Chinese "kanji"

Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Thu Oct 6 14:25:11 UTC 2005

Back in the '50's and '60's in  L.A. - or perhaps still; I haven't
been there in decades - there were three Japanese bars: the Papa Lion,
the Mama Lion, and the Baby Lion, with the names spelling out in neon
Japanese characters that I assumed  for over a decade were the
Japanese words equivalent to the English words.

After a couple of courses in Japanese at U.C.L.A., I was disappointed
to discover that the characters were katakana and merely spelled out
"pa-pa-ra-i-on," "ma-ma-ra-i-on," and "be-bi-ra-i-on." Oh, well.

FWIW, there's an area in downtown L.A. known to the hoi polloi as
"Little Tokyo." However, my Japanese-American friends always refer to
this area as "Japanese Town."

-Wilson Gray

On 10/6/05, Douglas G. Wilson <douglas at> wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       "Douglas G. Wilson" <douglas at NB.NET>
> Subject:      Re: Chinese "kanji"
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> >Isn't katakana used only for writing foreign words, somewhat as
> >though, in English, we used italics only to write words like "angst,"
> >and "a la carte"?
> I think the relationship of katakana to hiragana is very similar to the
> relationship of italicized letters to plain letters in English. Of course
> the analogy is not exact, but one can say for example:
> (1) katakana/italics are used for emphasis sometimes;
> (2) katakana/italics are sometimes used to reproduce pure sounds, including
> animal utterances;
> (3) katakana/italics are used for words perceived as "foreign";
> (4) katakana/italics are used to indicate a special or unusual sense of a
> word sometimes;
> (5) katakana/italics can be used to distinguish words of a certain
> arbitrary class [e.g., my Nelson kanji dictionary italicizes the kun-yomi
> (native Japanese pronunciations) in the index to distinguish them from the
> on-yomi (Chinese-ish pronunciations), while my Japanese kanji dictionary
> uses katakana for on-yomi, hiragana for kun-yomi];
> (6) katakana/italics can be used for a whole block of text for an esthetic
> purpose or at the whim of the author or publisher.
> -- Doug Wilson

-Wilson Gray

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