日本語 Musa for Japanese
日本語のためのムサ


This page discusses how to write Japanese in Musa. If you'd like to know why we should write Japanese in Musa, please visit this page.

We normally write Japanese in a kana font: each mora of one consonant and one vowel is written as a single Musakana. Musakana can replace hiragana, katakana, or even rōmaji with no problems, and with several advantages. Like Hebon-shiki, Musakana usually spells some of the changes in pronunciation of certain kana, for example, si is spelled shi and ti is spelled chi. Also like rōmaji, Musakana writes spaces between words, which makes them easier to recognize.

But as we'll discuss below, Musakana can also spell a more careful pronunciation, sometimes more than native speakers are even aware of. For example, in Musakana we can indicate the pitch accent, and we can spell unvoiced vowels like in suki or desu. We can spell the particle ga with an ng sound, and we can spell the sokuon and the hatsuon as they are pronounced. However, if you don't take advantage of these capabilities, your Musakana will still be understood without problems, just as kana is now.

We can write Japanese in Musakana alone, but we can also write it with Tomokanji. Tomokanji are kanji written before the Musakana to help show the meaning. The result is like furigana or kumimoji combined with okurigana: first we write the kanji, then we write the entire word in Musakana. Since we already have to spell the kanji out in kana or rōmaji anyway, it's no more work, and it has two big advantages: the reader doesn't have to figure out which reading you mean, and if you don't need the kanji, you don't have to include it.

For example, now we write 行きます: the kanji spells the i sound, and the rest is okurigana. But with Tomokanji, we write

行
.
The Tomokanji shows the meaning "go", and the Musakana shows the correct reading of kanji and okurigana together. The Musakana in this example also shows that the phrase has odaka accent, and that the final u is unvoiced. And if the meaning is obvious - if you can't be misunderstood as meaning 生きます - you don't even have to include the kanji.

On this page, first we're going to talk about Musakana, and then we'll come back to Tomokanji.


The hiragana and katakana have no relationship to their sounds. For example, adds one stroke to , and and each add another stroke, but these sounds have no relationship to each other. Hiragana looks like katakana , but it's just coincidence.

That's not how Musakana works! Each Musakana is composed of a consonant and a vowel, perhaps with a yo-on in between. All the Musakana with the same consonant share the same consonant shape, and all the Musakana with the same vowel share the same vowel shape. But since they connect differently, it's still easy to recognize each Musakana.

The consonants and vowels of which Musakana are composed are called 文字 moji. Here are all the moji you need to write standard Japanese, plus those (on yellow) we use to spell out precise pronunciations - the allophones. The green ones are the respellings you're used to, for example from Hebon-shiki.

i e a o u
(i) chōon & sokuon hatsuon (u)
m n ny ng
b d dz dj g
p t ts ch k
f ç s sh h
v z jh [ʒ] gh
r l ry
y yōon w second vowelinitial vowel

So for example, let's look at the kana with s:

ひらがなしゃしゅしょ
カタカナシャシュショ
Hepburnsashisusesoshashushoss


As you can see, they all share the same basic S shape, but the orientation and the vowel shape make them easily recognized.

There are a few basic spelling rules:

Allophones

Now let's talk about each of the colored boxes above.

 
The r sound is pronounced many different ways, sometimes even by the same person. Most people pronounce it a little differently at the beginning of a word, usually like English l: Musa writes that as . Before i and y, it sounds a little like ry: Musa writes that as . The exact sounds are quite varied, so you can write it as you pronounce it.


We write long vowels with a vertical line called the Long mark , which works just like the katakana ー chōonpu. It's not always obvious whether a double vowel should be spelled as a long vowel or two mora: sometimes ou or ei spell a long vowel, and sometimes double vowels spell two separate vowels:

先生sensei
砂糖屋satōya
里親satooya

   
Everybody can hear that the vowel i and the medial y "pull" many sounds back in your mouth: ti si zi become chi shi jhi, and if English had letters for palatal hi and ni, then we'd spell them differently, too. In Musa, we write all five consonants with different letters before i or y.

 
A similar thing happens to hu and tu: they become fu and tsu. Unlike the English f, the Japanese f is pronounced with both lips.


Musa never writes two vowels consecutively, and Musakana never writes vowels alone. When we write a word like 青い aoi, we separate each vowel with a vertical line called the Break , which spells what linguists call a hiatus. We don't need a Break at the beginning of a word, but there we write the vowel with a different letter, called the Catch , which spells the glottal stop, because that's how we pronounce a vowel at the beginning of a word.

青いaoi

 
Normally, du di dy- become "hard" dzu dji djy-. But in many dialects, "soft" zu jhi jy- are hardened to dzu dji djy- at the beginning of a word, and "hard" dzu dji djy- are softened to zu jhi jy- between vowels, obscuring the distinction. Write them as you say them.


Most Japanese people also pronounce the sound g as ng everywhere except at the beginning of a word, and that's how Musa writes it. The particle が ga is always spelled nga.

 
But in some dialects, or some cases, instead of pronouncing g as ng between vowels, people pronounce g as a "weak" gh, especially when talking fast. They may also pronounce b as a "weak" bh in the same situations. If that's what you do, we have the letters for you.

