05 Dec 2009
Learning Japanese: Pronunciation

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Learning Japanese

Whatever course material you use to study will provide detailed guidelines for pronunciation. I’ll also discuss some audio reference material in a later post, once I get past the mechanics of the written language.

For a quick introduction you may want to view these articles: “Pronunciation of Japanese” provides a sample reading (from the beginning of Natsume Soseki’s classic novel Botchan) along with the text in both rōmaji and hiragana, and a few practice word lists; “Japanese/Pronunciation” discusses the basic rules and guidelines for pronunciation, along with audio samples; “Japanese phonology” goes into much greater technical detail.

Rōmaji transcription is only approximate. For example, the sound of “ん” may be [n], [m], or [ng]; the sound transcribed by convention as “r” is closer to a blend of English [l], [r], and [d].

One kana symbol corresponds to one syllable, of which there are five types:

  • five basic vowels: [a], [i], [u], [e], and [o]
  • consonant + vowel: [na], [ki], [yu], …
  • syllabic consonant: [n]/[m]
  • doubled consonants: “kk”, “tt”, …
  • contracted syllable: for example, [ki] + [ya] = [kya], [chi] + [ya] = [cha], …

The vowels are always distinct, never blended, and they have only one pronunciation. For example, “oi” is “oh-ee”, not like “oy” in English “boy”; the words “aoi” and “iie” are each pronounced with three syllables.

All syllables are of equal stress and duration. Accent, when used, is conveyed by a tone or pitch change (high-to-low) rather than by loudness.

The first table below shows the rōmaji and hiragana syllabary of Japanese. The katakana syllabary is the same; just replace the symbols. The second table shows additional katakana symbols used to write “foreign” syllables.

 

 

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