Japanese Pronunciation

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					                          Aikido Gakko Ueshiba                                     A Guide To Pronouncing Japanese
                                                                                                         Reference


   1. A little Background
   Skip this section if you want to go straight on with pronunciation. For those interested...

   The Japanese language is constructed of very straightforward phonic elements, with only a few special rules
   modifying the basic structure. Looking at the language as though it were written in the Roman Alphabet, each
   word consists of one or more syllables and occasional double consonants. Syllables are either individual
   vowels, a consonant followed by a vowel or „n‟. Each syllable is spoken with the same metre length, or a vowel
   sound (alone or after a consonant) may have its length doubled.

   So the Japanese language is a very even paced, vowel heavy language. Emphasis is given by pitch rather than
   stress and this can give it a very “singsong” quality, especially when spoken by women.

   Japanese has two written forms that are used together; the ancient symbols adopted from the Chinese and a
   native Japanese syllabary (also in two forms). It is usually considered that a basically educated Japanese should
   know at least two thousand of the Chinese symbols and the roughly one hundred or so Japanese syllabic
   characters. So, in the English speaking world it is more normal to represent Japanese writing using our own
   Roman alphabet. As you will see this can present a few problems.

   A Japanese symbol usually has at least two different pronunciations, one based on the Chinese language and the
   other on its Japanese equivalent, but these sounds once learned are fixed and known.

   The Japanese syllabary is used more like our alphabet; each character represents a component of the Japanese
   language sounds. Our own alphabet splits this down to the level of parts of a syllable, but the Japanese
   syllabary operates on whole syllables with consistent vocalisation. This actually makes the Japanese easier to
   learn and pronounce correctly, for example...

         English:               “cu” in “cut”
                       and “cu” in “cute”
         Japanese: “ku” is used where we would use “cu”
                            “ku” in “kuru”       always pronounced like the English “cu” in “cut”,
                                                      }




                     and “ku” in “kutsu”         but softened very slightly.

   The Japanese syllabary can be used to write the whole language, replacing the Chinese symbols, because it
   represents all of the languages sounds.

   Note: just to confuse matters further, the roughly 100 characters of the syllabary are actually in two halves.
         Each half has the same set of sounds, but the characters used are slightly different. The first half (the
         Hiragana) uses rounded characters and is used for native Japanese words. The second half‟s characters
         (Katakana) are more angular and are used when writing words imported from other languages or
         technical/scientific terms.

   In “Romanising” the Japanese sounds using our own alphabet, two main methods have been developed the
   commonest of which is the “Modified Hepburn System”, based around original attempts by Hepburn. This is
   the method described in this text. When Japanese is written in Romanised form the Japanese call it “Romaji”
   script.




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                TEMPLEGATE DOJOA Guide To Pronouncing Japanese                                            Reference
                                                                                                        Reference
2. Pronunciation Guide
What follows is a staged guide to pronouncing Japanese and writing it using the Roman alphabet (“Romaji”).
The sections are:-

   A description of how the Japanese sounds are represented using the Romaji alphabet.
   Rules for the overall pronunciation of Japanese.

   Descriptions of the small number of rules governing changes in pronunciation with certain syllable
   combinations.
   Tables of the Japanese syllabary, represented using Romaji alphabet using the modified Hepburn system.
   These define all the sounds of the Japanese language with pronunciation examples (where possible).
   A selection of examples.
   Some pitfalls and things beyond the scope of this text.

The simplest approach is just to use the syllabary tables and just go with the flow. Don‟t worry too much.

