How do you spell English words in katakana?

It’s not quite as intuitive as i thought it might be and my first guesses are usually wrong. So like what’s the basics of porting an english word over to japanese?

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If you’re writing one in katakana that isn’t already a loanword, then you’re pretty much free to do whatever you want

For ones that are already loanwords, well… it kind of depends.

There are ones that are spelled so that they sound the same (or as close as Japanese sounds can approximate) even if they don’t necessarily look all that much the same romanized, like ライト (raito) can be “right” or “light” depending on context, or コート (cooto) being used for both “coat” and “court”

There are ones that are spelled so that they look (pretty much) the same romanized but are pronounced differently, like “gel” becomes ゲル (geru > gel) rather than ジェル and “undine” becomes ウンディーネ (undiine > undine) instead of アンダイン

Then there’s ティッシュ “tissue” which is kind of in between, I feel, because “tisshu” doesn’t look that much like the English word and it ends up sounding like “tish” instead of “tishyuu.”

You’ll see it with non-Japanese names, too. I don’t know if there are any strict rules for it.

If you use a JP>EN dictionary that allows lookups from English, then typing the word could give you the katakanized version if it’s in its database. Otherwise… I dunno. You kinda just pick them up from encountering them in Japanese.

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I’d use wikipedia and Jisho for check-ups on your guesses. They’re really helpful when trying to figure this out, as sadly, there are more than one way to do this. ^^;

It’s not unlike how Russian names/words can also be spelled in multiple ways in English, same issue. Other languages also has this problem of how they’re moved into English. There is just more than one way to do it.

But, if you have something you wanna say, try just finding it on Jisho or on Wikipedia for reference. :slight_smile: It will give you an idea of how popular a particular katakana version of a name or word is for sure.

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If there aren’t existing loanwords, check the actual pronunciation first.

There is also this tool (and rules).

https://www.sljfaq.org/afaq/english-in-japanese.html

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There is also this interesting Tofugu article about it I read a while ago. It has most of the rules you’d actually need to convert an English word to Katakana, but of course not all katakanization is based on strict rules so there can be many outliers (especially because many earlier imported words came from Dutch and not actually English).

Katakanization Guide: How To Convert English Words to Japanese

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One of the appendixes to the Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar gives some rules and exceptions for spellings of katakana loanwords. But I agree with the other answers that say “look it up in a dictionary”… There are some cases where the Japanese spelling is influenced by the English spelling rather than the English pronunciation, among other things.

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Yeah, there are customary ways of doing it, not actual rules. that’s the thing. You can do it in multiple ways. Those different ways are not “wrong”. But, they can be more common or better understood I gather, depending on where you go - thus my tip to check Wikipedia for guidance - it does help you choose a more common choice.

(it doesn’t change that English and other foreign words can have several “correct” katakana versions.)

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