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I was trying to explain to someone why spelling & reading in Japanese (at least with kana) is easy because the name of the letter is its pronuncation. (Yes, I realize kana are not strictly "letters", but for the sake of brevity...)

Kana Name Pronunciation
"tah" "tah"
"mee" "mee"
etc.

So if you can see a word or sentence (particles aside), you know exactly how to pronounce it. Conversely, if you can hear/say a word, you know exactly how to spell it.

However, English and many other languages are not like this. The letter's name is completely different than how you'd say it.

Letter Name Pronunciation
A "ay" "ah", "ah", "a(nt)"
B "bee" "b-"
C "see" "k-", "s-"
etc.

Is there some linguistic term (in Japanese, or any language) around this name/pronunciation relationship? And if so, are there terms that encompass the sameness of Japanese relationship, and the difference of English one?

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  • This question seems better suited for the Linguistics SE.
    – Leebo
    Oct 2, 2023 at 21:57
  • I didn't realize they were the names of the characters. I've thought we are just reading them.
    – aguijonazo
    Oct 3, 2023 at 1:00
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    @aguijonazo Although you maybe have actual names for some of them, like 「そくおん」 or 「ちいさいつ」 for 「 っ 」...
    – Arfrever
    Oct 3, 2023 at 1:10
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    I think this is a natural consequence from the difference between alphabetic scripts (with distinct letters for each vowel and consonant) and syllabic scripts (with distinct letters for each consonant-vowel combination). It would be difficult to spell out "strength" without using the distinct names of each character, but Japanese has no such problem (well, basically... we do need "ちいさいつ" and so on sometimes).
    – naruto
    Oct 3, 2023 at 1:19
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    @EiríkrÚtlendi - Those characters are referred to by their readings when necessary. If you call them names, I guess they are. I'm just saying I've never seen it that way.
    – aguijonazo
    Oct 3, 2023 at 1:37

1 Answer 1

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In linguistics, the consistency of pronunciation for each letter or character in a language like Japanese Katakana or Hindi is referred to as "phonemic orthography." This term describes a writing system where each symbol (or letter) consistently represents the same sound (or phoneme). In languages with phonemic orthography, there's a direct and consistent correspondence between the written symbols and their pronunciation, which makes it easier to predict how a word is pronounced based on its spelling.

In contrast, languages like English, which have a high degree of variation in how letters are pronounced in different contexts, are said to have a "deep orthography." This means there's a complex relationship between spelling and pronunciation, with many exceptions and irregularities.

Thus, the key term here is "phonemic orthography," describing the straightforward, predictable relationship between spelling and pronunciation in languages like Japanese (when written in Katakana) and Hindi.

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