Although Katakana describes the same sounds as Hiragana it is commonly used to spell out words which have a foreign origin or 'sound' foreign. It has some extensions to describe sounds which the Japanese alphabet couldn't originally pronounce like "fa", "si", "tu".
ワ ヲ (The "w" in "wo" is rarely if ever pronounced, which from a phonetic standpoint pretty much makes ヲ and オ interchangeable. In modern spelling, however, they're used in different circumstances, so it's convenient to transliterate them differently. --Marnen)
The "double-apostrophe" makes the sound of the consonant it's attached to "voiced": so k becomes g, s becomes z, t becomes d, h becomes b. Some exceptions (whose sound were different to begin with) are marked in bold.
ga, gi, gu, ge, go
ガ ギ グ ゲ ゴ
za, ji, zu, ze, zo
ザ ジ ズ ゼ ゾ
da, ji, zu, de, do
ダ ヂ ヅ デ ド
ba, bi, bu, be, bo
バ ビ ブ ベ ボ
The small circle converts "h" into "p".
pa, pi, pu, pe, po
パ ピ プ ペ ポ
Katakana also has these voiced double-apostrophe letters:
ヷ ヸ ヹ ヺ (I believe these are used in writing Ainu, and are pronounced va, vi, ve, vo. If anyone knows more about writing Ainu, please share. --Marnen)
Katakana supports a few more combinations than Hiragana, to allow for non-Japanese syllables in imported words.
small ya, small yu, small yo
ャ ュ ョ
The "glides" with the small "ya", "yu", "yo" work the same way as Hiragana: so "chan" would be spelled チャン , and "sho" spelled ショ. See one of the chart links at the bottom for more examples of glides.
Katakana also allows the creation of these sounds: fa = ファ = fu + small a fi = フィ = fu + small i fe = フェ = fu + small e fo = フォ = fu + small o si = スィ = su + small i ti = ティ = te + small i tu = トゥ = to + small u va = ヴァ = vu + small a vi = ヴィ = vu + small i vo = ヴォ = vu + small o ve = ヴェ = vu + small e wi = ウィ = u + small i we = ウェ = u + small e
In imported words, vowels are lengthened by the katakana dash: ー eg POWER = パワー = "pa wa a" and words are separated by the dot: ・
These characters are no longer being used in contemporary Japanese writing (I think. Edit this page if you know different.):
small ka, small ke. Used in some place names and old words. The zog is that katakana 'small ke' is pronounced 'ka', kasumigaseki (霞ヶ関) or sekigahara (関ヶ原)
Actually, it's pronouced "ga" in both these examples, which I believe is typical pronunciation. Is it ever pronounced "ka"? --Marnen
Iteration Marks - repeat the last syllable unchanged and voiced, respectively. Not normally used in printed material
AlexChurchill would like to know why imported English words with a "ka" sound are transcribed into katakana with "kya", キ ャ. Ones you see very commonly in credits are KYASUTO = "cast", and KYARAKUTAA (usually just KYARA) = "character", neither of which are pronounced with a noticeable "kya" rather than "ka" at least in British English. Other examples are all over the place - ScrappedPrincess's intro lyrics "kiseki o KYATCH" = "catch a miracle" springs to mind. Does anyone know why this curious convention (?) came to be?
When I was being taught English as a foreign language in Russia, I was taught a number of pronuciations I now find curious. One such was the "a" in words like "cat", "catch" and so on - the way I pronounced it before I came here and had it battered out of me was pretty much "cyat", "cyatch" etc. The symbol used in pronuciation guides is "ae" - joined together as a single character. I suspect the situation in Japan is much the same. - MoonShadow
At a stretch, could that be considered an attempt at simulating a USAish accent?