2.1.     Romanising The Syllabary

          i.    The modified Hepburn system is used below. It represents the Japanese syllabary using the
                Roman alphabet. In this system each vowel is represented as we represent our own vowels “a”,
                “e”, “i”, “o” and “u”. The syllables are then represented by prefixing the vowels with an
                appropriate consonant (see the example above for “ku”). The only single consonant syllable in
                Japanese is “n”.
          ii.   Double length syllables are always caused by lengthening a vowel and this is shown by placing a
                diacritic dash mark over the vowel (“ku” - single length syllable, “k_” - double the syllable
                length).

          iii. Double consonants are possible, but these are always pronounced distinctly. They are represented
               by a doubling of the consonant in spelling (“kekkon” - marriage).

          iv. The “s” consonant also has an “sh” form in combination with vowels and this is written as “sh”
              when it occurs.

          v.    The “t” consonant is never used in direct combination with “i”. It is always sounded as the “chi”
                in “chip” (see 2.3.5. below). It is represented as “chi”.

          vi. The “t” consonant is never used in direct combination with “u”. It is always modified to a slight
              “t” sound preceding “su” (see 2.3.6. below). It is represented as “tsu”.

          vii. The “h” consonant is never used in direct combination with “u”. It is always sounded like a
               breathy “f” started with a microscopic “h” sound (see 2.3.7. below). It is represented as “fu”

          viii. Japanese also allows for modified vowel sounds in the consonant/vowel syllables. The
                modification is always to merge a “y” sound into the front of the vowel. This is shown by:-

                 Adding a “y” between most consonants and the vowel in spelling (for example, “kyu”).
                 Adding an “h” between “s” and the vowel in spelling (for example “sha”).

                 Replacing “t” with “ch” before the vowel in spelling (for example “cho”).
                 Replacing “z” with “j” before the vowel in spelling (for example “ju”).




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                         Aikido Gakko Ueshiba                                       A Guide To Pronouncing Japanese
                                                                                                          Reference

           ix. Although the Japanese have two versions of the written syllabary, Hiragana and Katakana (see 1.
                above), each version is phonically the same. The modified Hepburn Romanisation does not
                distinguish between these two forms.
  2.2.     General Pronunciation Rules
            i.   Japanese is an evenly metred language, where each syllable of a word is given the same length.

            ii. Syllables consist of either a vowel alone or a consonant followed by a vowel or a vowel
                compounded with “y”. For example:-

                     “ku” and the compound “kyu”; “ru” and the compound “ryu”.

                 The “y” is rolled into the “u” to form a single sound. Also there is no separation between the
                 consonant and the “y” sound. This does not alter the hardness of the vowel (see below). For
                 example:-
                     The “ya” in “kya” is pronounce as in “yap” not as in “yale”.

                 Note: that “s” is replaced with the “sh” of “shire” and “t” is replaced with the “ch” sound of
                        “church” before a “y” compounded vowel. “Z” forms “y” compound syllables as well, but
                        these are pronounced as though “j” is coupled with the vowel alone (e.g. “jo”, not “zyo”)
                        and this is slightly softened like “u” (see 2.3.2. below).

            iii. The only none vowel syllable is “n” alone. It is pronounced just like the English terminal “n”
                 (e.g. in “gun”), but is always given a full syllable length.

            iv. Vowel sounds are mostly hard when pronounced correctly. For example:-
                     “koku” (traditional rice measure) is pronounced as “koku”, not “kookew”.




                                                          “co” as in “cot”
                                              “co” as in “cone” or “coot”
            v. A double length vowel sound is still pronounced as a single length vowel; they sound is simply
               dragged out to twice the length of the single.

            vi. Double consonants may be found in the middle of words. These are always pronounced as
                separate items. For example:-

                     “kekkon” (marriage) is pronounced as “kek” “kon”, not “kekon”.

                 The pause between consonants is very brief, more of a short stagger than a word break.

            vii. Where vowels follow immediately after another vowel the two sounds tend to roll together, but
                 each vowel has its full length and the vowel sounds should not be over modified. A classic
                 example is the English mispronunciation of the Koi carp‟s name. It is usually pronounced like
                 “coy”, whereas it should be “ko-i”. The o rolls into the i, but both retain their short, hard sound.

  2.3.     A Few Exceptions To 2.2.
           As with any language there are common usage corruptions to the formal pronunciations and similar
           small variations.




