HOW ENGLISH AND JAPANESE ARE SIMILAR
If you know English, you may already know more Japanese than you think. Thousands of English “loan words” are in everyday use in Japan. Most of these common words have been borrowed with no change in meaning. But the pronunciation has been changed.
This can be tricky. On the one hand, you’re secure with the familiarity of the words while on the other, if you pronounce them as you’re used to doing, you won’t be understood. And you probably won’t understand the words when Japanese use them. What should you do? Try to pronounce them the Japanese way.
Here are some examples of familiar words with somewhat different pronunciations in Japanese:
Japanese isn’t difficult to pronounce if you follow a few simple guidelines. Take the time to read this section, and try out each sound on the vowel and consonant charts.
To make it even easier for you, each time a new word is introduced in this book, the pronunciation is also shown.
We start with the vowels. If you have studied Spanish, it may help you to know that Japanese vowels are more like those of Spanish than English.
•as in father
•as in men
•as in see
•as in boat
•as in food
- akai (ah-kah-ee) red
- ebi (eh-bee) shrimp
- imi (ee-mee) meaning
- otoko (o-to-koh) male
- uma (oo-mah) horse
The following vowels are like the ones above, but they are held longer
as in father, but lengthened
as in men, but lengthened
as in see, but lengthened
as in boat, but lengthened
as in food, but lengthened
eigo (eh-goh) English
1. Long vowels are important; pronouncing a long vowel incorrectly can result in a different word or even an unintelligible one.
obasan おばさん (oh-bah-sahn) means aunt
obasan おばさん (oh-bah-sahn) means grandmother
ojisan おじさん (oh-jee-san) means uncle
ojisan おじさん (oh-jee-san) means grandfather
seki せき (seh-kee) means seat
seki せき (seh-kee) means century
2. Sometimes the i and the u aren’t pronounced. This usually occurs between voiceless consonants, (p, t, k, ch, f, h, s, sh), or at the end of a word following a voiceless consonant.
Here’s an example you may already knw:
This word for a popular Japanese dish begins with skee, not soo. The u is not pronounced.
One more example:
Tabemashita (tah-beh-mahsh-tah) I ate
The i is not pronounced.
PRONUNCIATION OF N (ん)
PRONUNCIATION OF TSU (つ)
|nikki(につき)||diary||koppu (コツプ)||koppu (コツプ)|
PRONUNCIATION OF LETTERS COMBINED WITH YA,YU, OR YO
With a few exceptions, Japanese consonants are similar to those of English. Note those that are different:
The English f is pronounced with a passage of air between the upper teeth and the lower lip. To make the Japanese f, blow air lightly between your lips as if you were just beginning a whistle.
Always as in go, never as in age. You may also hear it pronounced as the ng sound in sing, but not at the beginning of a word.
This is not different from the English r. To make the Japanese r, lightly touch the tip of your tongue to the bony ridge behind the upper teeth, almost in the English d position. It’s more like the Spanish r, but it’s not flapped or trilled.
Always hissed, as in so, never voiced, as in his or pleasure.
And note the following points as well:
1. If you have trouble making these consonants the Japanese way, your English pronunciation will be intelligible and will not be considered incorrect.
2. Some Japanese consonants are doubled. In English, the doubling is important and may change the meaning of a word.
kite kudasai (kee-teh koo-dah-sah-ee) means
“Please put it (clothing) on”.
kitte kudasai (keet-teh koo-dah-sah-ee) means
“Please cut it”.
In a word with a doubled consonant, don’t say the consonant twice—just hold the sound longer.
Some consonants such as k,t,s and p occur as double consonants. For instance, in otto, [-t-] between [o] and [to] indicates that the sound is suspended between [o] and [to] for the length of one mora ( the length of one beat). Listen to the tape carefully and practice until you fully acquire a sense of moral length.
Oto sound (o-to: 2 moras)
Otto husband (o-t-to: 3 moras)
Shite imasu be doing something (shi-te)
Shitte imasu to know (shi-t-te)
CONSONANT +YA,YU,YO, OR SH,CH +VOWEL
Such sounds as kya,kyu,kyo,gya,gyu,gyo,sha,shi,shu,she and sho are counted as one mora sound.
Kyaku guest (kya-ku: 2 moras)
Kiyaku agreement (ki-ya-ku: 3 moras)
LENGTH OF SYLLABLE AND ACCENT
1. The length of a syllable in Japanese is almost always constant ( one mora), except for long –vowel syllables and double consonant syllables which are twice as long as other syllables ( 2 moras).
