Japanese Lesson 3 – Katakana (Japansese character set 2)

Katakana

In the previous page, I explained Hiragana.
And Japanese has more one character set “Katakana” for each syllable I explained in the page of “Lesson 1”.

Japanese katakana

Katakana was created in ancient times by taking a part of a Kanji character with similar Chinese sound were selected.
Therefore, the form of character is rectilinear and angular.

Katakana is a character set different from Hiragana, so you must learn this as an unique character set.

Situation that Katakana is used

Hiragana is the basic character set for Japanese, and Katakana is the special character set.
It is mainly used for notation of foreign words.

Japanese has absorbed a lot of foreign words since ancient times.
The words from ancient China are written by Kanji character.

On the other hand, the words from Western languages using alphabet is written by this Katakana.
In the 16th and 17th centuries, Portugal and Netherlands came to Japan for searching new colony or to do trade.
At that time, many new words are imported to Japanese.

In the 19th century when Japan became a modern nation, the words about medical science and philosophy were imported from Germany and the words about art were imported from France.
From the 20th century until now, a lot of English words in all areas have been imported to Japanese.

Until the middle of the 20th century, many Japanese word by Kanji characters corresponding to new Western words were created.
But after WW2, increasing foreign words were too much to create new Japanese words.
Therefore, they have been written by Katakana as detectable by Japanese ear.

For example, telephone became common in the 20th century.
Japanese created a word “denwa” for the telephone.
“Den” means electricity and “wa” means talk.

“Internet”, “blog”, etc. are used in this century and they have no Japanese word.
They are written by only Katakana.

In addition to this, Katakana is used as follows.

  • Foreign country name and place-name
  • Name of foreigner
  • Name of organisms
  • Expression of noise and animal call

About the names of animals and plants familiar to us, they are written rather by Kanji and Hiragana.
But when we write about them as biological topic, they are written by Katakana.

Akihabara in Tokyo is a electronics quarter. So there are many Katakana characters.

Akihabara in Tokyo is a big electronics quarter. So there are many Katakana characters.

Writing rule different from Hiragana

Basically, Katakana is written as detectable by Japanese ear.
Therefore, we must write even the sounds which are not in Japanese.
For the purpose, some combinations of Katakana are prepared.
They are the last table of the above.

About long vowel, the bar character like a hyphen is written just after the vowel which is pronounced long.
But, Japanese can be written vertically.
At that time, the bar character is written vertically.


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