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Over on this awesome answer about old and unused katakana forms, I notice that among the examples is the word "valve", written as ヷァルブ. It has a small character in addition to the that precedes it. What puzzles me is that I can't imagine how ヷァルブ would be pronounced any differently than ヷルブ. Maybe the small does the same thing as , but then why not write it as ヷールブ? Also, I'm no expert on katakanization of English, but I wouldn't think extending the vowel sound in "valve" would be the right way to convert it.

ヷァルブ might be an archaic way of writing "valve" that is no longer in use, but it reminded me of a store I pass by on my bike now and again, called サァラ麻布{あざぶ}. I've never been interested in the furniture they sell, but the name has always caught my attention. They write the English version of their name as "Sala Azabu". If I had seen the English first and someone asked me to write it in katakana, I'd have simply gone with サラ.

What is the small character doing in these instances? How is サァ pronounced differently from サー or ?

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A humble side note from a newby:) I'd been searching for katakana charts that covers sounds of foreing words; in them, I often see the phoneme /v/ written in katakana as (an u with dakuten) often followed by a small vowel to complete a sillabe (va:ヴァ vi:ヴィ vu:ヴ ve:ヴェ vo:ヴォ). So, I would expect to see valve written as ヴァルヴ, which I think would sound nearer to the English pronunctiation /vælv/. –  Roimer Apr 20 at 16:44
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@Roimer You're right, but notice that the spelling Dave used in his post is ヷァルブ - that's not a ヴ, but rather ヷ: a katakana わ with dakuten (which is not conventional - it confused me, too). Presumably ヷ is already /va/, so ヷァ should then be /vaː/, hence Dave's question - why ヷァ rather than ヷー? –  senshin Apr 20 at 17:31
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@Kaji, if it's a duplicate, then why is the answer on that other question completely different? Also, note that if the answer here is right, then the accepted answer there, that it does not change the mora but only makes the name "unique", is potentially incorrect. –  Dave M G Apr 21 at 1:39
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@Kaji - fair enough. :). "Violently" agreed. ;) –  Dave M G Apr 21 at 16:06

1 Answer 1

On the pronunciation

サ has a length of 1 mora, サァ and サー are both 2 mora.

前の音があ段の音の場合は、長音と同じように扱う。 If an A-row sound precedes it, ァ is treated just like ー.

On the usage

Usually used in foreign words.

主に外来語や方言において使用される。 Mainly used in foreign or dialectal words.

Source

http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E3%81%81

See also http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E5%B0%8F%E6%9B%B8%E3%81%8D

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Thank you for this response. I think it might be technically accurate. However, what makes me unclear is that using three mora to express "Sala" in katakana strikes me as odd. "Sala" looks like two mora to me. Are we totally sure the store, and possibly other similar instances, are not going for some other effect? –  Dave M G Apr 21 at 2:00
    
"Sala" is indeed two syllables but not necessarily two mora depending on how the stress accent is put. –  user4092 Apr 21 at 4:47

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