Quite possibly -- remember that much of Japan's early exposure to English was from Americans. The vowel in "catch" (IPA symbol æ) is indeed farther forward than Japanese "a" (IPA symbol a), and in some American dialects tends toward Japanese "e". It certainly can introduce a little bit of palatalization in "k" and "g", so it's understandable that English "kæ" and "gæ" -> Japanese "kya" and "gya". --Marnen
The ash vowel English is so fond of doesn't occur in Japanese, or quite a few other languages. It's possible sticking in a sort of glide before a proper A produces about the right sound. I'm currently in a computer room, and don't want to annoy people by making random noises. I'll try later, unless a linguist wants to come out of the woodwork and save me the bother. --NT
Well, it's not just the short a from "ash". I note KYASUTO = "cast" (of actors), or for that matter http://sega.jp/dc/ is about the ドリームキャスト = "DRIIMKYAST" = "Dreamcast". I didn't think American English pronounced the long "aaahh" of "cast" anywhere near as short as "ash". I've only noticed this with imported "KA"-sounds becoming "KYA" - never "BA"->"BYA", "NA"->"NYA", "MA"->"MYA" or anything (he says consulting his chart of glides to see what plausible others there might be). Both explanations here are still slightly unsatisfactory to me, although they are vaguely plausible, and also the best we've got. --AC
Err, to slightly digress, I pronounce cast with a short a -- Senji.
You have a point. This could just be because whoever's doing the transliteration doesn't know any better (or is from the north of England). Ash differs from A in more ways than length; the shape of the mouth differs. In fact, English A is a very confused letter indeed. --NT
Yes - cast is a bad example. In fact, I can't think of a good example. Fart, perhaps. --Vitenka
I suspect that you're all barking up the wrong tree and that Kya is in fact a _longer_ vowel than one would normally get from ka... Mmm, maybe not - but note that gamble is "gyanburu" and gap is "gyappu". If you remember that card is "kaado" and realise that "kado" would be the same sort of a, just shorter, then the attempt to make a hard a by using the glide looks plausible. --Mjb67
Ah. AlexChurchill just saw "Galaxy" in Katakana as "gyarakushii" and kame to tell people here... except Mjb67 got here first. And after I finally found a quick way to type Katakana and get the Unicode entities out for HTML, as well. Oh well. I'm going to show it off anyway: ギャラクシーエンジェル Produced by typing "gyarakusi-enjeru" and then four clicks and a copypaste. Mmm. --AlexChurchill
The length has nothing to do with it. I can't really write down what I mean since practically everyone who reads the wiki appears to interpret stuff I write down differently to how I'd read it and to each other, and no-one else appears to have a clue what I mean by the "ae" phoneme, but I am willing to demonstrate the difference on request to anyone within hearing range since I can pronounce both versions. - MoonShadow
I think I know what you mean about "ae", but I'm probably wrong. I'll interrogate you at some point. --NT (Lagged, moi?)
Gaelic ae, as in 'oh look, I can spell ay as ae' in fae, daemon, etc.? --Vitenka (We really should learn the international phone markup if we're gonna talk language. Or post sound files)
IPA [æ] is the vowel in "cat". The vowel in "fae" is [e], or actually [eI] (it's generally a diphthong in English). And in fact, English [æ] is the vowel whose adaptation into Japanese is being discussed. -Marnen
But only after "k" or "g", is the confusing part. Never after "m", "n", "r"... --AlexChurchill
[k] and [g] are the only English consonants that get palatalized before [æ]. Therefore, it makes sense that Eng. [kæ] > [k(j)æ] > J. [kja], but Eng. [mæ] > J. [ma]. --Marnen
Re the use of glides to simulate the [æ] phoneme – I don’t think this is universal. I had a Japanese friend at school and she pronounced all her As simply as [a] (as in cart, or Southern cast) – no glides.
This was fine unless she was saying fact, and then she got really self-conscious because it sounded like she was swearing. I suggested that if she couldn’t produce the [æ] sound, she could try erring on the side of [ε] (as in bed) rather than [a], which she then did. She thought "fect" made her sound American, but it was better than the alternative. Personally I thought it sounded more Received Pronunciation than American. PeterTaylor thinks it more likely to sound Sith Ifricun than American
(I don’t actually know any katakana. I’m just enjoying the opportunity to scatter IPA symbols about the place and pretend I’m still a linguistics student... sigh...) --Rachael
I have actually known Japanese people who, in speaking English, pronounce "can" as [kjan] or [kjæn], with a clear glide. But generally, as Japanese people improve their accent in English and learn to pronounce the [æ] vowel, the glide disappears from their English, at least in my experience. --Marnen