I am a beginner to Japanese and playing Pokémon has got me interested. I am learning Katakana and wondering why in Pikachu it is «ピカチュウ» instead of «ピカチュ». Do you have any explanations or links to offer?

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    Why the downvote? Even commenting a link would help and I will gladly delete. I just would like to know for my knowledge, if nobody else. – ReinstateMonica3167040 Mar 29 '18 at 23:20
  • My only guess for why someone downvoted is because the question makes it sound like "why didn't the Japanese write it so that the katakana represents the way it's written in English" even though the Japanese came first. – Leebo Mar 30 '18 at 1:37
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    @Leebo If anyone can fix this, I am fine with you editing the question. – ReinstateMonica3167040 Mar 30 '18 at 15:08
  • @Leebo Sure. But, if someone downvotes for that reason I suspect a bigger issue... Not that I'm saying you agree with the downvote, I'm sure you don't; however, I think it's valid to answer a question when the OP might not have a good depth of knowledge about the subject to determine origin. We aim to teach and answer a question, provided that it has use to others as well and is informed and based on fact, right? Not that this OP didn't know about the origin of Pokemon being Japanese, but other people might not know. – psosuna Apr 4 '18 at 19:07
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    @Leebo (part 2) Meaning if someone asked about why Bulbasaur in Japanese is フシギダネ and not ボールバソー or some other approximation, of course the answer would be that フシギダネ is the original name and Bulbasaur was an adaptation for the English-speaking audience. (And would be a valid question however not about the Japanese language) – psosuna Apr 4 '18 at 19:09

チュウ is similar to チュ but pronounced with a long vowel. Some English speakers seem to have difficulty distinguishing them, but they are very different at least to the ears of native Japanese speakers.

Do you already understand the long vowel marker? Then ピカチュウ is pronounced the same way as ピカチュー. Etymologically, this チュウ is the Japanese version of "squeak", the sound of mice/rat.

  • You beat me to it by a few minutes! – psosuna Mar 30 '18 at 1:14
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    @psosuna It's always good to have more than one answer :) – naruto Mar 30 '18 at 1:51
  • Thank you for explaining. My book mentioned this but the example was in hiragana so I didn't realize this was the same. – ReinstateMonica3167040 Mar 30 '18 at 15:06

Pikachu, the famous Pokémon, derives its name from a combination of words. As you've noted, in English, we write his name with one U at the end. However, in Katakana, you would write ピカチュウ (pikachū) instead. There are two main reasons why this is.

The first and more important reason, which explains the Katakana, is that ピカチュウ is a made-up word of the combination of the onomatopoeic words ピカ and チュー.

ピカ = The sound a spark makes

チュー = The squeak of a mouse

ピカ coincidentally also happens to be the name of a mouse-like animal in real life and actually served as the original inspiration for the design of the Pokémon ピカチュウ. Functionally speaking, チュウ and チュー are pronounced the same, and it's easy to see the correlation.

The second reason explains why in English it is Pikachu with only one U. Spoken Japanese has a generally short vowel duration, and it is common to see words that have foreign origins such as English have their vowels extended because the sound of vowels in English is thought to be longer than the sound of vowels in Japanese, that is, if it is a two-vowel length sound in Japanese, it can easily be read as a single-vowel sound in English, and vice-versa. Therefore, チュウ and "chu" (in English) have about the same pronunciation length.

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    +1 for explaining etymology of the word. I knew this already, but others may find this interesting. – ReinstateMonica3167040 Mar 30 '18 at 23:24

ピカチュウ is the long vowel of ピカチュ. In the beginning, you might not see the difference, but with continuous practice, you'll see that the difference in pronunciation is clear. Also, it can be pronounced ピカチュ for the sake of speed talk, but most likely it's going to be pronounced ピカチュー. (It can be written with - or ッ(small tsu).)

Edit: Here's a video explaining it in more detail: Katakana long vowels (YouTube)

  • Thanks for notifying me. Is it good now? – Ouma Shu Ookami Yashiro Apr 6 '18 at 10:36
  • @Userthatisnotauser Glad it helped out. – Ouma Shu Ookami Yashiro May 9 '18 at 13:28
  • As for the person that it helped out (who is not me), but if such a person exists, whom it might, then that's what the upvote is for. – ReinstateMonica3167040 Aug 20 '18 at 0:59

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