Sunday, December 3, 2017

Small Kana - ゃゅょぁぃぅぇぉっ

The "small" kana, often called chiisai kana 小さいかな, are smaller versions of normal-sized kana, for example: aa あぁ. Another name for the small kana would be sutegana 捨て仮名, although that term may sometimes refer to the okurigana 送り仮名 instead.

The small kana aren't simply written smaller as an stylistic choice, they have purpose and function in the Japanese language, and you don't even need to change the font size to type them.

Small Kana & What They Often Represent - Small ya, yu, yo: compound kana. Small a, i, e, o: foreign words. Small tsu: double consonants. Small ka, ke: month counter.


The small kana are always different from the normal-sized kana. Don't think they are the same, ever, because they are not.

The small ya, yu and yo ゃゅょ are used to form compound kana such as nya にゃ, which is pronounced as a diphthong (syllable with two vowels) and is different from niya にや written with normal-sized syllables.

The small a, i, u, e, o ァィゥェォ are often found in loan-words and express the diphthongs of their foreign pronunciations that aren't found in normal Japanese (fairu ファイル, "file"). They're also used in fading screams in manga, etc.: EEEeeeeeeeeeee... えええぇぇぇぇぇぇぇぇぇぇー.

The small tsu expresses double consonants (example: gakkou がっこう), and is pronounced completely differently from the normal tsu つ.

The small kein katakana, and sometimes ka ヵ, abbreviate the ka 箇 counter, most commonly found in counting months (example: ikkagetsu 一ヶ月, "one month").

Besides the above, there are other less common small kana, such as wa ゎ, which affect the pronunciation of words slightly.

Different Words

Words written with small kana are not the same as words written with normal-sized kana. For example:
  • hatsuka はつか (kanji: 二十日)
    Twenty days.
  • hakka はっか (発火)
  • hyou ヒョウ (雹)
    Hail. (the raining kind)
  • hiyou ヒヨウ (費用)
  • fan ファン
    A fan of someone.
  • fuan フアン
    A Juan. A guy literally called Juan.

How to Type

There are multiple methods to input the small kana with an IME.

The method that works all the time is using a small kana prefix. This is often the L or X key. So typing la or xa creates ぁ. Typing ltsu creates っ. Typing lya lyu lyo creates ゃゅょ. (I prefer the L because I think I'm typing little ya).

For the small tsu, literally typing a consonant twice creates it to represent a double consonant: tte って.

Other small kana may be mapped to some combinations of letters. For example (in the IME I'm using): fa ふぁ, dhi でぃ, tyi ちぃ, etc.


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  1. I don't really understand the usage of smaller hiragana vowels. I get how small katakana vowels create new sounds such as シャ and the usage of small hiragana vowels must be similar to this but then why are small hiragana used? Shouldn't small vowels only be necessary for writing foreign words in Japanese since they augment the initial sounds of the alphabet to fit foreign sounds? Are small hiragana vowels simply used for aesthetic reasons by expressing a loan word in hiragana or do they have a different usage than small katakana vowels?

    1. There are lots of native words with small やゆよ. しょうじょ, しゅんかん, しゃしん, etc. With small あえいおう I don't think there are many native words, so they're used less, but they're used in onomatopoeia like えええええぇぇぇぇぇぇー, あぁー, etc. so in manga at least they're rather frequent.