皆様、こんにちにゃあ！Welcome to Kiki+Koko: Let’s NihonGO!! Online, your personal Japanese language and culture classroom! We’re your tutors, your teachers, your guides to Japanese, Kiki and Koko! Asking questions can be a vital part of learning, and though teachers are educated in pedagogy, it can always help to get your perspectives on subjects as concepts or ideas that may seem second nature to us can feel impossible to others. And, after creating so many lessons, thus farー(over 200 at the time of publishing this!)ーwe’ve decided that we should dedicate more time to your questions! Though we respond directly on social media and elsewhere to your questions, we hope this benefits those that may have the same questions or better still, haven’t even thought of the question, yet! We want to be sure to continue to build on the goal of eventually having every resource you’ll need to learn Japanese language and immerse yourself in culture, so with that, we’re continuing with our interactive segment: Your Questions Answered!
「Your Questions Answered」is your time to shine. Again, many questions Japanese language learners encounter end up being topics or concepts that others also may eventually come across. Similarly, there may be questions that may not be complex enough to explain during an entire segment, however even those we can eventually attempt to compile into a larger segment if we receive many of them. Remember, there is no question too complex or too short! If we do end up receiving many related smaller questions, we may simply combine them for your convenience. So, feel free to contact us, and we’ll continue to do our best to answer your questions! (Just be sure to keep any language or culture questions appropriate for all-ages!) Now, onto the question!
Hello, Kiki and Koko,
I have seen the symbols: 「・」and 「＝」used in various contexts in Japanese. They seem almost interchangeable. Are they interchangeable?
What is the difference between 「・」and 「＝」?
Thank you so much to █████ ████████ who asked this question! This actually brings to light an important near-future topic of things like punctuation in Japanese. At first glance, you may see similar punctuation to English that may have actually been influenced by English itself, but in many cases, you’ll find English punctuation doesn’t quite fit into Japanese in the same way as it’s quite similar to many other markings or doesn’t stand out quite as well. Today’s topic has much to do with this idea! You’ll most often, see these symbols in conjunction with loan words which are usually written in カタカナ、katakana. You may even see these symbols with letters on their own. However, in the full context, you will actually see this used to separate words in native Japanese words, as well. However, for now, we’re going to focus on its use with loan words.
But, perhaps you’re not even familiar with the basics of Japanese writing? We definitely recommend reading this article to get a basic understanding of how Japanese works—It’ll be really helpful before you get further into this article, as more questions will arise. Then, you can come back, and feel a lot more confident in what you’re reading! Anyway, let’s continue!
The Issue (Delving Into Your Question)
In order to properly answer this question, many may wonder what exactly are these symbols? Well, because as of this moment, we don’t have a full lesson explaining these, we’ll just keep the answers short and simple in order to keep in the nature of the segment. But, in future, we’ll certainly give a more detailed explanation. However, for now, this should hopefully give you the quintessential nature of these symbols.
Now, in the full question, the questioner knew what 「・」is, but now, you will, too! This is called an interpunct in English, but it is known as 中黒、nakaguro. Though 中黒、nakaguro, can be used in many contexts, the reason why we’re focusing mainly on loan words is due to the nature of the question in which it seems interchangeable with ダブルハイフン, daburu haifun. In the case of loan words, 中黒、nakaguro, is used to separate two loan words such as a given name and family name or a compound noun.
Example: 「Christopher Robin」
In the current editions of the くまのプーさん, kuma no puusan, series, you’ll often see the name 「クリストファー・ロビン」. However, in some earlier editions, you would see copies of the book say 「クリストファー＝ロビン」using the ダブルハイフン, daburu haifun, which was actually due to the fact that this is a two-part given name rather than a first and last name. (Be sure to keep this idea in mind!)
The true nature of the usage for this, as you may see, is that when there’s a jumble of characters in a row, and spacing not always being the best way to tell in vertical or even horizontal writing, something different to any other symbol must be used in order to indicate that this is a separate word, but that both words are still part of the same subject, so to speak. Otherwise, one wouldn’t know in a loan word where the first name begins or the second name ends.
