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OKADA, Kazuhiro

[Term of ILCAA] from 2015.09 to 2017.09

Research Associate, Ph.D.

Research Institute for Languages and Cultures of Asia and Africa,
Tokyo University of Foreign Studies
3-11-1 Asahi-cho, Fuchu-shi,
Tokyo, 183-8534, Japan

Email: k-okada[at]

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Research interests: History of the Japanese language, History of writing systems

How did people use hiragana in the Premodern period?

I describe myself as a linguist who studies the history of hiragana, a Japanese script used to write Japanese morae. It has been a major means of expression for a thousand years, when it developed from the mere borrowing of a neighbouring script, namely that of Chinese. In spite of its popularity today, its history is far from clear: we know so little, in fact, that it is impossible to actually estimate how much we do not know. Before the standardization of the script, it is said that hiragana’s graphemic inventory comprised more than a hundred characters (not to confused with the moraic inventory, which is close to the contemporary one), compared with 47 today. Simple questions arise from this, such as how large was the number of hiragana employed, and in what manner were those graphemes organized? These questions lead to more ambitious comparisons with other world scripts, in light of both linguistics and writing systems, the latter of which is my particular interest.

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