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What's the difference between the kanji term and the katakana term, and when should I use them? I think that some katakana words are only used when the author is being gratuitous with katakana, but I didn't think マップ was one of them.

In case context matters, I'm wanting to talk about tourist maps of cities and towns at a scale small enough to indicate individual landmarks.

  • Sometimes, such as in video games, "map" would mean something other than "a sheet that describes the terrain". In this case it can't be translated as 地図. – broccoli forest Jan 22 '16 at 16:27
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The far more versatile choice is 「[地図]{ちず}」; No question about it. I would say that an average native speaker would learn to use 「マップ」 a good 10 years after learning to use 「ちず」 as a toddler.

In school, the word used is 「地図」 virtually 100% of the time and that is both in and outside of geography classes. In daily life, when you draw a simple map to show another person the direction to a place, that map is called 「地図」, but never ever「マップ」. Your collection of maps that you keep in your house or car are called 「地図」.

「マップ」 is most often, if not exclusively, used in proper nouns (as in 「グーグル・マップ」) and in naming little maps created for particular interests for inclusion in magazines, websites, etc. Those include maps of restaurants, maps of clothing stores, etc. in a relatively limited area.

Even when a map is named 「~~マップ」 in a magazine or website, you can still call it a 「地図」 if you want to, but the reverse does not work. You would sound pretty weird if you used 「マップ」 to refer to a map named 「~~地図」 like 「[世界]{せかい}地図」 or 「[東京都]{とうきょうと}地図」.

  • Google JP search page https://www.google.co.jp/ used to have 地図 in the top menu bar, but sometime last year it changed to マップ. Not sure why though. – user3169 Jan 21 '16 at 3:26
  • Sometimes I think Google used its own translation software to translate the pages it had available into other languages and then finally hired humans to do it right after a ton of people complained. – Pleiades Jan 21 '16 at 6:10
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    @user3169 Google just switched from the regular noun (地図) to the word closer to the proper noun (Googleマップ). They must have thought Googleマップ became popular enough to the general population, and thus it was safe to switch. – naruto Jan 21 '16 at 6:58
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the official translation of the map app on iOS is マップ, which leads me to think it's only used to denote a specific app whose NAME is マップ; but indeed, when referring to an actual map, and not the app that bares such name, they use 地図.

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Katakana is mainly used in imported words and onomatopoetic words. The word "マップ" is a imported word so it is written katakana.

I think the basic difference in usage is 地図 is mainly used in Japan and マップ is mainly used for foreign people because 地図 is Japanese and マップ is the reading and writing in Japanese for the English word "map".

In addition, we eager to use English words in many situations like even Japanese news. I think many Japanese may think using English words is cool. When we use the word "マップ”、this may be a main reason.

  • I think this is a very superficial difference. Of course マップ and 地図 are different words with a different etymology. But this answer doesn't really explain the difference in usage. – Earthliŋ Jan 21 '16 at 6:13
  • @Earthliŋ I think the difference in usage is 地図 is mainly used in Japan and マップ is mainly used for foreign people because 地図 is Japanese and マップ(map) is English. – Yuuichi Tam Jan 21 '16 at 6:26
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    I think the difference isn't quite as simple as this, and the answer by l'électeur explains this in detail. There are situations where マップ is used by Japanese, not only to talk to foreigners. – Earthliŋ Jan 21 '16 at 6:53
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    @ Earthliŋ. I think basically as I said, but I say more in detail we eager to use English words in many situations like even Japanese news. It is sometimes criticized by Japanese readers. I think many Japanese may think using English word is cool. – Yuuichi Tam Jan 21 '16 at 7:17
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    "マップ(map) is English" at the risk of being pedantic, "マップ" isn't an English word, but a Japanese word, using a Japanese writing system, derived from the English word "map". – Andrew Grimm Jan 21 '16 at 7:59

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