Phonetikana: Embedding English into Japanese Characters

phonetikana phonetic japanese alphabet

Nothing gets lost in translation with these embedded English pronunciations, tied directly into the Japanese typographic style Katakana. While the letterforms of Katakana create an effectively phonetic alphabet, its characters are still difficult for some foreigners to read, at least until now.



Like many design solutions, this one looks easy in retrospect: simply tuck an English-legible phonetic articulation guide using a capped alphabet inside the Japanese characters. The result: Phonetikana, a potentially very powerful tool for communication, teaching and learning, or even signage in places like international airports or multinational conventions.



From the creators: “Multiple trips to Japan and constant frustration at being unable to read the language has sparked off an unusual typographic project at johnson banks. Earlier in the year we started seeing if we could combine the English language and Japanese script in some way.”





The firm went a step further as well, embedding words and phrases inside symbols to create a children-legible introductory guide to Japanese, reinforcing connections between each sound and symbol set. Meanwhile, the hybrid typography remains a work in progress, but definitely on the right linguistic track.