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                2.3.1.Elision Of “I”

                    The “i” vowel is frequently almost dropped from a consonant/vowel syllable when in the
                    middle of a word and followed by a consonant with a hard opening sound like “k”, “t” or
                    “p”. This loss leaves only the slightest of “i” sounds behind and the syllable length also
                    drops. For example:-

                     “yoroshiku” ( I beg you) is pronounced “yo-ro-shku” rather than “yo-ro-shi-ku”.

           2.3.2. Softening Of “U”


                    In 2.2., iv. above it indicates that most of the vowels use a short, hard sound. “U” is the
                    exception. It is usually softened slightly to something like the “u” in “super”, but the lips do
                    not move forwards. It is like a halfway house between the “u” in “supper” and that in “suit”.
                    Note: “o” also undergoes a similar, slight softening when modified by “y” (see 2.2., ii.
                           above).

                2.3.3.Elision Of “U”

                    When “u” is the last sound in a word it is sometimes reduced almost to nothing. The
                    commonest occurrence of this is the terminal “u” of the polite, present continuous form of a
                    verb. These verbs end in “masu”, and it is spelled like this. However, the “u” is almost
                    totally lost.

           2.3.4. “S” Consonant/Vowel Syllables

                    “S” syllables have two flavours. One where the “s” is pronounced raw. For example,
                    “Satsuma”, where the “sa” is pronounced like “sad”. The second where the “s” is modified
                    to be like the “sh” in “shut”. For example, “shaku”.

                    The “sh” pronunciation is always used in place of “si” and syllables with “y” modified
                    vowel sounds (see 2.2., ii. above).

            2.3.5. No “Ti”

                    The sound “ti” (as in “tip”) does not occur in Japanese. The value of “t” is always
                    pronounced like the “ch” in “chop” before “i”. For example “hachi”.

           2.3.6. No “ Tu”

                    The sound “tu” (as in “tun”) does not occur in Japanese. The value of “t” is always
                    pronounced like the “su” in “sun” with a slight, sibilant “t” before it. For example “tsuki”.

           2.3.7. Elision Of “H” Before “U”

                    The syllabi “hu”, is not pronounced with a strong “h” as it is in English. Instead the “h” is
                    de-voiced and tends towards a soft, breathy “f” starting with a slight “h” sound. There is no
                    real English equivalent.

           2.3.8. No “Yi” Or “Ye”

                    “Yi” and “ye” are not used in Japanese. They are phonically so close to the vowels “i” and
                    “e”, respectively, that these replace them.




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                        Aikido Gakko Ueshiba
                 TEMPLEGATE DOJOA Guide To Pronouncing Japanese Reference
                                                                                           A Guide To Pronouncing Japanese

                                     DOJO
             2.3.9. No “Wi” Or “Wu” or “We”
                                                               Reference


                         “Wi”, “wu” and “we” are not used in Japanese. They are phonically so close to the vowels
                         “i”, “u” and “e”, respectively, that these replace them.

2.4.         The Syllabary

             The syllabary tables are laid out in Romanised syllable sets commencing with the vowels, and then
             sets starting with the same consonant combined with each of the vowels. The vowels and consonants
             are presented in the common sequence used in Japan; for the vowels that is, “a, i, u, e, o” rather than
             the English “a, e, i, o, u”.

             2.4.1. Vowels, Simple Consonant/Vowel Syllables And “N”


  Syllable        Pronunciation                                   Syllable     Pronunciation
     a                                                              ka         Like the “ca” in “cat”.
                  Like the “a” in “cat”.
                  Not like the “a” in “said” or “say”.                         Not like the “ca” in “cane”.

        i         Like the “i” in “tin”.                             ki        Like the “ki” in “kick”.
                  Not like the “i” in “stile”.                                 Not like the “ki” in “kind”.
       u          Like the “u” in “super” (see 2.3.2. above).       ku         Like the “cu” in “cut” (but see 2.3.2. above).
                  Not like the “u” in “tune” or “sure”.                        Not like the “cu” in “cupid”.
       e          Like the “e” in “get”.                            ke         Like the “ke” in “ken”.
                  Not like the “e” in “see”.                                   Not like the “ke” in “keen”.
       o          Like the “o” in “cot”.                            ko         Like the “co” in “con”.
                  Not like the “o” in “cool”, “open” or “owl”.                 Not like the “co” in “cool”, “cone” or “cow”.

