Difference Between Katakana and Hiragana

Katakana vs Hiragana
 

The difference between Katakana and Hiragana is mainly in the usage. Though the Japanese spoke the Japanese language, they did not have a script of their own till about 4 A.D. In the 5th century, Japanese tried to make a writing script by importing Chinese script and that too through another country, Korea. They developed a hybrid style of writing Chinese called Kojiki. Over the time, Japan developed a system of writing for both Japanese, as well as for words borrowed from China. Hiragana and Katakana evolved as two separate syllabic scripts or syllabaries. Today, the system of writing is a mixture of these scripts called Katakana and Hiragana along with a third script called Kanji. Many people, who are trying to learn Japanese as a foreign language, fail to appreciate the differences between Katakana and Hiragana. This article will remove doubts and make learning Japanese writing system easy for such people.

Both Katakana and Hiragana are syllabic writing. That means, every letter in these alphabets only carry a syllable such as o. This shows that Katakana and Hiragana are very different from Kanji as Kanji is a form of ideographic writing. Ideographic writing is when one character represents a whole idea or a concept. So, while many Kanji character can stand alone and act as separate words, the Katakana and Hiragana characters have to be brought together to make a word with a complete sense.

What is Hiragana?

In the Japanese script, Hiragana is an alphabet that is used to spell different Japanese words. Japanese kids and all foreign students of Japanese language have to learn this alphabet system to be able to write in Japanese language. However, entire Japanese is not written using Hiragana alphabets. What is Katakana, then? Well, it is a copy of Hiragana alphabet and, for every Hiragana alphabet, there is a Katakana version. The same holds true for every Katakana alphabet that has a Hiragana version. Hiragana is mainly used to spell Original Japanese words. Hiragana characters are rounder in nature. Of the two, Hiragana is the older having been used since 1st century AD. It is said that Japanese people use Hiragana for more formal types of writing such as writing books and letters.

Difference Between Katakana and Hiragana

Hiragana table with stroke order

What is Katakana?

Katakana is one of the alphabets used in Japanese writing. We said that every Katakana alphabet has a Hiragana version, and every Hiragana alphabet has a Katakana version. Why do they have two similar alphabets that are even pronouncing or sounding the same but having different characters? The answer to this conundrum lies in the fact that Katakana alphabet is used to spell words that have been borrowed and incorporated in Japanese language from Chinese and Korean languages. One feature that distinguishes Katakana characters from Hiragana characters is that, characters in Katakana are more angular in appearance than Hiragana characters.

Out of the three major systems of writing Japanese, Kana is the most common, and Hiragana and Katakana are two subsystems in this Kana system of writing. Kanji is the most ancient system of writing Japanese while Romaji is the latest to incorporate Roman alphabets to spell Japanese words. Katakana is merely a thousand-year old. That means Hiragana is older than Katakana. This is why there is generous sprinkling of Hiragana characters in Katakana. It is seen that Katakana is used more as a shorthand system.

Katakana vs Hiragana

Katakana table with stroke order

What is the difference between Katakana and Hiragana?

• Japanese Writing System:

• Kana, Kanji, and Romaji are the three major systems of writing the Japanese language.

• Hiragana and Katakana are both subsystems of writing Japanese in the Kana system of writing.

• Origin:

• Hiragana is older than Katakana having been used since 1st century AD.

• Katakana originated as late as 1000 AD.

• Appearance:

• Hiragana characters are rounded.

• Katakana characters are angular in appearance.

• Use:

• Hiragana script is used to spell traditional Japanese words.

• Katakana is used to spell words of foreign origin.

• Occasions:

• It is Hiragana that is more formal and used for writing books and letters.

• Katakana is more for taking shorthand.

• Type of Writing:

• Both Katakana and Hiragana are syllabic writing. That means every letter in these alphabets only carry a syllable such as o.

These are the differences between Katakana and Hiragana.

 

Images Courtesy:

  1. Hiragana table with stroke order by User:Pmx (CC BY-SA 3.0)
  2. Katakana table with stroke order by User:Pmx (CC BY-SA 3.0)