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
- I am omit common phonetic changes (してる instead of している, わかんない instead of わからない etc.).
- I omit (youth) slang (若者言葉 such as むずい instead of むずかしい).
- I omit dialect (わからへん instead of わからない in some regions of Japan).
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.)
難しい: むつかしい instead of むずかしい. Reportedly preferred variant in Kansai1, but I hear this often here in Nagoya too.
鮭: しゃけ instead of さけ. In a restaurant, written as さけ, pron as しゃけ. Different accent from さけ
(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…
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.
Japanese people tend to pronounce words closer to Japanese phonetics regardless of the prevalent katakana spelling.
You can write ッグ, ッズ, ッド, ッブ, i.e. a double voiced consonant in katakana, but as it does not naturally occur in Japanese words, many speakers fail to make a distinction between these and the voiceless counterparts. So you will often hear ベット instead of ベッド, バック instead of バッグ, and so on, particularly from speakers who have not learned any foreign language. If you point this out, they probably won’t understand, as they can make the distinction when writing, and do not realize they’re pronouncing voiceless consonant instead. This happens a lot with ッグ and ッド. I am not so sure about ッブ (not very frequent), and based on my observation, ッズ (as in キッヅ) does not pose such a problem, even though it does not appear in Japanese words either.
A common sound missing from Japanese phonetics is [v], which has been traditionally replaced with [b]. That said
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
致す (いたす) or 参る (まいる): Not used only as humble form (kenchōgo 謙譲語) of する or 行く but also as a polite form (teineigo 丁寧語) of the same verb.4 Thus you may hear 致しましょう when the speaker is addressing someone with a polite request or invitation to do something. In contrast with 頂いてください (humble form that does not “double” as a polite form used for the second person), this is not a misuse of keigo (敬語). Full dictionary examples for 参る:
1. 「駅までご一緒に参りましょう」 Let’s go to the station together. 2. 「このバスは市役所へ参りますでしょうか」 Does this bus go to the city office?
As the dictionary goes on to explain in this usage, 参る expresses respect (敬意) to the listener.5 Note that in the first sentence the listener is included in the subject and in the second sentence a bus (unrelated to the speaker) is the subject. Consequently 参る expresses respect (or politeness) to the listener without expressing humbleness of the grammatical subject.
Perhaps even more surprisingly, おる may also be used as 丁寧語, of which おられる (grammatical passive) is a valid respectful form.
夕ご飯 (ゆうごはん): Textbook teach you that the three meals
shonagon shonagon2000~ shonagonY! 晩ご飯 158 149 123 夕ご飯 61 58 43 夜ご飯 34 33 32
- TESHIMAU http://namakajiri.net/nikki/chao/
This may be regional: あしたあさって is often used to mean just あさって. I hear this often hear in Nagoya, and I also found it listed as Hokkaidō dialect.
きのうおとつい・・くま うちの嫁 snacha? びっちり(こんでる, zácpa) ぎりっぽい to bude tak tak (zeleznicni prejezd)
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
- the particles は, へ, を being pronounced as わ [wa], え [e], お [o], respectively,
- the syllables8 おう, こう, とう, … pronounced as おお [o:], こお [ko:], とお [to:], ….
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
- past 言った pronounced either いった or ゆった (the same goes for 言ったら, 言って)
What I hear always pronounced with い
- forms starting with 言え seem to be pronounced always いえ (with the possible exception of 言えば):
- conditional 言えば (as in と言えば): I have heard only いえば, though ゆえば seems to be possible
- imperative 言え: never heard this
conditional 言える: pronounced always いえる
- the ‘masu’ form: I h言います, 言いたい, http://www.weblio.jp/content/%E8%A8%80%E3%81%84%E3%81%BE%E3%81%99 http://www.weblio.jp/content/%E8%A8%80%E3%81%84%E3%81%9F%E3%81%84
I have potential 言える pronounced always いえる
“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). ↩
“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). ↩
“「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). ↩
“「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. ↩
Citing 大辞泉. ↩
“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. ↩
“「意外に」のくだけた言い方。” citing 『スーパー大辞林』 (electronic, Sanseido Co., Ltd., 2013). ↩
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]. ↩