Katakana: Voiced Consonants and Other Sounds

Though I covered in an earlier post all the distinct characters in Katakana there are still a few additional variations and sounds that still remain.

Voiced Consonants

Voiced consonants are consonant sounds that require creating a vibration in your throat. A number of consonant sounds in Katakana can be changed to their voiced counterpart by adding two small dashes to the upper-right corner of the character; namely the “k”, “s”, “t”, and “h” consonant sounds. There is also a semi-voiced consonant sound “p”, which is created by putting a small circle in the upper-right corner of the “h” characters.

Y-vowel sounds

A consonant can precede the three y-sounds: (ャ), (ュ ) or (ョ). This is done by attaching a small, half-size version of the y-sounds to the consonant+i sounds as you can see in the table below.

Hard Consonant Sounds

While no single letter ends in a consonant sound except (ん), Japanese does have a way to carry over the next consonant sound back with a small (つ). This can be used with the consonants “p, k, t, s” to create a hard stop.

The Long Vowel Sound

Long vowel sounds in Katakana are much easier. You simply need to use a dash: 「ー」.

• ツアー (tsu-a) —> tour

• メール (me-ru) —> email

• ケーキ (ke-ki) —> cake

Additional Katakana Sounds

(ふ) is the only sound that is pronounced with a “f” sound, for example:

ふとん —> futon

ふじ —> Fuji

That’s fine in Japanese because there are no words with other “f” sounds. It’s a problem when converting foreign words such as “fork” into Katakana. This problem was solved by using small vowel sounds. For example, the small (ォ) can be attached to (フ) to create (フォ)

“Fork” becomes (フォーク).

There are other gaps that are filled with this technique. The “v” sounds are also expressed by putting two dashes to the vowel sounds. However, “v” sounds are rarely used due to the difficulty native Japanese speakers have in pronouncing them.

The following table shows the gaps that were filled using these techniques for Katakana.

Some example words in katakana:

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