Japanese: The Written Language

Tofugu did a mini review on Japanese: The Spoken Language a few years ago.

A companion book exists called “Japanese: The Written Language”. Has anyone used this before? What is your opinion on it?

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When I first took a Japanese class at a community college in 1996, we used the Harz Jorden books. I still have my “Spoken Language” textbook (red cover), but I can’t seem to find the “Written Language” book.

I specifically had the one called the “Field Test Edition”. This is it.

The green colored edition came out well after I took the class, so I can’t comment on that edition.

Of the books we used (field test editions) one book was dedicated to learning and writing katakana, the other one was for learning hiragana and I think another was for learning how to write 100 kanji. That was pretty much it. I’m trying to remember if there were any Workbook type exercises, but I honestly can’t remember. I’m sure I have my notes stashed in a box somewhere.

These days, with all this information freely accessible on the internet, I would not see any reason to by these books.

As may have read, “The Spoken Language” is written all in romaji. I suppose that made it immediately accessible to us beginners, but I go blind trying to read it these days.

However, notice the pitch accent markings. That’s probably the best about this book.

These books were first written in the late ‘80s, so I imagine they are terribly dated. There might be quite a few useful nuggets of information that you can’t get anywhere else, but with so many other choices I would think the money could be better spend elsewhere.

My 二円


More specifically, their own version of romaji, which just makes me shrivel up (even if the mere mention of the book wasn’t already giving me Durtle Heaven flashbacks. eGoooott.)


I took a brief look through it (the field test version) and I thought it was interesting how it introduced the kana, how they were pronounced, and the history behind them. I know most of the stuff from my own research online, but I think it’s a nice gathering of information.

As for the romaji… I feel like it can help clear up a few things but at the same time makes other things more confusing than if they were just in kana.

Their own version? It likes like nihon-siki to me

Wouldn’t きょう be kyô in nihonshiki, rather than kyoo?

It can be written either way, so long as it’s clearly long. :slight_smile:

Where do you see that? In the Wikipedia article for Nihon-shiki it says “Long vowels are indicated by a circumflex accent: long o is written ô, unlike Hepburn, which uses a macron.” I don’t see something about other options for long vowels.

There’s other differences too, but I don’t recall off the top of my head what they are, and I can’t spot any of them on this page.

It’s under the history header and how we used it in my Japanese Linguistics classes

Nihon-shiki is considered the most regular of the romanization systems for the Japanese language because it maintains a strict “one kana, two letters” form. Because it has unique forms corresponding to each of the respective pairs of kana homophones listed above, it is the only formal system of romanization that can allow (almost) lossless (“round trip”) mapping, but the standard does not mandate the precise spellings needed to distinguish ô 王/おう, ou 追う/おう and oo 大/おお. (See the hiragana article for more details.)

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Honestly, the “Harz Jorden” romaji is very logical. Indeed it’s based off of Nihon Shiki so it’s designed to have a regular conversion to kana.

ti ち
tu つ
si し
sya しゃ

Particles differ from Nihon-shiki I think?
は → wa
を → o

Long vowels were always the problem though.

For example:

ookii おおきい vs. oo おう (as in 王)
ee ええ vs. kiree きれい

It really is atrocious to look at :expressionless:


Ooo yeah, the particles are different

Are you reading the “does not mandate” as “doesn’t require but allows”? That’s not how I read it, when I looked at the article. I read it as “it does not mandate these (it mandates something else, the note I mentioned appearing lower in the article)”. The article really could use more examples and clearer explanations in any case. Are you saying you picked and chose how to represent long vowels as the rules of Nihon-shiki? I mean, as long as people know what they are allowed to do, I don’t have strong preferences for any romanization system.


We weren’t picking so much in my classes, since knowing Japanese wasn’t a prereq. When given a data set, we could expect it to be in a number of forms (although my profs definitely had preferences), but if we were looking at stuff from the last decade, 20 years ago, and 50 years, there might be different transcripts from text to text or different data sets. We were expected to be able to read and copy the style of the data we were given when relevant.

Data set from class


I can’t find more sadly, but I know we read the data sets of the guy who marked the trends of the manyoushuu in words. I want to say he figured it out in the fifties, but I can’t find him sited anywhere. I just remember that we spent at least 2-3 classes on it and that computers would not have been used to help him order all that data. It’s also part of how we know that it more than 50 sounds.


I tried to look up the exact number because I didn’t think it was 100, and finally found mention of it on Wikipedia, but it seems more recent citations are preferred because the frequency citation is from 2020, but I know that list existed way before 2020 and there’s no way we used a list that didn’t exist yet in my class that took place before the 20s.

I see there’s a Miller from the 60s under vowels. We might have looked at his data, but I can’t say so with any certainty.