Sorry, I am actually posting this at midnight on Monday. Things are crazy here right now.
Last week, we finished the second column of the phonetic sound chart. That row contained the sounds ‘ka‘, ‘ki‘, ‘ku‘, ‘ke‘, ‘ko‘. (Remember that the vowel sounds are the same as the first column: ‘a‘, ‘i‘, ‘u‘, ‘e‘, ‘o‘.) Some folks might expect that it is time to move on to the next column (which contains ‘sa’, ‘shi’, ‘su’, ‘se’, ‘so’, by the way) but, the K column will make a reprise.
By adding an accent mark to the K column characters, they go through a sound change: the consonant changes to a ‘g’. For example, hiragana ‘ka’ (か) becomes ‘ga’ (が), and katakana ‘ka’ (カ) becomes ‘ga’ (ガ). There are two reasons for having these sound changes: first, to handle words with ‘g’ sounds; second, for euphony. Sometimes a word starting with ‘k’ is compounded with another word before it. Depending on the final sound of the first word, it may be easier to make the ‘g’ sound than the ‘k’ sound. I will try to include euphony examples in the posts for this column.
One more special case exists for today’s sound, ‘ga’, which is the lower case katakana ‘ke’. We used the sound ‘ga’ to connect many place names. In this case, it is usually written using a small katakana ‘ke’, ヶ. It looks just like a normal ‘ke’, ケ, but it is smaller. It is very amusing that the katakana character is used, since this is for Japanese names, which are normally written in hiragana. There is a historic reason for this, but I can’t recall it right now. I will have to post on it later.
First, some examples of place names using this character: Minami ga Oka (南ヶ丘) and Tuzumi ga Ura (鼓ヶ浦).
Next, some hiragana words using が. Gakushuu (がくしゅう) is ‘learning’ or ‘study’ – as in ‘field of study’ – and can be written in kanji as 学習. A simple euphony case for using ‘ga’ is when we refer to the third floor of a building. ‘Floor’ is ‘kai‘; and first and second floor are ‘ikkai‘ and ‘nikai‘ respectively, but third floor is usually pronounced ‘sangai‘.
Now, for katakana: ‘gaadoman‘ (ガードマン), means ‘guard’, ‘security guard’, or ‘watchman’. Usually, English words brought into Japanese are shortened for ease of use, but in this case it is lengthened: I don’t think a native speaker would often say, “guard man.” The reason for this is probably because ‘gaado‘ was already used for: ‘guard’ as in soccer or basketball; ‘gird’ as in ‘gird your loins’; and short for ‘girder bridge’ or ‘trestle’. Sometimes decisions have to be made to avoid overload.
My mind is foggy right now, but I’m pretty sure euphony use of katakana ‘ga’ is non-existent because it would render the foreign word unrecognizable. I will ruminate on this a bit over the next month and correct this if I find any cases.
Next week, on to ‘gi’…