2. There is little stress accent used in Japanese words; instead there is pitch accent. As shown below, a different pitch accent type indicates difference in meaning. Pitch accent types vary in differenr localities and in complex words.
ha _↑¯ shi bridge ki _↑¯ ru to wear
ha ¯↓_shi chopsticks ki ¯↓_ ru to cut
DEVOICING OF THE VOWELS I AND U
The vowels I and u are devoiced when they occur between the voiceless consonants of k,s,t, p and h or in desu and masu
tsukue desk suki like kikimasu to listen desu to be
Sato-san : ashita tomodachi to ohana o shimasu [→ ]
Mira-san mo isshoni ikimasen ka [→↑ ]
I’ll go to see the cherry blossoms
with my friend tomorrow .
Won’t you come with us, Mr. Miller?
Mira-san : aa, ii desu ne [ ]
Oh, that sounds good.
Japanese contains many particles—short words which are often called postpositions because they come after other words. These particles help to identify the relationship of the word they follow to other important parts of the sentence.
You already know one particle—か(ka)—which is used to form a question. Here’s a list of the most commonly used particles:
wa/ga Subject markers (more accurately, they occur with words that translate the
(わ/が) English subject).
O (お) Direct object marker. (Sometimes, for emphasis, が(ga) has this function).
Kaか Question marker
No(の) Possessive marker
Ni(に) Indirect object marker. Also translates English to (or in or at when it indicates where something is located).
E (え) Translates English to (in that direction, toward).
De (で) Translates English at when it indicates where an action takes place. Also by (by bus) and of (made of wood).
Particle wa. Topic marker
Wa follows noun 1 indicating that it is the topic under discussion. Noun 2 is then identified and the phrase is concluded with desu. The topic is often the same as the subject, but not necessarily.
Ex. A-san wa bengoshi desu. “Mr. A is a lawyer”.
A-san to B-san wa bengoshi desu. “Mr. A and Mrs. B are lawyers”.
Particle ka. Question marker
The formation of questions in Japanese is easy. Put ka at the end of a sentence and it becomes a question. No change in word order is required even when the question contains interrogative words such as who, what, when, etc. intonation normally rises on the particle ka only.
Hai and Iie
Hai is virtually the same as “yes”. Iie is virtually the same as “no”. It is better, however, to think of hai as meaning, “That’s right”, and iie as meaning, “That’s wrong”. Otherwise negative questions can be a problem.
Omission of topic (noun 1)
When it is obvious to the other person what the topic is, it is generally omitted.
Ex. [Watashi wa] Sumisu desu. “(As for me) I’m Smith”.
Dewa arimasen/ Ja arimasen
Negative form of desu. Ja is more informal than dewa.
To / soshite
These mean “and” but “to’” is used to connect two nouns whereas “soshite” two sentences.
JOSHI NI TSUITE MO SUKOSHI (MORE ABOUT PARTICLES)
Earlier we saw how particles—short words which come after other words—are important in Japanese. They help to identify the relationship of the word they follow to other parts of the sentence.
By now you’re probably familiar with ka—the particle that’s used at the end of a question. And you’re beginning to feel more comfortable with the particles such as ni, e, and de, which are like the English prepositions, “in”, “to”, and “at”.
Let’s take a closer look at a few others.
Wa and ga are both called subject markers. More accurately, wa is a topic marker, and ga is the grammatical subject marker. Sometimes a sentence can have both.
When you’re learning Japanese, choosing between the wa and ga can be a bit of a challenge. For now, just observe how they’re used in the sentences in these lessons, and you’ll soon get a feel for wa and ga.
O is the object marker. It’s used after the grammatical object of the sentence. Sometimes, for emphasis, ga may be used as an object marker.
No is the possesive marker. It expresses both possesion and the “of the” meaning in English. Let’s see how it works:
teboru NO ue the top of the table
kare NO hon his book
Maku san NO okusan Mark’s wife
watakushi NO kuruma my car
basu NO untenshu bus driver (driver of the bus)
This exercise will help you check your knowledge off particles. For each item, fill in the missing particle or particles.
1. Maku san __________ , Amerika kara kimashita.
2. Kare __________ okusan __________ Tokyo ni imasu.
3. Poru san __________ Nihongo __________ hanasemasen.
4. Ryokin __________ ikura desu __________
5. Jiro san __________ , pan __________ katte imasu.
Now let’s do the same for the particles that function like English prepositions.
1. Jiro san wa, mainichi gakko __________ ikimasu.
2. Neko ga, teburu no shita __________ imasu.
3. Meri san wa, Ginza __________ imasu.
4. Maku san wa, Ginza __________ basu o orimasu.
5. Tanaka san wa, Nihon __________ kimashita.