Friday, January 13, 2006

Japanese Pronunciation

You may not be interested in Japanese pronunciation; and if you are not, it will make absolutely no difference whatsoever to your sucess in or enjoyment of this course.

If you are interested in Japanese pronunciation, which is very easy to emulate, there is a exceptional website here, which includes clickable sounds and International Phonetic Association symbols, and simple teach-yourself sections.

Japanese words are pronounced regularly: so regularly in fact that they are metronomyic - that is, they have equal time-stress on each unit in a spoken word. These units in Japanese are vowels and combinations of a consonant and a vowel (called morae by the IPA.) So, except for "n" there are really no stand-alone consonants in Japanese (click here for the finer details of this point.)

These morae are represented by the Japanese in symbols called kana. Japanese actually use two different sets of kana to write their language. (It's as if we had two different alphabets for the same letters!) One set of kana called hiragana is used to write native Japanese. The second set, called katakana, is used to write foreign words, words requiring emphasis, or, these days, commercial advertisements. (The hot links will take you to a syllabary table with sounds and IPA symbols.)

Note from the two syllabaries that there are stand-alone vowels. Japanese is like Latin in this respect, that it has pure vowel sounds only: five sounded short, and five more when doubled to sound long. You can click to a syllabary table of Japanese vowels only, again with sounds & IPA symbols.

There are, naturally, some small complications - none of which effect our reading at all.
  • A consonant can be pronounced longer than usual, and those cases are represented in writing by a subscript kana for the morae "tu."
  • There is a "y" sound in Japanese that is included in a single morae but is represented in writing by an additional kana: a subscript from one of the three "Y" kana - Ya, Yu, Yo.
  • Some morae in one consonant+vowel series -- such as Sa, Si, Su, Se, So -- have irregular sounds. For example, in the "S" consonant series used here, the actual pronunciation is represented in Romanised English as Sa, Shi, Su, Se, So.
  • There is a set of paired kana to write morae for imported words.
  • Some lesser-used consonants -- P, B, D, Z, G -- don't have their own kana for their consonant+vowel set, but use kana from other sets of morae with a mark added beside it: either a quotation mark or a superscript "o."

Anyway, the website linked in this post's title gives you much more.

The international phonetic chart for vowels is helpfully hosted online by the IPA.

If you are interested in kanji -- the ideographic system of writing brought to Japan from China via Korea - you may enjoy Kanji Alive. Incidently, Japan can be said to have come to Japan via Korea .....


Deep said...

I tried looking on line for this but is anyone aware of any translations of genji that might be in japanese and english side-by-side? Something similar to the styles of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight or Canterbury Tales translations where one side is in modern english and the other is in middle english.

kristal said...

it all seems very interesting yet confusing at the same time... anyone else confused?

Rebecca said...

it's just basically learn the sound of the language and you'll know how to pronounce the names. i studied a bit of japanese a year or two ago so i do know what he's talking about.