       sa         Like the “sa” in “sat”.                            ta        Like the “ta” in “tap”.
                  Not like the “sa” in “said” or “say”.                        Not like the “ta” in “tape”.
       shi        Like the “shi” in “ship”.                         chi        Like the “chi” in “chin”.
                  Not like the “shi” in “shine”.                               Not like the “chi” in “china”.
       su         Like the “su” in “sun” (but see 2.3.2.            tsu        Like the “tsu” in “Satsuma”. Remember to voice
                  above).                                                      the “t” slightly.
                  Not like the “su” in “super” or “sure”.
       se         Like the “se” in “set”.                            te        Like the “te” in “ten”.
                  Not like the “se” in “seep”.                                 Not like the “te” in “teal”.
       so         Like the “so” in “sop”.                            to        Like the “to” in “top”.
                  Not like the “so” in “soon”, “soap” or “sow”.                Not like the “to” in “tool”, “toe” or “towel”.
       na         Like the “na” in “nag”.                           ha         Like the “ha” in “hat”.
                  Not like the “na” in “nay”.                                  Not like the “ha” in “tape”.
       ni         Like the “ni” in “nip”.                            hi        Like the “hi” in “hip”.
                  Not like the “ni” in “line”.                                 Not like the “hi” in “hind”.

       nu         Like the “nu” in “nut” (but see 2.3.2.            fu         See 2.3.2. and 2.3.6. above).
                  above).
                  Not like the “nu” in “nude”.

       ne         Like the “ne” in “net”.                           he         Like the “he” in “hen”.
                  Not like the “ne” in “seep”.                                 Not like the “he” in “heat”.
       no         Like the “no” in “not”.                           ho         Like the “ho” in “hot”.
                  Not like the “no” in “noon”, “note” or                       Not like the “ho” in “hoop”, “hone” or “how”.
                  “now”.

       ma         Like the “ma” in “man”.                           ya         Like the “ya” in “yam”.
                  Not like the “ma” in “may”.                                  Not like the “ya” in “yay”.




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             TEMPLEGATE DOJOA Guide To Pronouncing Japanese                                                   Reference
                                                                                                            Reference

  Syllable   Pronunciation                             Syllable     Pronunciation
    mi       Like the “mi” in “mill”.
             Not like the “mi” in “mile”.
    mu       Like the “mu” in “mull” (but see 2.3.2.     yu         Like the “yu” in “yuppie” (but see 2.3.2. above).
             above).                                                Not like the “yu” in “yule”.
             Not like the “mu” in “mule”.

     me      Like the “ne” in “net”.
             Not like the “ne” in “neat”.
    mo       Like the “no” in “mop”.                     yo         Like the “yo” in “yon”.
             Not like the “mo” in “moon”, “mote” or                 Not like the “yo” in “you”, “yoga” or “yowl”.
             “mount”.
     ra      Like the “ra” in “ran”.                     wa         Like the “wa” in “wan”.
             Not like the “ra” in “ray”.                            Not like the “wa” in “way” or “wart”

     ri      Like the “ri” in “rid”.
             Not like the “ri” in “ride”.
     ru      Like the “ru” in “rut” (but see 2.3.2.
             above).
             Not like the “ru” in “rule”.

     re      Like the “re” in “reckon”.
             Not like the “re” in “reel”.
     ro      Like the “ro” in “rot”.                     wo         Like the “wo” in “wok”.
             Not like the “ro” in “root” or “round”.                Not like the “wo” in “wood”, “wove”, “work” or
                                                                    “wow”.

