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The Hiragana Graphemes in Authorised Elementary School Reading Books of the Meiji Period

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  • 明治検定期読本における平仮名字体
  • メイジ ケンテイキ トクホン ニ オケル ヒラガナ ジタイ

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Abstract

1886 saw the Ministry of Education introduce a novel policy for elementary school reading books, in order to give a more sophisticated introduction to the hiragana graphemes. This was to divide the introduction into two stages: first, irohagana, a hiragana grapheme set particular to the Iroha-uta copybook, was to be learnt, and other graphemes would be introduced later. Within a few years, reading books produced by private sectors came to follow the same order. This previously unnoticed policy became clear through a closer inspection of the hiragana graphemes in reading books around that year. The two-stage introduction first appeared in ministry's reference reading books, Introduction to Reading and Writing (1 vol., 1886, Yomikaki Nyumon) and Reading Books for Ordinary Elementary School (7 vols., 1887, Jinjo Shogaku Tokuhon). It is clear that not all private sectors spontaneously enacted the phased introduction, as shown by the fact that even after 1886, some reading books contained no stages and consequently some received adverse comments in an authorisation review, which took effect in 1886. The fact that these comments were never reflected in updates to the textbooks shows why it took some years before the policy was fully adopted: the lack of support for substantive enactments and the passive direction of the authorisation reviews made it difficult to enforce. Ultimately, however, the success of the policy lead to the 1900 hiragana grapheme reformation, making it the beginning of a fourteen year-long process of standardising the hiragana graphemes.

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