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Learn Japanese : Katakana Alphabet (Kanas & Moras)

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Katakana

  • Katakana is a component of the 3 Japanese scripts along with Hiragana & Kanji.
  • Most of the Japanese sentences are written in Hiragana, Katakana & Kanji, all three.
  • Katakana is a syllabary in which each symbol is a phonetic representation of sound and represents a particular spoken syllable.
  • Katakana is used for transcription of words borrowed from foreign languages (except Chinese), mostly English in origin, like country names, personal names, etc. ex. America = アメリカ ; Jose Santos = ホセ.サントス 
  • The Katakana script does not have a Kanji equivalent.
  • A sentence in Japanese can be written in Hiragana and Katakana only (without Kanji). 
  • Both Katakana and Hiragana represent exactly the same set of sounds. 
  • Katakana letters are more straight compared to their curved Hiragana equivalents.

Kanas &Moras

Kanas refer to the Japanese syllabic writing in Hiragana and Katakana. Kanas are used in order to write the Japanese language according to the pronunciation.

The Katanana Alphabets tables below show the coloumn of kanas from K to P.

 

Moras are units of sound in Japanese. One kana letter (ex. ka) or one kana letter accompanied by a small kana letter (ex. kya) basically corresponds to one mora.

 

Katakana Vowels & Semi-Vowels

The Japanese language is based on five vowel sounds : (a) (i), (u), (e) and (o).

They are pronounced : a as in ask ; i as in weu as in soon ; e as in get and o as in oh.

All spoken sounds are derived from these vowels. They are used alone or are either attached

to a consonant (ex. k + a = ka ) or a consonant plus a semi-vowel w or y (ex. k + y + a = kya キャ).

The exception to this is a special mora (n) which is not followed by vowels. ex. pen.

 

 

Vowels

a

i

u

e

o

 

Katakana Long Vowels :

A long vowel is pronounced twice as long as the ordinary vowels : a, i, u, e and o become ā, ī, ū, ē and ō

To denote a long vowel in the Katakana script, a symbol '' (called chōon in Japanese) is used for all the vowels, unlike in Hiragana.

ex. taxi is takushī or takushii = タクシ

Exception : For the long vowel ō 'u' (not 'o') is added for the Romaji script.

However, in the Katakana script this does not reflect any change. ex. notebook is nōto or nouto =

 

Katakana Alphabets (Consonants) Table

In the table below, the roman letters in blue indicate how the alphabets (consonants) are pronounced.

They are pronounced : a as in ask ; i as in weu as in soon ; e as in get and o as in oh. 

The highlighted ones are exceptions to the pattern.

 

Observe the similarity between rows K & G ; S & Z ; T & D and H, B & P

 

Note that the alphabets (di / dji) and (du / dzu) may also be pronounced as 'ji' and 'zu respectively.

Their usage is very rare and are not used for nouns and verbs. 

 

Note that (n) is a consonant and can form a a syllable on its own without a vowel.

Letter is used for the V sound  ヴァ[va] ヴィ[vi] [vu] ヴェ[ve] and ヴォ[vo] explained below under small scripts.

 

In Japanese scripts, syllables are organized in the form of a table (5 x 10), called gojūon-zu (literally means table of 50 sounds). In addition to the gojūon, there are modified forms to describe more sounds : 

20 dakuon, 5 handakuon, 36 yōon and 1 sokuon (the small kana tsu) explained below under small scripts.

 

 

 Gojūon
Kanas

moras

a

moras

i

moras

u

moras

e

moras

o

K

ka

ki

ku

ke

ko

S

sa

shi

su

se

so

T

ta

chi

tsu

te

to

H

ha

hi

fu

he

ho

N

na

ni

nu

 

ne

no

M

ma

mi

mu

me

mo

R

ra

ri

ru

re

ro

Y

ya


yu


yo

 W

wa

     

o(wo)

 

n

       
 Dakuon
G

ga

gi

gu

ge

go

Z

za

ji

zu

ze

zo

D

da

dji

dzu

de

do

B

ba

bi

bu

be

bo

 Handakuon
P

pa

pi

pu

pe

po

 
 V    
 
vu
   

 

Katakana Small Scripts / letters

One kana letter (ex. ka) or one kana letter accompanied by a small kana letter (ex. kya) corresponds to one mora.

This combination is called yōon in Japanese. 

There are 9 small scripts in Katakana. They are :

(a), (i),(u), (e),(o),(ya), (yu), (yo), and (tsu).

The small scripts (a), (i),(u), (e),(o)  : may combine with Katakana kanas to form foreign words like:

(a) family = フミリ

(i Philippines = フリピン

(u) Toulouse = トー ルズ

(e) ferry = フリー

(o) fork = フーク

Note that for words starting with f / phfu フ is used.

These vowels may also combine with the alphabet (vu) to form words with 'V' sound.

(a) Viking = イキング ; violin =  イオリン

(i Venus = ーナス

(e) Veda = フーダ

(o) Voltaire = フルテール

 

The small script (tsu) (called sokuon)  is used to denote pause between two letters when a particular letter is doubled, as these singular letters do not exist.

ex.sutaffu (staff) has a doubled consonant f, and since its singular form does not exist, the small is used. 

It will hence be written in Katakana as : スタ.

Note that the small  is used before the doubled letter, in this case,  f.

This small kana  has no sound and hence will not be pronounced 'tsu'. It is only a graphical indication to denote the doubling of the consonant. 

 

Exception (tsu) cannot be used to double the na, ni, nu, ne, no syllables.

The singular (n) letter which already exists is added in front of the syllable to double it.

ex. Sannoze (San Jose) sa-n-no-ze = サnot  サッノゼ .


The small scripts (ya), (yu) and (yomay be added to Katakana kanas ending in i

ex. ki キ + small ya = kya キャ ; shi シ + small yo= sho ショ

 

Word examples :  konpyūta (computer) = コンピュータ ; chokorēto (chocolate) = チョコレート

 

(ki), (gi),  (shi) (ji), (chi), (ni), (hi), (bi), (pi), (mi) and (ri) can combine with

small (ya), (yu) and (yo) to form moras as shown in the table below.

 

 Yōon
Kanas

moras

ya

moras

yu

moras

yo

K

キャ

kya

キュ

kyu

kyo

S

シャ

sha

シュ

shu

ショ

sho

C

チャ

cha

チュ

chu

チョ

cho

N

nya

ニュ

nyu

nyo

H

hya

ヒュ

hyu

hyo

M

mya

myu

myo

R

rya

ryu

ryo




G

ギャ

gya

gyu

gyo

Z (J)

ja

ju

jo

B

bya

byu

byo

P

pya

pyu

pyo

 


Exercises to Practice Katakana Alphabets  Exercises to Practice HiraganaAlphabets 

Hiragana Course  Kanji Characters  Romaji

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