     ga      Like the “ga” in “gang”.                    za         Like the “za” in “zap”.
             Not like the “ga” in “gay”.                            Not like the “ta” in “tape”.
     gi      Like the “gi” in “gig”.                      ji        Like the “ji” in “jip”.
             Not like the “gi” in “giant”.                          Not like the “ji” in “jibe”.
     gu      Like the “gu” in “gull”.                    zu         Like the “zu” in “zucchini”.
             Not like the “gu” in “guru”.                           Not like the “zu” in “Zulu”.
     ge      Like the “ge” in “get”.                     ze         Like the “ze” in “zen”.
             Not like the “ge” in “gear”.                           Not like the “ze” in “zeal”.
     go      Like the “go” in “gone”.                    zo         Like the “zo” in “zombie”.
             Not like the “go” in “goon”, “goat” or                 Not like the “zo” in “zoo” or “zone”.
             “gown”.
     da      Like the “da” in “dagger”.                  ba         Like the “ha” in “bat”.
             Not like the “da” in “day”.                            Not like the “ba” in “bait”.
     di      Like the “di” in “dip”.                      bi        Like the “hi” in “bit”.
             Not like the “ni” in “line”.                           Not like the “bi” in “bind”.
     du      Like the “du” in “dun” (but see 2.3.2.      bu         Like the “bu” in “but” (but see 2.3.2. above).
             above).                                                Not like the “bu” in “bugle”.
             Not like the “du” in “duel”.

     de      Like the “de” in “den”.                     be         Like the “be” in “bend”.
             Not like the “ne” in “seep”.                           Not like the “be” in “beat”.
     do      Like the “do” in “dot”.                     bo         Like the “bo” in “bop”.
             Not like the “do” in “doom”, “dote” or                 Not like the “bo” in “boon”, “bone” or “bower”.
             “down”.

     pa      Like the “pa” in “pan”.
             Not like the “ga” in “gay”.
     pi      Like the “pi” in “pig”.
             Not like the “pi” in “pint”.
     pu      Like the “pu” in “pun”.
             Not like the “pu” in “pure”.




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                                                                                                 A Guide To Pronouncing Japanese
                                                                                                                       Reference


  Syllable         Pronunciation                                      Syllable       Pronunciation
       pe          Like the “pe” in “pet”.
                   Not like the “pe” in “peer”.
       po          Like the “po” in “pond”.
                   Not like the “po” in “pool”, “pole” or
                   “power”.
        n          This is the only word terminal consonant in Japanese, always following a vowel. Its sound varies with the vowel it
                   follows much as the English usage of terminal vowel/n combinations.



             2.4.2. Vowels Modified With “Y”

  Syllable         Pronunciation                                      Syllable       Pronunciation
       kya                                                               sha
       kyu                                                               shu
       kyo                                                               sho
       cha                                                               nya
       chu                                                               nyu

       cho                                                               nyo
       hya                                                              mya
       hyu                                                              myu
       hyo                                                              myo
                   See 2.2., ii. and 2.1., ii. above.                                See 2.2., ii. and 2.1., ii. above.
       rya                                                               gya

       ryu                                                               gyu
       ryo                                                               gyo
       ja                                                                bya
       ju                                                                byu
       jo                                                                byo

       pya
       pyu
       pyo



2.5.         Examples
             In the following examples the words are broken down into their syllable patterns, pronounced as
             indicated in the tables in 2.4. above. Individual syllables are separated by spaces. where syllables
             tend to blend into each other (e.g. vowel following vowel) the syllables are separated by a dash and
             their sounds should roll into one another more. Remember thought that these are words. The syllables
             tend to flow into one another; don‟t pause after each one just because illustrative spaces have been
             used.

             Where a letter is lost (elision) to some degree or other it is subscripted. The degree of elision is
             described in other parts of this text.




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        Double consonants are shown by placing an additional consonant at the start of the syllable separated
        form it by an apostrophe. For example, ke k’ko n”. The first “k’ ” will tend to terminate the preceding
        syllable in pronunciation making it rather like “kek’kon”.




