|c. 650 CE to Meiji era|
|Languages||Japanese and Okinawan|
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Man'yōgana (万葉仮名, Japanese pronunciation: [maɰ̃joꜜːɡana] or [maɰ̃joːɡana]) is an ancient writing system that uses Chinese characters to represent the Japanese language. It was the first known kana system to be developed as a means to represent the Japanese language phonetically. The date of the earliest usage of this type of kana is not clear, but it was in use since at least the mid-7th century. The name "man'yōgana" derives from the Man'yōshū, a Japanese poetry anthology from the Nara period written with man'yōgana.
Texts using the system also often use Chinese characters for their meaning, but man'yōgana refers to such characters only when used to represent a phonetic value. The values were derived from the contemporary Chinese pronunciation, but native Japanese readings of the character were also sometimes used. For example, 木 (whose character means 'tree') could represent either /mo/ (based on Middle Chinese [məwk]) or /ko/ or /kwi/ (meaning 'tree' in Old Japanese).
A possible oldest example of Man'yōgana is the iron Inariyama Sword that was excavated at the Inariyama Kofun in 1968. In 1978, X-ray analysis revealed a gold-inlaid inscription consisting of at least 115 Chinese characters and this text, written in Chinese, included Japanese personal names which were supposedly phonetically written. This sword is thought to have been made in the year 辛亥年 (471 A.D. in commonly accepted theory). There is a possibility that the inscription of the Inariyama sword may be written in a version of the Chinese language used in the Korean-peninsula kingdom of Baekje.
Man'yōgana uses kanji characters for their phonetic rather than semantic qualities—in other words, they are used for their sounds and not their meanings. There was no standard system for choice of kanji; different kanji could be used to represent the same sound, the choice being made on the whims of the writer. By the end of the 8th century, 970 kanji were in use to represent the 90 morae of Japanese. For example, the Man'yōshū poem 17/4025 was written as follows:
|Romanized||Shioji kara||tadakoe kureba||Hakuhi no umi||asanagi shitari||funekaji mogamo|
In the poem, the sounds mo (母, 毛) and shi (之, 思) are written with multiple, different characters. While all particles and most words are represented phonetically (e.g., 多太 tada, 安佐 asa), the words ji (路), umi (海) and funekaji (船梶) are rendered semantically.
In some cases, specific syllables in particular words are consistently represented by specific characters. This usage is known as Jōdai Tokushu Kanazukai. This usage has led historical linguists to conclude that certain disparate sounds in Old Japanese, consistently represented by differing sets of man'yōgana characters, may have merged since then.
In writing which utilizes man'yōgana, kanji are mapped to sounds in a number of different ways, some of which are straightforward and others which are less so.
|Morae||1 character, complete||1 character, partial|
|1||以 (い) 呂 (ろ) 波 (は)||安 (あ) 樂 (ら) 天 (て)|
|2||信 (しな) 覧 (らむ) 相 (さが)|
|Morae||1 character, complete||1 character, partial||2 characters||3 characters|
Due to the major differences between the Japanese language (which was polysyllabic) and the Chinese language (which was monosyllabic) from which kanji came, man'yōgana proved to be very cumbersome to read and write. As stated earlier, since kanji has two different sets of pronunciation, one based on Sino-Japanese pronunciation and the other on native Japanese pronunciation, it was difficult to determine whether a certain character was used to represent its pronunciation or its meaning, i.e., whether it was man'yōgana or actual kanji, or both. On top of that, Buddhist monks found recording oral teachings time-consuming, since every syllable would need to be written using an entire kanji.[unreliable source?]
To alleviate the confusion and to save time writing, kanji that were used as man'yōgana eventually gave rise to hiragana, including the now-obsolete hentaigana (変体仮名) alternatives, alongside a separate system that became katakana. Hiragana developed from man'yōgana written in the highly cursive sōsho (草書) style popularly used by women; meanwhile, katakana was developed by Buddhist monks as a form of shorthand, utilizing, in most cases, only fragments (for example, usually the first or last few strokes) of man'yōgana characters. In some cases, one man'yōgana character for a given syllable gave rise to a hentaigana that was simplified further to result in the current hiragana character, while a different man'yōgana character was the source for the current katakana equivalent. For example, the hiragana る (ru) is derived from the man'yōgana 留, whereas the katakana ル (ru) is derived from the man'yōgana 流. The multiple alternative hiragana forms for a single syllable were ultimately standardized in 1900, and the rejected variants are now known as hentaigana.
Man'yōgana continues to appear in some regional names of present-day Japan, especially in Kyūshū. A phenomenon similar to man'yōgana, called ateji (当て字), still occurs, where words (including loanwords) are spelled out using kanji for their phonetic value. Examples include 倶楽部 (kurabu, club), 仏蘭西 (Furansu, France), 阿弗利加 (Afurika, Africa) and 亜米利加 (Amerika, America).
- Idu script, Korean analogue
- Bjarke Frellesvig (29 July 2010). A History of the Japanese Language. Cambridge University Press. pp. 14–15. ISBN 978-1-139-48880-8.
- Peter T. Daniels (1996). The World's Writing Systems. Oxford University Press. p. 212. ISBN 978-0-19-507993-7.
- Seeley, Christopher (2000). A History of Writing in Japan. University of Hawaii. pp. 19–23. ISBN 9780824822170.
- Farris, William Wayne (1998). Sacred Texts and Buried Treasures: Issues in the Historical Archaeology of Ancient Japan. University of Hawaii Press. p. 99. ISBN 9780824820305.
The writing style of several other inscriptions also betrays Korean influence... Researchers discovered the longest inscription to date, the 115-character engraving on the Inariyama sword, in Saitama in the Kanto, seemingly far away from any Korean emigrés. The style that the author chose for the inscription, however, was highly popular in Paekche.
- Joshi & Aaron 2006, p. 483.
- Alex de Voogt; Joachim Friedrich Quack (9 December 2011). The Idea of Writing: Writing Across Borders. BRILL. pp. 170–171. ISBN 978-90-04-21545-0.
- "L335: Manyogana". www.imabi.net. Archived from the original on 2017-02-02. Retrieved 2016-02-17.
- "Learn Japanese with JapanesePod101.com". JapanesePod101. Retrieved 2016-02-17.
- Al Jahan, Nabeel (2017). "The Origin and Development of Hiragana and Katakana". Academia.edu: 8.
- Joshi, R. Malatesha; Aaron, P. G. (2006). Handbook Of Orthography And Literacy. Routledge. ISBN 978-0-8058-5467-1.
- Bentley, John R. (2001). "The origin of man'yōgana". Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies. 64 (1): 59–73. doi:10.1017/S0041977X01000040. JSTOR 3657541. S2CID 162540119.