第4課: Kana II: Katakana カタカナ 

In the previous lesson, we learned about how Japanese is a mixed script of four systems in one. Of these four systems, two of them are Kana systems: Hiragana and Katakana. The previous lesson was all about learning the individual symbols of Hiragana. In this lesson, our goal will be to learn all the individual symbols for Katakana

Hiragana and Katakana both represent the same sound combinations (morae). As such, there won't be any differences in pronunciation between an /a/ written in Hiragana and one written in Hiragana. However, the two scripts are used in different circumstances. Their rules for other aspects of spelling such as long vowel notation are also not exactly the same. For now, we will focus solely on learning the individual symbols of Katakana. As you will soon see, there are more symbols to learn in Katakana than there is for Hiragana. This means you have plenty of work ahead of you in this lesson.  

Katakana カタカナ

Of the two Kana systems, Katakana is the least used. However, that doesn't mean it isn't used, and it doesn't mean that it isn't important to learn. One cannot properly read Japanese without knowing both systems. The two systems are still used in different ways. The way they're used also affects how complex the systems are. Katakana, as you will see, has an additional set of combinations not used in Hiragana. This means it'll take a little more effort to memorize Katakana than Hiragana. With that being said, let's begin.  


The basic symbols of Katakana, just as was the case with Hiragana, are organized into a chart called the Gojūonzu. This chart is shown below with each basic symbol. Just like for Hiragana, notice how the stoke orders are listed and how all the allophones of sounds we've learned about are shown in their respective columns.   


Curriculum NotePrint this sheet out and have it on hand as we continue moving forward. It will be useful while you memorize both Kana systems. Once we learn about Chinese characters (Kanji), we'll learn how they're all three used along with English letters to write Japanese.    

Usage Notes:  

  Of these characters, all of them except the symbols for we and wi are typically used. These two characters live on only in names, place names, and old literature. Because there is the chance you will encounter them, when you do see them, read them as "e" and "i" respectively as the "w" has dropped from their actual pronunciations. This is largely why the symbols are no longer seen today.  

Similarly, the symbol for wo is usually pronounced by "o" by most speakers. However, the traditional pronunciation "wo" is still heard depending on personal preference, dialect, as well as occasion. For instance, in music, singers tend to be conservative in pronunciation. This is also the case when people slow down their speech to purposefully enunciate every sound clearly. Unlike in Hiragana, the Katakana symbol for wo is hardly used at all. This means you won't get many opportunities to see it actually used.

Of these characters, all but the symbols for wewiwo, and n can start words. The symbols for we and wi are deemed obsolete. Also, the symbol for wo is only used in names or as a grammatical word that cannot stand alone, which we will learn about later.  

Handwriting Notes:

1. Write strokes from top to bottom and left to right.
2. Horizontal strokes come before vertical strokes.  
3. Take especial note to the stroke orders of シ and ツ.  For シ, its third stroke is irregularly written from the bottom upward, which is how you can distinguish it from ツ, which is written regularly.
4. Also take especial note to the stroke orders of ソ and ン. For ン, its third stroke is irregularly written from the bottom upward, which is how you can distinguish it from ソ, which is written regularly.
5. When there are horizontal strokes that span the length of the symbol, those strokes aren't first from top to bottom regardless if other strokes may start higher up. Take キ as an example.


As your first chance at reading practice, below are 60 common words that are spelled in Katakana. Although it's not necessary that you memorize them all now, you'll find that many of them are words you're already very familiar with. 

 Access クセス Assistant アスタント ASEAN アアン
 Africa アフリカ America アメリカ Aluminum アルミ
 Good-looking guy イケメン Italy イタリア Earbud イホン
 Air conditioning エアコン Eroticism  Oceania  オセアニア
 Offline オフライン Cocktail クテル Custom スタム
 Sponge cake カステラ Camera メラ Karaoke カラオケ
 Calcium カルシウム Mouse ウス Christ キリスト
 Classmate クラスメイト Christmas クリスマス Koala アラ
 Coin イン Siren イレン Santa ンタ
 System ステム Scenario シナリオ Restaurant ストラン
 Hormone ホルモン Synchronize シンクロ Stress スレス
 Centi(meter) ンチ Seoul ウル Solo 
 Towel オル Tennis ニス Toilet イレ
 Hotel テル Minus マイナス Nylon イロン
 Tomato マト Ton  Knife イフ
 Necktie クタイ Quota ルマ Handkerchief ハンカチ
 Stapler チキス Marathon マラソン Milk ルク
 Mexico メキシコ Moscow モスクワ UNESCO ユスコ
 Toyota ヨタ Link ンク Lemon モン
 Russia シア Request リクエスト Wine イン

Diacritics: ゛ & ゜ 

The diacritics we learned about last lesson are used in exactly the same way in Katakana. These diacritics, the These diacritics are the ゛ (dakuten/nigori↓) and the ゜ (handakuten), represent voiced consonants and the consonant /p/ respectively. 


Just as was the case with Hiragana, you write the basic symbol before adding the diacritics. Additionally, there are two characters for /ji/ and /zu/. However, their pronunciations/usage aren't 100% the same. For now, focus on memorizing these symbols. 


