Repetition character in Japanese

If you are not studying Japanese you will probably not be interested in reading this article.

It’s been a long time since I don’t write about the Japanese language. After many years studying the language I still learn new things every day. The other day I was curious to know more about the “々” character, it is a character that is usually learned at the beginning when learning Japanese, during the first lessons of the language; the character is used as a “repeater”.

For example, if you have a “色” character that is pronounced “iro” and you want to write the word “iro iro” that means “various”, instead of writing twice the character 色色 (iroiro) that looks a little ugly and difficult to read, what it’s done is to use the repetition character: “色々”(iroiro).

What I hadn’t asked myself up until now was the real “meaning” of this repetition character. I looked it up in a kanji dictionary to know more about its original meaning but it turns out that it’s not on the dictionary! Investigating more about it, it seems like it’s not considered a character of any of the three different Japanese alphabets and its considered a punctuation character and that’s why it’s not on dictionaries.

However, in the past, there was a kanji character that was used as a repeater, the character “同” was used, which literally means “the same”; it makes sense to use it as a repetition character! But the people, as they wrote the character very fast and carelessly, started to deform it and use less strokes to write it and thus the character became “仝”, and eventually it reached the current “々”, which is not a kanji anymore.

Evolution of the punctuation character “々” from the kanji “同”

同 -> 仝 -> 々

Note to beginners: when using the repetition character “々”, sometimes it causes rendaku (softening of the pronunciation of a consonant to facilitate the pronunciation of a word when speaking). For example 時々 is not “tokitoki” (try to pronounce it loud, it’s a little bit tiring, isn’t it?). There is rendaku and the second “t” becomes “d” yielding “tokidoki” (ときどき) which is much more “relaxed” than to pronounce “tokitoki”.

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