By Hilary Picken | February 26, 2019 | Languages
No-one could have predicted the meteoric rise of Japan in the business and manufacturing spheres in the latter half of the 20th century, but the fact remains that Japan now has an important presence in the Western world. Making sure that translations both to and from the Japanese language are perfect is consequently incredibly important.
Many people know that Japanese is written completely differently to English, but it’s also important to note that there is more than one Japanese script. You may want to use different writing styles to elicit different responses from the text.
Kanji is the most common form of Japanese text, and the majority of the time this is how you will see your translations rendered. Each kanji character represents a word and most words in Japanese can be rendered as kanji. Much like various English homographs, each kanji can be read multiple ways based on the surrounding context. Important in every language, context is even more vital in Japanese to avoid confusion.
Hiragana are symbols that are used to give inflection to words, and most often are paired with kanji rather than used on their own. Hiragana represent syllables or ‘sounds’ in the Japanese language, and so can also be used to simplify words that aren’t commonly represented as kanji, either because no kanji exists, or because it is very rare. Using hiragana for a word that is normally represented by kanji can give the text a more simplistic tone, suitable for children and colloquial writing styles, so you may want a word to be translated into hiragana rather than kanji for a different interpretation.
Katakana, much like hiragana, are symbols that each represent an individual syllable or sound. Katakana is mostly only used for foreign words, such as words that don’t exist natively in Japanese, names and loan words. In many ways, this makes katakana similar to a Japanese form of italics. It’s likely that your translation will therefore contain a few of these, whether for proper nouns or words that Japanese hasn’t yet translated.
Traditionally, Japanese is read and written from the top right of a page in columns that lead the eye down, and then to the top of the next column on the left. However, Japanese can also be written left to right, as in western languages, and the way in which your text is displayed is often largely based on format.
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