Help with ビー玉

Hi, i just met this word:
ビー玉 Marble
In pronunciation section it is spelled out in kana this way:
ビーだま
びーだま
Could you explain to me why isn’t the hiragana version as follows:
びいだま ?

I know it is usually written in katakana, but i wonder whether ー can be used in hiragana the same way it is used in katakana, or how should i understand this?

Thanks in advance.

2 Likes

Isn’t it because the system is tolerant by accepting hiragana instead of katakana, and not because it’s a valid version of the word? That’s my guess.

4 Likes

That’s what I thought, too, but if you a do a websearch you can find both used. I guess it’s just a stylization thing. But generally you don’t really see ー used in hiragana; books, articles etc.

1 Like

I’m still a beginner, so take this with a grain of salt, but if I understood correctly, this is a word made of two different words: 玉, as we know, is a Japanese word meaning “ball”, whereas ビー is a shortened version of ビードロ, which is the katakana version of the Portuguese word “vidro” meaning “glass” (can confirm this, native Portuguese speaker here :slightly_smiling_face:).

Though I can’t read and understand all of it, all of this is explained in the Japanese entry for ビー玉 on Wikipedia (in the second collapsible section of the entry).

12 Likes

Since the word starts with ビー, not ビイ, pronunciation on Wanikani expressed in hiragana must be びー, not びい.

2 Likes

Sounds like a loan word so you need to input it in as such, accept it, move on. (loan words, ie foreign words are translated into weird katana-rized versions of Japanese, so don’t worry about it too much).

1 Like

As a ‘to sum up’ suggestion, I would say this, then:

  • ビー玉 is the only correct ‘spelling’, considering the word’s origin as a loan word. ビイ玉, for example would be incorrect, as would びい玉, or even びー玉 (since the び should not be used for a foreign loan word).
    • Concretely, if you search Jisho.org for romaji ‘biidama’, it says:
      Sorry, couldn't find anything matching びいだま or biidama.
    • Whereas if you search for ‘bi-dama’, the first result is for ビー玉, as expected.
  • The text character we’re talking about here, namely ‘ー’, known variously as ‘long vowel mark’, ちょうおん, ‘chōonpu’, 長音符, etc., and uniquely coded in Unicode as U+30FC (or U+FF70 for the half-width version) is distinct from the text character ‘一’, which is the Kanji (i.e.translingual) character meaning ‘one’, and pronounced in Japanese typically as いち or ‘ichi’, and uniquely coded as U+4E00.
    • Technical note: The ‘Kangxi radical’ character ‘⼀’ is visually identical to the いち kanji, but has its own unique code U+2F00.
  • This ちょうおん character, ‘ー’, is (usually only used in katakana)​ according to Jisho.org. Unicode lists it as the KATAKANA-HIRAGANA PROLONGED SOUND MARK. So, it seems primarily to be associated with Katakana, rather than Hiragana, though the latter is not unheard of.

Thus,

  1. Even though, technically speaking, びいだま is pronounced identically to びーだま, the purpose of WaniKani isn’t so much to teach the proper ‘pronunciation’, as it is to teach the proper ‘reading’ (which then leads to the proper pronunciation).
  2. Since the proper ‘reading’ of ビー玉 would be ‘ビー’ + ‘だま’, it seems that the most likely explanation/justification is that び is allowed as an input for ビ because they map to the same sound, but い is not allowed for ー because い does not actually represent a ‘long vowel mark’.
    • い would map to イ, but イ is not the expected correct ‘reading’, as just mentioned.
  3. Whereas the ちょうおん character is technically allowed in Hiragana (just not usually used), and it does represent a ‘long vowel mark’.
  4. So, the only ‘logical’ (in computer/Unicode terms) input is the actual KATAKANA-HIRAGANA PROLONGED SOUND MARK, i.e. U+30FC, ‘ー’.
  5. Which, ironically, is input using the plain old ASCII ‘hyphen-minus’ character, i.e. U+002D, ‘-’. :face_with_raised_eyebrow:, which ironically suits the situation and also vaguely looks like ‘-’.

And heck, even if I got some technical detail wrong here, you can use this as a (rather longish) WaniKani-style ‘mnemonic’ to help you remember why you have to type ‘bi-dama’ rather than ‘biidama’. :grin:

6 Likes

ー pops up in hiragana all the time, especially in onomatopoeia.words like じーっ or どーん aren’t unusual and can both be hiragana and katakana.

applying rules to language and then claiming they’re unyielding is something i’d avoid.

This topic was automatically closed 365 days after the last reply. New replies are no longer allowed.