53

I noticed that "dame", which means "not good" or "don't do that", is sometimes written in manga as katakana. I was wondering, is it because katakana is used to express a strong feeling?

Sometimes, there are also other words written in katakana. In general, what are possible reasons why people would choose katakana for a word instead of hiragana or kanji, especially when that word is not usually spelled with katakana?

  • 1
    Related question: japanese.stackexchange.com/questions/758/… – Andrew Grimm Apr 27 '12 at 3:24
  • 2
    I took the initiative with an attempt to broaden the scope of this question and make it relevant to the answers that have mutated into a list of possible reasons for choosing katakana. Feel free to revert this edit if you feel the answers should be edited to conform to the original question. – blutorange Dec 11 '14 at 20:48
47

In addition to user458s list:

  • To give visual and/or very slight semantic emphasis. Almost like using bold or italics in English.

それはだめだよ!

それはダメだよ!

You can see that the latter stands out more. As for the onomatopoeia, those are often a little emphasized too, so it probably overlaps with reason 2 a good amount.

  • Plant, animal, and mineral names are often written in katakana.
  • 1
    Actually, I'm not sure beginners would see why it stands out more, other than that the characters are pointier. In actuality, when you're using to see a word written a certain way, writing it differently makes the reader take notice of it. – William Jul 14 '11 at 15:41
  • 2
    Remember that the Japanese like indirection and tend to soften strong language. In this case, I think kanji would come across as too terse or 硬い, and hiragana would not stand out enough in the sentence... – Mike Sickler Jul 14 '11 at 16:56
  • 1
    I am still learning Japanese, but I literally read the katakana one with emphasis – Francisco Presencia Apr 27 '17 at 8:28
33

There are several usages for katakana.

  1. To describe (what feels like) Western origin words
  2. To describe onomatopoeia
  3. To describe the fact that it is normally written in kanji, but that it is written without it because either the writer wants to write faster, has no access to the kanji form (as in the case where the writer is given the name in a romanized transcription or the writer just heard the name), forgot the kanji form, or does not want to bother to write in kanji for any other reason.

だめ has the kanji form 駄目, and in this case, the reason is likely 3.

23

Japanese often use katakana for certain Japanese-origin words when they are difficult to write or imagine in kanji. I guess it's because they sound somewhat like 'foreign' or 'onomatopoeia' to Japanese.

Common examples I can think of are:

滅茶苦茶 as メチャクチャ
御洒落 as オシャレ
出鱈目 as デタラメ
駄洒落 as ダジャレ
辻褄 as ツジツマ
我儘 as ワガママ
馬鹿 as バカ

Of course these are not foreign words, and even elementary school children understand their meanings. However, they are so difficult or bothering to write in kanji that it became very common to write them down either in hiragana or katakana, even for adults using word processors. Daring to use kanji may look as if you were an old man.

Whether to use hiragana or katakana is up to the writer's taste. I don't believe it has something to do with emphasizing. Generally, using hiragana tends to give soft, childish, cute or girly impressions, although the nuance is fairly subtle.

  • Seems like a lot of these are ateji – Kennedy Ryan Jun 28 '17 at 23:52
14
  • Style - Simply as personal style
6

I think it's sometimes used when it's more like a series of syllables being pronunced, rather than real Japanese. An equivalent in English would be Ginger Megg's mother saying something like "Giiingerrr!" when he's in big trouble. The English language Wikipedia says

Katakana are also sometimes used to indicate words being spoken in a foreign or otherwise unusual accent, by foreign characters, robots, etc. For example, in a manga, the speech of a foreign character or a robot may be represented by コンニチワ konnichiwa ("hello") instead of the more typical hiragana こんにちは

I haven't heard of any examples, apart from reading that McDonald's "Mr James" originally spoke only in katakana.

5

There are various reason depending on situation. Yesterday i saw a frog shaped earpick on which it was written カエル instead of かえる. I asked about it and i was told that these things are done so as to avoid any confusion about the product or the instruction given for the user or consumer. かえる can also mean to return , or to change. Also some people can't read Kanji. These are the reason that leads to writing some catchy phrases or words so that there is no ambiguity between both parties. These are informal...

edit: to grab eyes as well...

2

There is also the case where some words are written in katakana on signals so that everyone, even children, can notice easily and understand. For example, the warning signals about Bear in the forest say クマ instead of 熊, or カラス (crow) instead of 烏.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.