The role of furigana in Japanese script for second language learners of Japanese

Kirwan, Leigh John. (2003). The role of furigana in Japanese script for second language learners of Japanese PhD Thesis, School of English, Media Studies and Art History, The University of Queensland.

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Author Kirwan, Leigh John.
Thesis Title The role of furigana in Japanese script for second language learners of Japanese
School, Centre or Institute School of English, Media Studies and Art History
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 2003
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Open Access Status Other
Supervisor Harrington, Michael
Sussex, Roland
Levy, Mike
Total pages 498
Collection year 2003
Language eng
Subjects L
2003 Language Studies
200312 Japanese Language
Formatted abstract
One the greatest challenges facing learners of Japanese as a second language (JSL) is mastery of the complex writing system. Functional proficiency in written Japanese requires the learner to develop facility in the use of two basic syllabic scripts, hiragana and katakana, as well as in kanji, the ideographic characters that number in the thousands. For learners from alphabetic languages and their teachers, kanji often presents an insurmountable obstacle to the attainment of even rudimentary levels of literacy in Japanese, and is a source of great concern for JSL pedagogy.

This thesis examines the teaching of the JSL script at the tertiary level, with a specific focus on the use of furigana in classroom materials. Furigana are the small hiragana characters placed over kanji to provide the reading, and are typically used in Japanese newspapers and other texts with difficult or less common kanji. This thesis examines the use of furigana as a pedagogical device in JSL instruction, specifically as a solution to the dilemma ofproviding sufficient exposure to the number of kanji required for fluent reading. If furigana is presented as a matter ofcourse with otherwise authentic materials, then even beginning learners can be exposed to kanji at the earliest stages of instruction. The use of furigana has received little attention in the JSL research literature, and the present study represents one of the first attempts to systematically assess its role in JSL instruction. The overriding question I attempt to answer is whether teachers of JSL should be using furigana in texts in the classroom. Script familiarity is perhaps the most crucial element for developing good reading skills and exposure to kanji over a long period of time is required if fluency is to be achieved. Widespread use of furigana may be the only practical way to provide this exposure.

The thesis consists of eight chapters. Chapter One provides an introduction to the thesis and an overview of the studies and findings. In Chapter Two I provide a short historical survey of the development of the Japanese writing system, culminating in the description of the various script types that are used in modem Japanese. A typology of script presentation in JSL teaching materials in presented in Chapter Three with a discussion of the different script types used in the past and present. The chapter concludes with a discussion of the role of furigana in JSL texts. Chapter Four shifts focus from the script to the learner. Key issues in the teaching and learning of written Japanese are identified, with a particular emphasis on the importance of kanji and the role that furigana might play in the development of kanji knowledge.

A set of four studies that investigate the role offurigana in incidental kanji learning for beginning and advanced JSL learners is reported in Chapters Five (Description and methodology) and Six (Results). Evidence was found that the presence of furigana did have a small facilitative effect for beginning learners, who were able to recognise higher frequency kanji from the text in a post-test. In contrast, the more advanced learners seemed to be slightly inhibited by the systematic use of furigana, although there was an interaction between the presence of furigana and whether the learner had prior knowledge of kanji meaning. A potentially important result that emerged is that Chinese JSL learners may benefit more from the systematic use of furigana than those from alphabet-based languages.

In addition to quantitative findings, qualitative evidence in the form of a survey of learners' perceptions of furigana use is reported in Chapter Seven. Intermediate and advanced learners differed greatly as to their preferences for furigana. There was no evidence that the learners who indicated a preference for furigana were poorer performers. Furigana did not appear to be a "crutch" for the learners in the study. Finally, in Chapter Eight I summarise the findings and consider the implications for JSL material development and instruction.

While it is clear that there is no simple answer to the question of the efficacy of furigana, due to widely varying learning styles of students, an analogy can be made comparing furigana and the learning wheels on a child's bicycle. In early stages of learning, they are generally of assistance to the learner, but become an impediment at more advanced stages.
Keyword Japanese language -- Writing
Japanese language -- Study and teaching

Document type: Thesis
Collection: UQ Theses (RHD) - Open Access
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Created: Fri, 24 Aug 2007, 18:14:34 EST