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I remember being told that hiragana should be the same size as kanji when writing them by hand. However, there are times when I see handwritten kana that are much smaller than the kanji. Does this carry any nuance or is there any purpose to it?

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With いっぱ~い, the small TSU is not voiced but modifies the PA making it a double PP, the ~ elongates the A. If it was written without the っ or ~ and just いぱい it would be read "Ipai", as it is written it is now "IPPAAAAAAI!!" –  BillyNair Aug 7 '12 at 22:42
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Your question changed entirely in the second paragraph from being about "kana smaller than kanji when handwritten" to being about "kana smaller than other kana on a computer screen" and ギャル文字 including τ and . I think this question needs to be heavily edited to decide on which to ask about. Right now it is two completely different questions rolled into one. –  Hyperworm Aug 7 '12 at 23:08
    
Now the references to ギャル文字 and いっぱ~い would seem totally confusing... My answer below goes through the nuances of the various smaller kana, legit as well as "ギャル文字" and Sawa's answer deals with the proper use of the smaller kana. Not sure if you are looking for some hidden meaning, but there really isn't much to it. –  BillyNair Aug 8 '12 at 2:52
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@BillyNair I agree that reformatting the question again is unfair towards your answer. I apologize. Yet, your answer is still helpful. –  Chris Harris Aug 8 '12 at 4:53
    
Maybe start a new question for ギャル文字 that the answer could be copied to? If there isn't one already, that is... :) –  Hyperworm Aug 8 '12 at 16:02
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3 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Usually, they should be the same size, but considering the history that okurigana used to be markings (like subscripts) on the Chinese text to add Japanese inflections, it is natural that they are written smaller than kanji. In fact, in caligraphy, it is usually said that hiragana should be written smaller than kanji.

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In Japanese calligraphy and penmanship, usually kana are written slightly smaller than kanji. Basically, the more strokes a character has, the larger it should be written for proper balance and appearance. This is because simple characters look larger than complicated ones with human eyes. This article says, "漢字:10、ひらがな:8、カナ・ローマ字・数字:7~6、特殊記号:6".

Addition: This is not only in handwriting and not only in Japanese. Even in typography, kana are designed slightly smaller than kanji. It is pretty common from traditional metal types to modern computer-designed fonts. Also, in Chinese calligraphy, characters with few strokes are written slightly smaller than characters with many strokes.

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I was also taught that simple characters look larger to human eyes, and they indeed look larger to me, but I wonder whether this is a universal truth or this is caused by always seeing the Japanese text where simple characters are written smaller than complicated characters. –  Tsuyoshi Ito Aug 8 '12 at 16:40
    
@TsuyoshiIto I don't say that it is "universal" or "always". I give a common reason, which is widely known, but I don't deny that there might be other reasons. –  Gradius Aug 8 '12 at 18:03
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In this particular case ギャル文字 is referring to the uber-feminine use of the language. Some of those characters like the ッ are like our emoticons ;-) and some are legitimate. For example in ギャル文字, the ギ{gi} is modified by ャ{ya}(small YA), so instead of reading it "Giyaru" it is read "Gyaru".

Most of the time you see the smaller character it will be modifying the previous character. Mostly used with the "Y" characters (ya, yu, yo) but it can be used with others. The small TSU character makes the following character longer, so the double "P" in Sapporo is written "さっぽろ" and not pronounced "Satsuhoro" but rather "Sapporo". In the example JPG you linked they used the katakana TSU ッ and only for effect. But can also use it legit in クスッ{kusu}(swallow the last "U") and still be cutesy.

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