Why do the Japanese often use katakana even for Japanese words? Second attempt

New theory, brought about by communicating with my wife back in Japan mainly with SMS for a month:

Because there are so few variations in what you can say (social language is very fixed and for some reason every food stuff must have “oishii” written on its packaging, as if that is going to be enough to convince you…) any variation at all, e.g. in script, comes as a welcome change.

If you have any comments or other ideas, ヨロシクね

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3 Comments

  1. Madness said,

    November 12, 2008 at 11:53 am

    A friend once told me young people used to write lots of things in katakana just because that way it seems “cool”

  2. Russell Ericksen said,

    October 6, 2009 at 2:38 am

    I asked my Japanese teacher this same question…it was initially easy to categorize with most “borrowed” word in katakana, but I was particularly confused with karaoke, its origin is in Japan (I believe) yet it is always written in katakana. She explained that it is a matter of whether the word was derived while the fundementals of the Japanese language was developed. Karaoke has only been around since the 1970s. I don’t think there is a specific date for the change, but any more modern technology (i.e. like after 1930/1940), you can bet it’ll be in katakana

  3. alexcase said,

    October 6, 2009 at 9:54 am

    Sorry to contradict a real Japanese teacher, which I am certainly not, but very nearly all words borrowed from English and other European languages from any time period are usually written in Katakana, with the exception of “tabako”, which is usually written in hiragana (dealt with in another post) and some words which got turned in kanji and most people don’t remember were derived from foreign words, e.g. 背広 (sebiro- originally from Saville Row). This includes words borrowed in the 16th century, such as “Kastella” (a type of sponge cake, derived from the Spanish kingdom of Castille). Karaoke is written in katakana because “oke” is short for “orchestra”, i.e. a borrowed word (also dealt with in another post). When you see normally katakana words written in hiragana, it is to give them impact. This is an extension of the most popular way of katakana, which is “the Japanese italics”, with words being converted from katakana to hiragana on posters etc as a kind of reverse italics.

    There are also plenty of post WWII inventions written in kanji (and so in hiragana for kids etc), e.g. 洗濯機, 炊飯器


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