Random notes on spoken Japanese

These are just random notes on personal observation. I have studied Japanese for three years, quite intensively but mostly in a class room setting. Here’s what surprised me about the language when studying and living in Japan. (I spent six weeks in Japan in 2014 and as of February 2016 I am at 4 months into a one-year stay.)

There are many points at which (common) spoken Japanese and (textbook) written Japanese differ, and I am not going to cover all of them. Namely my notes

Everything is based on my observation, but whenever possible I will try to cite a dictionary or some other source.

(This page is permamently under construction. Last update: 5 February 2016.)

Word variants

(Cf とろ,まぐろ,ツナ, ふく・河豚


茶道 さどう、ちゃどう 現在では、ふつう「さどう」という。(大辞泉 Copyright 2010 Shogakukan Inc.)also 茶の湯

Foreign word pronunciation

As in any language pronunciation (as well as the written form) of foreign words and loanwords is not particularly regular. In this regard, it is rather fortunate that Japanese mostly uses katakana to transcribe words and loan words (let’s call them, imprecisely, “katakana words” from now on), which should leave little room for unexpected pronunciation, but…

  1. Even the katakana spelling varies quite a lot. A particularly common variation is between final short and long syllable: コンピュータ vs. コンピューター etc.

  2. Japanese people tend to pronounce words closer to Japanese phonetics regardless of the prevalent katakana spelling.

ヴァ、ヴィ・ブイ・ビ フォ・ホ スィー・シー

Where accent matters

Hitotsu and futatsu


ordering beers (etc.) ひとつ

10ミリ とうミリ


Word usage

shonagon shonagon2000~ shonagonY! 晩ご飯 158 149 123 夕ご飯 61 58 43 夜ご飯 34 33 32

http://www.genpaku.org/ プロジェクト杉田玄白というのは、いろんな文章を勝手に翻訳して公開しちゃうプロジェクトなのだ。



Misleading ortography

This is not as much about particularities of contemporary spoken Japanese as about particularities of the current Japanese ortography (aka spelling). You certainly know about

These are cases of historical ortography having been preserved. Once a Japanese person tried to persuade me that を and お represent different sounds. I have also heard Japanese actually pronouncing を as [wo] (instead of the standard [o]), and ありがとう as [arigatou] (instead of the standard [arigato:]), when speaking slowly and punctually. IMHO that has nothing to do with either standard or natural pronunciation. You can probably trust your textbook on this.

Where you most likely cannot trust your textbook is another case of historical ortography being preserved: the verb 言う (いう, to say). Curiously I haven’t seen a textbook drawing attention to this irregularity yet.


iu ゆう、そうゆう、ゆわゆる iimasu いい


What i often or always hear pronounced with ゆ

 * plain: 言う always pronounced ゆう

 * forms starting with 言わ:

 * negative: 言わない pronounced either いわない or ゆわない (but the more formal 言わず seems to be [always http://www.weblio.jp/content/%E8%A8%80%E3%82%8F%E3%81%9A] pronounced いわず)  * 言われる http://www.weblio.jp/content/%E8%A8%80%E3%82%8F%E3%82%8C%E3%82%8B  * 言わせる  http://www.weblio.jp/content/%E8%A8%80%E3%82%8F%E3%81%9B%E3%82%8B * いわゆる * いわば

What I hear always pronounced with い

いおう http://www.weblio.jp/content/%E8%A8%80%E3%81%8A%E3%81%86

I have potential 言える pronounced always いえる


ミーハー パーピーピーポー

  1. “関西では「むつかしい」が優勢。” citing 『使い方の分かる類語例解辞典』(electronic, Shogakukan Inc., 2010).

  2. “近世以降、「さびしい」「さみしい」両形用いられてきたが、現在は放送用語などで「さびしい」を標準形とする。” citing 大辞泉 (electronic, Shogakukan Inc., 2010).

  3. “「さびしい」「さみしい」の両形のうち,古くからある「さびしい」を標準的語形とする見方が強かったが,最近は両形が同様に用いられるようになっている” citing 『スーパー大辞林』 (electronic, Sanseido Co., Ltd., 2013).

  4. “「する」の丁寧語。多く「いたします」の形で用いる。「いい香りが—•します」「あと数分—•しますと重大発表が行われます」” citing 大辞泉.

  5. Citing 大辞泉.

  6. “現在では「意外に」と同様、「意外と知られていない事実」のように「意外と」の形も用いられる。” citing 大辞泉.

  7. “「意外に」のくだけた言い方。” citing 『スーパー大辞林』 (electronic, Sanseido Co., Ltd., 2013).

  8. There are syllables in Japanese, and they are different from moras, which typically correspond to one kana character. In リア王 (りあおう, King Lear) おう is a syllable pronounced [o:], in 背負う (せおう, to carry, to bear) おう are two syllables pronounced [o] and [u].