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Douglas Harper's Etymology Dictionary

from Japanese katakana, from kata "side" + kana "borrowed letter(s)."


n. 1 (context uncountable English) A Japanese syllabary used when writing words borrowed from foreign languages other than Chinese, specific names of plants and animals and other jargon, or to emphasize a word or phrase. 2 A letter thereof.


is a Japanese syllabary, one component of the Japanese writing system along with hiragana, kanji, and in some cases the Latin script (known as romaji). The word katakana means "fragmentary kana", as the katakana characters are derived from components of more complex kanji. Katakana and hiragana are both kana systems. With one or two minor exceptions, each syllable (strictly mora) in the Japanese language is represented by one character, or kana, in each system. Each kana is either a vowel such as "a" (katakana ア); a consonant followed by a vowel such as "ka" (katakana カ); or "n" (katakana ン), a nasal sonorant which, depending on the context, sounds either like English m, n, or ng , or like the nasal vowels of Portuguese.

In contrast to the hiragana syllabary, which is used for those Japanese language words and grammatical inflections which kanji does not cover, the katakana syllabary usage is quite similar to italics in English; specifically, it is used for transcription of foreign language words into Japanese and the writing of loan words (collectively gairaigo); for emphasis; to represent onomatopoeia; for technical and scientific terms; and for names of plants, animals, minerals, and often Japanese companies.

Katakana are characterized by short, straight strokes and sharp corners, and are the simplest of the Japanese scripts. There are two main systems of ordering katakana: the old-fashioned iroha ordering, and the more prevalent gojūon ordering.

Katakana (Unicode block)

Katakana is a Unicode block containing katakana characters for the Japanese and Ainu languages.

Usage examples of "katakana".

It was Japanese portable with a keyboard the length of a cricket bat, a complex mess of ASCII, kanji, katakana, hiragana and arcane function keys.

So they took to hiragana and katakana and, in the process, created the country's first true written literature, The Pillow Book of Seishonagon and the classic Genji Monogatari, both dating from the beginning of the eleventh century.

Each page is a grid, a table with hiragana or katakana or kanji in one box, a group of digits or Romanji in another box, and the pages all cross-referenced to other pages in a scheme only a cryptographer could love.