I'm not sure, but I do wish there were some online dictionary where the most common form is always shown first / most clearly. It seems like it would be the obvious layout choice!
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Re: Knowing how a Japanese word is usually written

Postby alaart » Thu May 13, 2021 11:48 pm

No the brackets just show the reading of the Kanji in front of it.

Jisho does give the Kanji on the left even for words where they are not common. I guess the design choice is that, if you want the Kana they are written as Furigana on top of the Kanji, so it is just a way of displaying more information quicker.
So you must always look for the "Usually written in Kana alone" notation , and then you can just write in Kana (you can read it with the Kana that is written above the Kanji).

Here for example is なる (to become):
There is actually 2 naru (actually more but I know two):
成る - to become
鳴る - to sound

By having the words listed by their Kanji, you can quicker see which is which.

Also if we look at the details in 成る, there is the suffix - "written in Kana alone", so it is written なる usually instead of 成る (but sometimes you will see 成る too), and there is an alternative Kanji writing: 為る.
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Re: Knowing how a Japanese word is usually written

Postby Jinx » Fri May 14, 2021 10:11 am

alaart wrote:No the brackets just show the reading of the Kanji in front of it.

Jisho does give the Kanji on the left even for words where they are not common. I guess the design choice is that, if you want the Kana they are written as Furigana on top of the Kanji, so it is just a way of displaying more information quicker.
So you must always look for the "Usually written in Kana alone" notation , and then you can just write in Kana (you can read it with the Kana that is written above the Kanji).

Here for example is なる (to become):
There is actually 2 naru (actually more but I know two):
成る - to become
鳴る - to sound

By having the words listed by their Kanji, you can quicker see which is which.

Also if we look at the details in 成る, there is the suffix - "written in Kana alone", so it is written なる usually instead of 成る (but sometimes you will see 成る too), and there is an alternative Kanji writing: 為る.
Ahh okay, this all helps me a lot. Thank you so much for taking the time to help me wrap my mind around it, alaart! :)
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Re: Knowing how a Japanese word is usually written

Postby 白田龍 » Fri May 14, 2021 11:01 am

Words usually written in kana are marked (uk) in Edict,

ミズダコ 《水蛸; 水章魚》 【みずだこ】 (n) (uk) giant Pacific octopus (Enteroctopus dofleini); North Pacific giant octopus

spellings that are common are marked with (P):

泉水(P); 前水 【せんすい】 (n) (1) garden pond; miniature lake; (n) (2) fountain; (P)


Thus 泉水 is a common spelling but not 前水.

http://nihongo.monash.edu/cgi-bin/wwwjdic?1C
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Re: Knowing how a Japanese word is usually written

Postby devilyoudont » Sun May 16, 2021 8:09 pm

Just to make it clear if it's not clear, Jisho definitions overwhelmingly come from Edict, so there is no reason to check both.
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Re: Knowing how a Japanese word is usually written

Postby ilmari » Mon May 17, 2021 10:14 am

A very interesting podcast (and book) on this very topic:
https://newbooksnetwork.com/scripting-japan
Imagine this book was written in Comic Sans. Would this choice impact your image of me as an author, despite causing no literal change to the content within? Generally, discussions of how language variants influence interpretation of language acts/users have focused on variation in speech. But it is important to remember that specific ways of representing a language are also often perceived as linked to specific social actors. Nowhere is this fact more relevant than in written Japanese, where a complex history has created a situation where authors can represent any sentence element in three distinct scripts.
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