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Thread: Everything you want to know about Japanese phonetics.

  1. #1
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    Everything you want to know about Japanese phonetics.

    I'd like to give a brief review of the Japanese phonetic system here.
    This does not pretend to be any kind of a user guide.


    The Japanese phonetics is organized as a syllabic system. The Japanese syllables are mainly constructed according to CV scheme (C is any consonant, V is any vowel here). Particularly, it means that:
    1) no Japanese word ends in a consonant (unlike English cat, west, bird etc.);
    2) consonant combinations are impossible in Japanese (unlike English admire, club, street etc.).
    When Japanese people pronounce European names with consonant clusters, they dilute them with vowels, e.g. Smith would be pronounced as Su-mi-su, France - as Fu-ran-su, Scott - as Su-ko-tto etc.

    Here is the Japanese syllabic system (using standard romanization and standard cyrillic transliteration):

    a.....i.....u.....e......o
    а.....и....у.....э......о

    ka...ki....ku..ke....ko...................kya...ky u...kyo
    ка...ки...ку..кэ....ко.................. .кя.....кю....кё

    ga...gi....gu..ge...go....................gya...gy u...gyo
    га....ги...гу...гэ....го................ ....гя.....гю.....гё

    sa...shi...su...se...so....................sha...s hu...sho
    са...си...су..сэ.....со................. ...ся.....сю....сё

    za....ji....zu...ze...zo....................ja.... ..ju.....jo
    дза.дзи.дзу.дзэ.дзо................ ..дзя...дзю..дзё

    ta...chi...tsu...te....to...................cha... chu...cho
    та...ти....цу..тэ....то................. ...тя.....тю.....тё

    da...ji.....zu...de...do...................ja..... ju......jo
    да..дзи..дзу..дэ..до.................. .дзя...дзю..дзё

    na...ni....nu...ne...no...................nya...ny u...nyu
    на...ни...ну...нэ...но.................. .ня.....ню....нё

    ha...hi....fu....he...ho...................hya...h yu...hyo
    ха...хи...фу...хэ...хо.................. .хя.....хю....хё

    ba...bi....bu...be...bo...................bya...by u...byo
    ба...би...бу...бэ...бо.................. .бя....бю.....бё

    pa...pi....pu...pe...po...................pya...py u...pyo
    па...пи...пу...пэ...по.................. .пя.....пю....пё

    ma..mi...mu..me..mo..................mya..myu..myo
    ма...ми...му...мэ...мо.................. .мя.....мю....мё

    ya..........yu.........yo
    я............ю..........ё

    ra....ri.....ru...re...ro....................rya.. .ryu...ryo
    ра....ри...ру..рэ...ро.................. ..ря....рю....рё

    wa......................(wo)
    ва.......................о....../There's no w sound in the last syllable, indeed. It sounds the same as o syllable./

    All the Japanese words are constructed of those syllables. They may be monosyllabic (ki ки tree, me мэ eye, o о tail), bisyllabic (neko нэко cat, inu ину dog, tori тори bird) and polysyllabic (kuruma курума car, hataraku хатараку to work, watakushi ватакуси I).

    The Japanese people have "syllabic thinking". If you ask an American to read the word cinema contrariwise, he would read it like 'amenic'. But if you ask a Japanese to pronounce watakushi the same way, he would say shikutawa!

    Notes.
    1. All the Japanese consonants are palatalized when followed by 'i' vowel.
    2. The column at the right-hand side of the screen shows syllables with palatalized consonants + 'a', 'o', 'u'. There's no separate 'y' sound in them indeed, they are more similar to Russian soft consonants before 'я', 'ю', 'ё' letters. Those syllables (a palatalized consonant + 'a', 'o', 'u') mainly occur in words of Chinese origin.
    3. The Japanese consonants are never palatalized before 'e' vowel.
    4.
    - The first sound in SHI, SHA, SHU, SHO is really a soft s with a slight shade of sh sound;
    - The first sound in CHI, CHA, CHU, CHO is really a soft t with a slight shade of ch sound;
    - The first sound in JI, JA, JU, JO is really a soft d with a slight shade of j sound.
    5. The Japanese R is a sound between R and L. Japanese people do not distinguish between R and L. Compare: raita: is a word of English origin meaning either writer or lighter.

    However, those notes do not pretend to be a phonetic guide.

    Additional features of Japanese syllables.

    Japanese has a set of diphthongs like AI, II, EI, OI, UI (in cyrillic: АЙ, ИЙ, ЭЙ, ОЙ, УЙ). II and OI may occur in words of Japanese origin, AI, EI, UI mostly occur in words of Chinese origin. Examples: gaikoku гайкоку abroad, suiei суйэй swimming, hiroi хирой wide etc.

    Japanese has specific nasal diphthongs transcribed as AN, IN, EN, ON, UN (in cyrillic: АН, ИН, ЭН, ОН, УН). They mostly occur in words of Chinese origin. Examples: sensei сэнсэй teacher, hon хон book, kin кин gold etc.

    Japanese also has long vowels A:, I:, E:, O:, U: contradistinguished with regular (short) ones. A:, I:, E: rarely occur in words of Japanese and foreign origin, O: and U: quite often occur in words of Chinese origin. Examples: sho:bai сё:бай business, ku:ko: ку:ко: airport, ro:jin ро:дзин old man etc.

    Double consonants may happen between two vowels in Japanese words. Only voiceless consonants (namely, K, S (SH), T (TS, CH) and P) may be doubled in Japanese. They may occur in words of different origin. Examples: gakko: гакко: school, zasshi дзасси magazine, otto отто husband etc.

    Word stress in Japanese.

    Unlike Chinese, there are no syllable tones in Japanese. However, the word stress, as it is in English or in Russian, does not exist in Japanese, too. Instead of that, Japanese words have tonic pitch accent. The accented syllable is marked by either rising or falling the tone pitch. There are several common pitch patterns of Japanese words. In many words the first syllable is rising, and the last one is falling. But other patterns are possible, too.

  2. #2
    Новичок
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    Thank you! The Cyrillic transliteration helps, as well. I have begun studying Russian within the past 3 months.

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