I was struggling with this part of Yotsuba vol1 and couldn't find any other questions on it so I thought I would post here to make sure I am understanding this right.

The sentence reads


And is a response from Jumbo after Yotsuba comments on how much he has grown since she last saw him.

Just from looking at an English version of the comic, I know that he is saying something long the lines of:

Hah. Where did you remember that phrase from?

I know どこ means where, and from Jisho it looks like おぼえた comes from 覚える (to remember).

The last part, セリフ has a few translations on Jisho:

  1. セリフ - serif (as in font/typography)
  2. 台詞 - speech; words; one's lines; remarks (​Usually written using kana alone)
  3. 台詞回し - theatrical elocution​

of which option 2 seems to make the most sense.

Does this all seem correct, and if so is there any reason why the last word is written in katakana?

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3 Answers 3


Does this all seem correct

Yes, it not only seems, it is correct.

if so is there any reason why the last word is written in katakana?

No. No other reason except for: "usually written using kana".

Most likely because one or more predominant dictionaries of the Japanese language included that form as a referential, or some style guide defined this form as preferred.

  • Hi macraf thanks for your answer. For point 2 I meant why is it written in katakana rather than hiragana? (specifically in Yotsuba and in general - if it is usually written in katakana)
    – Bassie
    Nov 1, 2017 at 8:00
  • Most likely because it was written as such and one or more predominant dictionaries of the Japanese language included that form as a reference. Thus it is taught in this form at schools.
    – macraf
    Nov 1, 2017 at 8:04
  • Ok thanks again macraf. I also just noticed that the original sentence does not actually indicate that it is a question (no か and no question mark) - Would it be assumed to be a question due to the use of どこで, or do you think the translation I quoted could perhaps be improved upon?
    – Bassie
    Nov 1, 2017 at 9:31

セリフ is usually written in katakana because the kanji 台詞 is a uncommon reading and putting it in katakana makes it easier to read, like they do with vegetables and the sort.

As to why katakana over hiragana? Again, it's easier to read. Note the lines below.


One thing kanji and katakana do in Japanese is help make reading easier. Because we usually use hiragana for particles and copula, putting it in hiragana as well would make it harder to parse = read.

Also, in fictional writing, writing things that usually are kanji or katakana in hiragana gives the effect of sounding like a kid.

  • "because the kanji 台詞 is a uncommon reading and putting it in katakana makes it easier to read" that explanation implies all ateji and uncommon readings should be written in kana. Afaik, that's not the case. Also it could be handled with furigana, like other words on the attached picture.
    – macraf
    Nov 1, 2017 at 9:01
  • @macraf I was only saying it makes it easier to read, and didn't mean to imply that it's a standard.
    – Jimmy
    Nov 1, 2017 at 19:13

is there any reason why the last word is written in katakana?

Yes, there is a reason. Writing it in katakana is most easy to recognize the word in the phrase for the average people who read this comic book.

There are four ways to write the phrase in the comic as follows.

  1. どこでおぼえたそのせりふ
  2. どこでおぼえたそのセリフ
  3. どこでおぼえたその台詞
  4. どこでおぼえたその台詞{せりふ} or 台詞(せりふ)


By the way kana in "Usually written using kana alone" means ひらがな, not カタカナ.
Knowing that kana is a generic term for hiragana and katakana, I'll explain the following things.
Jisho's explanation of "Usually written using kana alone" means that you are better not to use kanji in writing "serifu". However, it does not mean that "serifu" should be written in katakana.
Therefore, it is incorrect to make a decision that "serifu" was written in katakana based on the explanation of the dictionary.

In written Japanese, most highly educated people know the meaning of 台詞 and how to read it, but if you use 台詞 it is safe to put ふりがな for it like 台詞{せりふ} or 台詞(せりふ), because average people don't know how to read it. But ふりがな for 漢字 implies that the writer thinks the reader is uneducated person. In this difficult situation, writers including the writer of this comic book would select セリフ rather than せりふ, because all ひらがな phrase is difficult to make each word be recognized clearly clear even if "kana" means ひらがな.

Although it may seem strange, in Japanese language that has various ways of writing, caretaking Japanese people would solve this kind of problem each time with thinking this kind of consideration when they write someting with considering the level of the readers.

  • 1
    Jisho, and presumably other dictionaries that use the same database, don't seem to use "Usually written in kana alone" to solely mean ひらがな. Take the entry for ドイツ for instance. jisho.org/word/%E7%8B%AC%E9%80%B8
    – Leebo
    Nov 1, 2017 at 10:25
  • 1
    @Leebo: Words like 「ドイツ」are exception, because they are loanwords from European countries. If katakana is recommended, they would use "Usually written in katakana alone". Another meaning of "Usually written in kana alone" is that you are better not to use kanji.
    – user20624
    Nov 1, 2017 at 10:35
  • 1
    Yes, I understand it to mean "you are better not to use kanji." There are obviously plenty of exceptions if they mean it to be taken as hiragana only, which is why I assumed they didn't phrase it that way. But it's not my intention to be argumentative.
    – Leebo
    Nov 1, 2017 at 10:52

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