The Solution (Your Question Answered)
So, you may notice we haven’t explained that other symbol quite yet, but the reason why is that the explanation of this second character is actually what will answer your question.
Now, we mentioned another stylisation in the writing of Christopher Robin which may not make sense without proper context. But, first, we have to explain what exactly that ‘equals sign’ sort of symbol actually is. And, oddly enough, though there is a similar shorter equals sign used in Japanese maths, just as in the west,「＝」is not an equals sign in this case, as many usually think. Instead, it is what we just referred to as a 「double hyphen」or ダブルハイフン, daburu haifun,.
But, why is there a double hyphen? Simply put: it’s because the 「－」symbol is too similar to 「-」to know whether it’s a hyphen or a 長音, chouon, (which looks like this:「ー」) So, the 「＝」takes the place of the western hyphen.
So, the reason why we’re using loan words as the main example in this, or the focus, is that the double hyphen is usually used in katakana and loan words due to it being the only case where a hyphen would be used in that way, being a foreign concept. Though, of course, it could be confused for an equals sign, the context of it being betwixt loan words or, in this case, loan letters, is usually enough to differentiate, more so than hyphens and chouon.
The reason why translators wrote it as「クリストファー＝ロビン」rather than the actually more so correct feeling「クリストファー・ロビン」is because two first names are usually hyphenated, e.g. Christopher-Robin. However, the reason why the former may feel more natural initially in Japanese is because, though the nakaguro can be used for simple separation, it does make it feel as though it is actually their family name rather than a two-part first name. These sorts of things can get very complicated quite quickly, but perhaps a scenario where both of these characters are used in one instance may be the thing that clears everything up.
The best example of seeing this difference in action of 「・」and 「＝」is something like the name: ジャン＝リュック・ピカード, jyan=ryukku ・pikaado, or Jean-Luc Picard, the double hyphen showing it’s two words for the given name and then showing a word break between the given name and second name. This is why「クリストファー＝ロビン」was often stylised as a double first name, but since his name is never fully revealed in the series that it’s probably 「クリストファー＝ロビン・ミルン」(kurisutofaa=robin・mirun, it’s just been changed to the more common name break style since, again, his name isn’t usually hyphenated in English
Example: 「Jean-Luc Picard」
〇ジャン＝リュック・ピカード ( jyan=ryukku ・pikaado)
Example: 「Chrisopher Robin Milne」
Are these interchangeable?
Though, in conclusion, the best way to explain it is certainly the examples above, we do have to mention that there is a lot of blurring on the rules of this due to the various uses and the idea of stylisation. So, even though the examples give the general feeling when it comes to the loose rules of these punctuation marks in the case of loan words, you’ll end up eventually running into seemingly confusing uses of nakaguro and daburuhaifun respectively being used interchangeably.
So, all in all, to answer simply, they are and they aren’t. Stylistically, you may see them interchangeably used, but in many cases, such as if you’d like to express something is hyphenated or you’d like to simply separate two words that are part of a compound noun, it’s best to just stick with the simple usages to express these ideas clearly. But, again, stylisation is different to proper grammar and punctuation. You’ll see a broad way of things used that can become quite confusing. But, as long as you stick with the classic punctuation and grammar, you’ll be able to learn the language properly, and THEN after you’re comfortable, you can have fun with friends or art and mess about with stylistic choices such as that. Just try to be sure you keep your proper literary and written grammar and punctuation separate from your fun stylisations, and you’ll do fine!
We hope that answered your question! Again, feel free to leave a comment below or contact us and see if your question gets featured on the next Your Questions Answered by KiKi+KoKo! We really enjoy being able to give direct feedback this way that can help anyone who passes by with the same question or one they didn’t even realise they had yet! We’ll continue to provide lessons and articles for you in future that we hope will give you all that you need on your Japanese language learning journey.
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