 Below are 60 common words that utilize these diacritics. Although it is not necessary that you memorize them all, they are all common words that bring purpose to using Katakana as the majority of these words are solely written in Katakana

 Advice ドバイス Radio ジオ England イギリス
 Pokemon ポケモン Event イベント India ンド
 Ego  Egypt エジプト Apron プロン
 Holland オランダ Casino ジノ Gas 
 Capsule プセル Gift フト Jellyfish クラゲ
 Mongolia ンゴル Golf ルフ Convenience store コンビニ
 Size イズ Sandals サンダル Running ランニング
 Swimming スミング Pants ボン Celebrity レブ
 Zombie ンビ Diamond ダイヤモンド Taipei タイペイ
 Dance ンス Design デイン Digital camera デジカメ
 TV レビ Germany イツ Door 
 Dollar  Napkin プキン Trash ゴ
 Knob  Hiking イキング Basketball スケ
 PC パソコン Bus  Pachinko パチンコ
 Bread  Banana ナナ Panda ンダ
 Piano ピアノ Visa  Pizza 
 Vitamin ビミン Video デオ Building 
 Pink ンク Judea ダヤ Frying pan フライパン
 Browser ブラウザ Blog ブログ Veranda ベランダ
 McDonald's マクドナルド Medal メダル Memo 

Palatal Sounds

Remember that palatal sounds are created by placing the tongue on the hard palate of the mouth. Consonants are naturally palatalized in Japanese when followed by /i/ or /y/. For those created with /y/, shrunken y-sound symbols must be paired with a full-sized i-sound symbol. In Katakana, these combinations are as follows.  


Just as was the case with above with there are being two ways to write the says, /ji/ and /zu/, the same can be said for /ja/, /ju/, and /jo/. The variants that use ヂ are essentially obsolete as far as spelling actual, common words is concerned. 


Not all these characters are used as frequently as others. Although some are extremely common, some are only found in certain kinds of words. Others are hard to find without being used with long vowels and consonants. Since we haven't learned what those rules are for the two Kana systems, the 30 examples words are limited to words with short consonants and vowels that are actually common expressions. 

 Casual ジュアル Curriculum リキュラム Cabbage キャベツ
 Cancel キャンセル Gambling ギャンブル Shirt シャ
 Chandelier シャンデリア Jump ジャンプ Jogging ジョギング
 Mandarin dress チャイナドレス Chime チャイム Channel チャンネル
 Pajamas ジャマ Condominium ンション Pure ピュ
 Jazz ジャ Munich ミュンヘン Genre ジャンル
 Gang ギャング Goggling ギョロギョロ Hopping ピョンピョン
 Junior ジュニア Meow-meow ニャンニャン Nuance ニュアンス
 Awkwardness クシャク Wriggling ニョロニョロ Pyeongyang ピョンヤン
 Chocolate チョ Tunisia チュニジア Champion チャンピオン

 Additional Katakana

Unlike Hiragana, Katakana is used to transcribe far more sound combinations. Although we have not learned exactly when either system is used and why, you may have noticed that a lot of the example words in this lesson have been for loan-words from other languages. This is one purpose of Katakana that is heavily reflected in the inventory of sound combinations as an effect. 

The most frequently used extensions are those for the consonants /sh/, /j/, /t/, /d/, /ch/, /f/, and /w/. As you can see, all these additional combinations involve using a shrunken symbol next to a full-sized one.

 A   ヴァ       ツァ ファ クァ
 I  ウィ ヴィ スィ ズィ  ティ ディ  ツィ フィ  
 U   ヴ    トゥ ドゥ     
 E イェ ウェ ヴェ  シェ ジェ   チェ ツェ フェ  
 O  ウォ ヴォ       ツォ フォ  
 Y       テュ デュ     

Curriculum Note: Visit Extra Katakana to see additional yet rarer combinations.

Pronunciation Notes:

1. The v-sounds are overwhelmingly pronounced as b-sounds by most speakers.
2. Additional w-sounds and y-sounds are usually pronounced broken up as if they were written with full-sized characters. For instance, kiwi can either be pronounced as kiui キウイ or kiwi キウィ.


The combinations shown above are essentially all additional combinations that are of any significant importance in writing practical words that are actually used by Japanese speakers. However, they aren't all equal in frequency. With that being said, it isn't possible to show practical examples of each combination at this point without having to delve into information beyond the reach of this lesson. Nevertheless, the 30 words will provide you plenty of practice. 

 Korean won ウォ Ending エンディング Figurine フィギュア
 The web ウェ Chef シェ Disc ディスク
 Native イティブ Negative ガティブ Fight(ing spirit) ファイト
 File ファイル Family restaurant ファミレス Film フィルム
 Philippines フィリピン Manifesto ニフェスト Czech チェ
 Share シェ Pretzel プッツェル Cafe フェ
 Highway ハイウェ Fan ファ Chess チェ
 Violin ヴァイオリン Fake フェイク Yes イェ
 Font フォント Wedding dress ウェディングドレス Wink ウィンク
 Wikipedia ウィキディア Shakespeare シェイクスピア Fondue フォンデュ

Word Notes:
1. "Violin" is typically spelled as バイオリン.
2. イェス is not the typical means of saying "yes"; it is always used in an English-based context. 

To Continue

In the next lesson, we will learn about how to write long vowels and consonants in both Hiragana and Katakana. We will also learn about what the differences are between the variant ways to write the sounds /ji/, /zu/, /ja/, /ju/, and /jo/. After which point, we'll learn about what Kanji and then move on to learning how Kana and Kanji are used together to write properly in Japanese. 


Part I: Spell the following words in Katakana

1. Piano (Piano)      
2. Tesuto (Test)      
Wirusu/Uirusu (Virus)
4. Kariforunia (California)

Part II: Romanize the following words. 

1. スリル (Thrill)
2. シネマ (Cinema)
3. マスコミ (The media)     
4. キャビン (Cabin) 
5. パリ (Paris)