    
In rōmaji, the ん ン hatsuon looks like a single letter, but in kana, we can see that it's a full mora, the same as the other kana, and that's how we write it in Musa. The vowel is always the nasal vowel , but the consonant matches the consonant after it:

       
The っ ッ sokuon works the same way: it's written as a full mora, not just a single letter. The vowel is always the long mark , but the consonant matches the consonant after it:

 
Japanese people don't normally notice it, but the vowels i and u usually become voiceless - whispered - between voiceless consonants or after a voiceless consonant at the end of the phrase, unless they're accented. We write them with a level accent above the vowel:

すきsuki
でしたdeshita

This is a level of spelling which is closer to speech than the current Japanese writing, so it takes some getting used to. But it's easier for children to learn - they write what they hear.

Accent

Japanese is a pitch accent language: the individual mora of a phrase vary in pitch, and the pitch pattern distinguishes words with different meanings. Tokyo Japanese has four different pitch patterns; other dialects have different patterns. Musa uses a binary pitch analysis, but only needs a downstep mark to recognize the accent.

In most words, one mora is followed by a pitch drop, or downstep: the next mora has a noticeably lower pitch.

Pitch is a property of mora, not syllables, so it may happen that the second mora of a syllable - a chōon, a hatsuon, or a sokuon - is a different height. That's not a problem.

atamadaka odaka heiban
箸に 橋に 端に
háshini hashíni hashiní
  
to the chopsticks to the bridge to the edge

Kana

Here is a handy table of all the kana you'll need to write standard Japanese:

Kana Table

Sample

Now that you've learned Musakana, why don't you try reading a sentence or two?


犬も歩けば棒に当たる


石の上にも三年


笑う門には福来る

Transliterator

To help you write Japanese in Musakana, we offer you a Transliterator that understands hiragana, katakana, kunrei-shiki, hebon-shiki, and of course Musa, but not yet kanji.

Transliterator

Tomokanji

Now that you know how to write the sounds of Japanese in Musakana, let's talk about Tomokanji. On the previous page, we discussed the why of Tomokanji - this section will discuss the how.

When we type Japanese on a computer or cell phone, there are two ways to enter kanji. Some methods let us describe how the kanji looks: for example, by component. There are also some Chinese methods for typing characters: cangjie and wubi, but they are not widely used in Japan (or in China). Instead, we almost always enter the sounds, and then choose the kanji we want from the available suggestions. The smarter the software is, the better are the suggestions, and the typing goes faster.

But once we have the kanji we want, the keyboard throws away the sound we used to type it, and we continue typing in kana or rōmaji. That's too bad, because the reader is going to need it! In Chinese, with few exceptions, every character has only one reading. But in Japanese, most kanji have at least several readings, sometimes many more.

So with Tomokanji, we save the sounds we typed and write them in Musakana after the kanji, at normal size. Here's the first sentence you saw above, written with Tomokanji:

犬歩棒当

Tomokana

There is one more trick to display Japanese in Musa: using Tomokana. Tomokana is like furigana - it's small hiragana above the Musakana (not above the kanji) so you can read it even if you're still learning Musakana. To use Tomokana, just download the Tomokana Musa Ruby font.

Here's the same sentence you saw above, written in Musakana with Tomokanji and Tomokana:

犬歩棒当

Other Fonts

In both Japanese and English, we use underlining, italic, and boldface to accent our text, and all of those work fine in Musa, too. But in Japanese, we also have the option to write something in katakana, which is a little like CAPITAL LETTERS in the Roman alphabet: it's a completely equivalent way to write things that are normally written in hiragana or kanji, and thus it marks the text as special. For example, we write foreign words in katakana, and we also write Japanese words like ラーメン or レモン when the kanji are too onerous.

In Musa, we use different fonts to highlight odd words in similar situations. As you can read on the Gaits page, Musa letters can be written in several different gaits to match the sounds of each language, and the gait is determined by the font. For example, Kana gait fonts like Yasuhiro Musa Kana show how a consonant and a vowel join to form one mora - perfect for Japanese. But for English words, or gairaigo words like レモン, you could write them in Alphabet gait instead, the gait that Musa uses for English. Korean is also written in Alphabet gait, but Chinese names might be written in Fangzi gait, and so on. Not only does this make them look better - and look like they do in their own language - but it usually spells the sounds better than breaking them up into mora (as we now do with gairaigo). You can read more about how to write foreign words and names here. But all these gaits are written with the same Musa letters, standing for the same sounds, so you can still read them.

Extended Katakana

In addition to the gojūon of kana used to write standard Japanese, there are official and semi-official combinations of katakana used to transcribe common foreign sounds. You can see many of them in this table:

Extended Kana Table

Other Languages of Japan

The kana above are also enough to write the other languages of Japan: Ainu and some of the Ryukyuan languages - at least Okinawan. However, they sometimes need to be complemented with individual moji, for example for a final consonant or offglide in Ainu. The Ryukyuan u is rounded, unlike the Japanese u, and so we write it with instead of .

Musa also enables you to write the non-standard dialects of mainland Japanese, by spelling the pitch and the yotsugana as you pronounce them. With Musa, you write your language the way it sounds to you.


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