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One of three writing systems used in Japan. Like hiragana, katakana is a phoneme-based kana (alphabet) consisting of 46 characters, of which many can be modified with the use of one of two accidental characters (a small circle, maru, or a double tick, ten ten, both in the upper right side of the character). Katakana is typically used for words of foreign origin, modern origin, or for emphasis, similar to how English uses italics. Katakana is typically much more angular in appearance that hiragana.

The katakana character set

The original katakana set mirrored the hiragana set, and also consisted of 51 characters, but several were dropped over the years due to similarities in sound with other characters. The yi and ye sounds were dropped in favour of the i and e sounds respectively. Likewise, the wi, wu and we sounds were dropped in preference to their easier to pronounce base vowel forms.

The kana character which occupies the wo position is unique in that it is pronounced o, (no 'w' in the sound), and that it is never found in a word -- it stands alone as a determinant.

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