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                 Aikido Gakko Ueshiba
            TEMPLEGATE DOJOA Guide To Pronouncing Japanese Reference
                                                                                  A Guide To Pronouncing Japanese

                                  DOJO “say_nara”
“Onegaishimasu” o ne ga-i shi mas .     u         sa yoo na ra
                                                               Reference

                     “Please” (do this for me).                                     “Goodbye”.
                     Notice the dropped “u”; this is                                The doubled “_” indicates an
                     the polite form of the verb                                    extra polite form. It may also be
                     “please (do)”. Also the rollng of                              said with a short “o” as a more
                     the “ga” into the “i”.                                         informal goodbye.

“d_mo”                doo mo                                 “ryote”                ryo te
                     “Thanks”. A rather brusque                                     “Both hands”.
                     thank you between close friends                                Notice the “y” modified .vowel.
                     or your peer group. More usually                               Remember not to lengthen the
                     used to start a polite thanks                                  “o” in response to this, nor to
                     phrase with “arigat_” and                                      overemphasise the “y” making it
                     “gozaimasu”.                                                   sound like an “i”.
                     Notice the doubled “o”.
                                                             “ai”                   a-i
“bokken”              bo k’ke n
                                                                                    “Same”.
                     “Wooden Sword”.                                                Remember the “a” flows into the
                     Notice the doubled “k” consonant                               “i”, but with as little sound
                     and the terminal “n”. The “n”                                  modification as possible.
                     has the same length as any other        “hanmi”                ha n mi
                     syllable.
                                                                                    “Stance” („T‟ profile).
                                                                                    Notice the intermediate “n”. It
                                                                                    forms a syllable length element
                                                                                    in its own right rather than
                                                                                    simply terminating the “ha”.

2.6.       Pitfalls And Other Traps
         This guide is not a comprehensive etymology and analysis of the Japanese spoken language. Many
         things are beyond its scope and are best learned properly. The user should pick out the bits they feel is
         appropriate for what they want, or read the whole whale sized thing at their pleasure. If you want to
         really get to grips with Japanese “as she is spoke”, learn the language formally or consult a good
         textbook.

         In the meantime here are a few points you should be aware of, and why you may find yourselves
         embarrassed when you think you are saying something perfectly correctly.

         2.6.1. Pitch Versus Stress

                    Many European languages and English in particular convey additional meaning by using
                    “stress”. Stress is the dynamic emphasis on a word or part of a word to enhance or change
                    its meaning. It can be as crude as ironic tone for a whole sentence...

                       “Oh! Yes. He really meant it”

                    ... meaning of course the exact opposite; or it can be more subtle...

                       “She really doesn‟t want to do it.”

                    ... Here the stress on “really” indicates to the hearer the extremity of the subjects dislike.

                    Japanese doesn‟t tend to use stress (except in the crude sense - a very loud sharp “Stop!” to
                    reinforce the command), but rather alters the pitch of words and syllables. Here the tone of




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                   the syllables varies and sometimes this can be crucial. It can even lead to apparently the
                   same word having two totally different spoken meanings. For example:-

                   “Hana”. If said with a rise in pitch on the last syllable (“n”) you have “flower”. With a flat
                            pitch all the way you have “nose”. When written properly there is no problem in
                            distinguishing these, they have completely different Chinese derived symbols, but
                            neither Hiragana, Katakana nor Romaji can distinguish this.

        2.6.2. Colloquial And Traditional Meanings Added To Concepts

                   Much of Japanese is coloured with shades of meaning. This is shown by the several and
                   often philosophical meanings embedded in the Chinese symbols used in written Japanese.
                   Often this can cause mistranslation into other languages. While not strictly anything to do
                   with pronunciation it makes an important point about learning the language to use it
                   properly.

                   A classic example is the descriptive noun “kireina”. A straight translation will tell you that
                   this means “clean”. However the word has very strong overtones of purity, spiritual
                   cleanliness and similar concepts. As a result it is used to mean “beautiful”. This is more
                   than just skin deep beauty, and is a polite and deeply expressed opinion, expressing that
                   something is beautiful in all ways. To the Japanese cleanliness is literally next to Godliness.

                      “Kireina onna no hito” -        beautiful (clean), pure, lovely woman.

                      “Kireina hana”              -   beautiful (clean), perfect, exquisite flower (or nose if
                                                      you‟re not careful)




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