Being that japanese is a phonetic language, I wonder what the is suppose to cover.

here is one example
What's the difference between "家" (ya), "屋" (ya), and "や" (ya) as used in the names of shops/stores/restaurants?

  • The concept of correct spelling and the concept of alternative spellings exist for both languages, and for Romaji it is fairly equivalent. Thank you :)
    – M H
    Nov 9, 2020 at 9:52

3 Answers 3


When wondering what a tag covers, a good place to look is the tag wiki and excerpt:

The choice of which sequences of kanji and kana form accepted ways to write a given word, particle, or other sound including onomatopoeia.

Another is to look at a range of questions thusly tagged:

As for what "phonetic language" means, Dutch, French, German, and Spanish are all spelled how they sound yet still concern themselves with spelling. Compare those languages with Japanese where the kana are phonetic except for three particles, unpredictable vowel mutation, unpredictable rendaku, and unpredictable pitch accent; but the mapping between sounds and kanji is many-to-many and the mapping between words and kanji vs. hiragana vs. katakana vs. mixed is one-to-many.

  • Just a small comment: there's no such thing as "phonetic language" - every spoken language is phonetic, in the meaning it is conveyed by sound. "Phonetic writing" is a more accurate term, but it's also misleading, since in most cases where you speak about "phonetic writing" (including Spanish and German, for instance), you actually have "phonemic orthography", where every letter or combination of letters is predictably mapped to a single phoneme. A phoneme can still sound differently and be one of the same.
    – Boaz Yaniv
    Jun 15, 2011 at 17:35
  • e.g. the Spanish phoneme /b/ (written b or v) is pronounced [b] in basta and vamos and [v] (actually [β]) in haber and cavar. A phonetic orthography would take that into account and write "bamos" and "aver", etc. I know only two languages that are written in something than can be considered close to a phonetic writing: Sanskrit, and to a lesser degree Belarusian.
    – Boaz Yaniv
    Jun 15, 2011 at 17:41

When people talk about “spelling” of Japanese, it feels odd to me because in Japanese the loanword スペリング is usually reserved for English and languages like that (languages using phonemic alphabets?). I find the word “orthography” much more natural.

But after all, the meanings of “spelling” and スペリング can be slightly different, in which case the tag definitely refers to the English word “spelling.” So I think the tag should just refer to orthography and it is fine as it is.

  • 2
    I think orthography would be the best alternative tag name but also since it covers a broader concept including punctuation so it will surely appear here sooner or later as a sister tag. Jun 16, 2011 at 0:00
  • @hippietrail: I agree that orthography is broader than spelling. I was not aware of that when I wrote this reply. Jun 16, 2011 at 0:36
  • +1: since i don't know what orthography is, it does have the same "iwakan" as the word spelling does for me :) My vote is for this. Jun 16, 2011 at 4:56
  • The difference between orthography and spelling: english.stackexchange.com/questions/24042/… Jun 16, 2011 at 5:30

IANAL, but I think spelling makes good sense in Japanese, as: "What kanji should be used for this word written in kana"

Together with reading, naturally understood as: "What kana (i.e. pronunciation) should be used for this word written in kanji", I think they make a good fit that cover two aspects of a common Japanese issue.

Perhaps a way to separate it from "alphabet-based languages" spelling (i.e. transcription of a spoken word to writing) would be to use kanji-spelling instead?

  • but typically the analagous pair to "reading" is "writing". I'd prefer "Kanji-choice" as a tag if we were going to go the route of kanji-spelling. Which is inline with the "Word-Choice" tag that we already have Jun 16, 2011 at 4:53
  • @Mark: in general, yes... but you could say this particular use of 'reading' is different from that in reading/writing (where 'reading' assumes text-to-speech conversion, not text-to-text).
    – Dave
    Jun 16, 2011 at 4:55
  • Out of curiosity, what is the japanese word for it? is it just kakikata? Jun 16, 2011 at 4:59
  • @Mark: I have always heard 読み方 and 書き方 used for the above (text-to-text conversions). But this may be due to the implicit assumption that grown-ups don't need help with reading/writing kana. I think I would use the same word if for some reason I was asking how to read/write a kana word told orally.
    – Dave
    Jun 16, 2011 at 5:02
  • Also, to go back to writing/reading: 'writing' is mainly used to refer to the skill in general. When asking for a particular way to write a word, 'spelling' would be the more appropriate word for it in English.
    – Dave
    Jun 16, 2011 at 5:04
  • Neither "kanji-spelling" nor "kanji-choice" would address the other complexities such as whether to spell "otaku" in hiragna or katakana, whether to spell "kitsune" with the single kanji vs katakan? Which of the various ways, some involving kanji, some not, of spelling "sushi". Taking all this into account you would need "character-choice" rather than "kanji-choice" and character choice is what spelling is anyway. Jun 16, 2011 at 5:29
  • @hippietrail:first off: it's a tag and as such, binning and some overgeneralisation will happen. Second, I think kanji-spelling could still cover the way to spell 'kitsune' (admittedly, it will fail for kata-or-hira questions, but then why not have 'kana-spelling')... In the end, it's a choice between the more general ('spelling') and the more specific ('kanji-spelling' + 'kana-spelling'). But we seem to agree that some variant of 'spelling' would be useful either way ;-)
    – Dave
    Jun 16, 2011 at 5:36

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