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To say new, the first way that I learned is to use the i-adjective 新しい. But I noticed that the na-adjective 新たな is used a lot in written texts. Is there any difference in when either is used?

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up vote 18 down vote accepted

新しい is a famous example of metathesis. Originally, it was [新]{あら}たし. Over the time, the positions of and have switched, and the new form [新]{あたら}し was created, which evolved into today's standard form 新しい, and today, the old form is preserved only as the na-adjective 新た. Na-adjectives are often used to incorporate Chinese words, and those words generally have a formal impression as opposed to i-adjectives, which are well familiarized words. 新た is no exception. It is used in formal contexts or when you want to have some literary effect.

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According to this dictionary, あたらしい comes from the early Heian period. That's quite early for a "new" form! – Zhen Lin Feb 22 '12 at 7:45
@ZhenLin I've always found it peculiar that 新しい ends in しい, which is usually for "subjective" adjectives. "New" seems pretty objective, and 古い doesn't end in しい. Not sure if this is related to the question in any way, though. – dainichi Feb 22 '12 at 8:11
Hypothesis: The existing and superficially (phonemically) nearby らし ending exerted gravitational pull on あらた, resulting in both metathesis and a semantically atypical らしい adjective. – Matt Feb 22 '12 at 23:21
@Matt So in other words, you mean it is due to folk etymology? That is quite convincing. – user458 Feb 22 '12 at 23:31
@sawa I suppose in a way, but I don't think it was a conscious reanalysis, more of a change driven by the tendency to align words with existing patterns (e.g. there was another /atarasi/, too, often written 可惜し, which I think was etymologically distinct and may also have served as a "model" inspiring 新し.) – Matt Feb 23 '12 at 0:10

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