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TYJ Hiragana for h/b/p + vowels

This article is in the series Teach Yourself Japanese

2.6. Hiragana for h/b/p + vowels

h+ vowels:
ha[ ha ] ListenEnglish "h" + Japanese "a".
There is a single-kana postposition with this kana whose actual pronunciation is わ "wa". It will be explained in a later lesson.
hi[ çi ] Listen German "ch" in ich + Japanese "i".
The tongue position for this consonant is the same as that for English "y", but it is a voiceless consonant. Since the Japanese don't distinguish [çi] and [hi], you can pronounce it as English "h" + Japanese "i".
hu (fu)[ Φɯ ] Listen Japanese "φ" + Japanese "u", or English "h" + Japanese "u".
The lips position for Japanese "φ" is the same as that for English "w", but it is a voiceless consonant. Japanese people don't distinguish [Φɯ] and [hɯ]. Using English "f" is not recommended.
he[ he ] ListenEnglish "h" + Japanese "e".
There is a single-kana postposition with this kana whose actual pronunciation is え "e". It will be explained in a later lesson.
ho[ ho ] ListenEnglish "h" + Japanese "o".

b+ vowels:
ba[ ba ] ListenEnglish "b" + Japanese "a".
bi[ bi ] Listen English "b" + Japanese "i".
bu[ bɯ ] Listen English "b" + Japanese "u".
be[ be ] ListenEnglish "b" + Japanese "e".
bo[ bo ] ListenEnglish "b" + Japanese "o".

Even though these hiragana are combinations of hiragana for "h" + vowels and voiced sound marks, their consonants are not voiced "h". See the next group for corresponding voiceless hiragana.

p+ vowels:
pa[ pa ] ListenEnglish "p" + Japanese "a".
pi[ pi ] Listen English "p" + Japanese "i".
pu[ pɯ ] Listen English "p" + Japanese "u".
pe[ pe ] ListenEnglish "p" + Japanese "e".
po[ po ] ListenEnglish "p" + Japanese "o".

The circles at the right top of hiragana are used only for these hiragana. This mark is called a semi-voiced sound mark (はんだくてん "handakuten" in Japanese).

Thousands of years ago, syllables now represented by hiragana for "h" + vowels were pronounced as "p" + vowels. That's why those hiragana with voiced sound marks have the sound of "b". After the pronunciation of "p" shifted to "h", the semi-voiced sound mark was invented to stand for the sound of "p".

Hiragana examples:

Pitch:H L L
Romanization:hu bu ki
Meaning:snowstorm (noun)

Pitch:H L
Romanization:he bi
Meaning:snake (noun)

Pitch:L H
Romanization:ha ba
Meaning:width (noun)

Pitch:H L L
Romanization:ha na bi
Meaning:fireworks (noun)

Pitch:L H H
Romanization:bi bô
Meaning:beautiful face (noun)

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About author
My name is TAKASUGI Shinji. TAKASUGI is my family name, and Shinji is my given name; a family name is placed before a given name in Japan, as in other Asian nations. My family name is capitalized to avoid misunderstanding.

I have been living in Yokohama since I was born. Yokohama is the second largest city in Japan, which is just 30 kilometers away from the biggest city Tôkyô. It takes 30 minutes to go by train from home to Shibuya, which is the hottest town now in Tôkyô.

I work as a display engineer.

One of my hobbies is creating things with computers; creating programs, computer graphics and web pages is the thing I spent a lot of time doing. I am also interested in a wide range of sciences, and linguistics is my favorite. I like English and I like using it, but my focus is mainly on Japanese, which is my native language. I'm proud of knowing the language, and the difference between English and Japanese has been fascinating me. I have been thinking whether I can introduce it to people outside of Japan. My attempt of introducing Japanese with some Java applets has had more than 1 million visitors.


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