Japanese Pronunciation | the Most Detailed Guide (with audio)

Japanese Pronunciation

Hi, dear Japanese learners. Welcome to the guide on Japanese pronunciation provided by LingoDeer!

This guide is meant to provide an introduction to how to pronounce the Japanese language as native speakers do. Japanese pronunciation is notoriously easy to learn. But still, it takes a lot of effort to speak Japanese without being identified as a foreigner. To reach that goal, we need to be on the right path from the very beginning. 

In this article, I will introduce the pronunciation of each kana in turn. The order is the same as that of the Hiragana or Katakana Chart. In other words, we will learn Japanese pronunciation in the order that Japanese people categorize kana — Seion, Dakuon, Handakuon, Yoon, Hatsuon, Chouon, and Sokuon. 

Ad: learn Japanese with LingoDeer

 

What am I talking about? Aren’t we supposed to learn vowels and consonants and things like that? Please read on. You will figure out all these terminologies soon enough and have a better grasp on Japanese pronunciation.

Prerequisite: You probably already know that Hiragana and Katakana correspond to each other phonetically. Thus, for convenience, all pronunciations in this article will just be presented in Hiragana. It would be best for you to learn the Hiragana chart before reading this article. 

Japanese pronunciation Chart

Please note that the highlighted syllables are hard for native English speakers to pronounce correctly. You can learn them in the corresponding section of this article.

 a-rowi-rowu-rowe-rowo-row
Seion
vowelsあ - a
い - i
う - u
え - e
お - o
ka-lineか - ka

き - ki
く - ku
け - ke
こ - ko
sa-lineさ - sa
し - shi
す - su
せ - se
そ - so
ta-lineた - ta

ち - chi
つ - tsu

て - te
と - to
na-lineな - na
に - ni
ぬ - nu
ね - ne
の - no
ha-lineは - ha
ひ - hi
ふ - hu
へ - he
ほ - ho
ma-lineま - ma
み - mi
む - mu
め - me
も - mo
ya-lineや - ya
ゆ - yu
よ - yo
ra-lineら - ra
り - ri
る - ru
れ - re
ろ - ro
wa-lineわ - wa
*ん - n
を - wo
Dakuon & Handakuon
ga-lineが - ga
ぎ - gi
ぐ - gu
げ - ge
ご - go
za-lineざ - za
じ - ji
ず - zu
ぜ - ze
ぞ - zo
da-lineだ - da
ぢ - di
づ - du
で - de
ど - do
ba-lineば - ba
び - bi
ぶ - bu
べ - be
ぼ - bo
pa-lineぱ - pa
ぴ - pi
ぷ - pu
ぺ - pe
ぽ - po
Yoon
きゃ - kya
きゅ - kyu
きょ - kyo
しゃ - sha
しゅ - shu
しょ - sho
ちゃ - cha
ちゅ - chu
ちょ - cho
にゃ - nya
にゅ - nyu
にょ - nyo
ひゃ - hya
ひゅ - hyu
ひょ - hyo
みゃ - mya
みゅ - myu
みょ - myo
りゃ - rya
りゅ - ryu
りょ - ryo
ぎゃ - gya
ぎゅ - gyu
ぎょ - gyo
じゃ - jya
じゅ - jyu
じょ - jyo
ぢゃ - dya
ぢゅ - dyu
ぢょ - dyo
びゃ - bya
びゅ - byu
びょ - byo
ぴゃ - pya
ぴゅ - pyu
ぴょ - pyo

The basic knowledge of Japanese phonology

Japanese is considered one of the world’s best-sounding languages. The nearly 1:1 consonant-vowel (CV) ratio makes it sound melodic, similar to Italian. In contrast, English’s CV ratio is very irregular. For example, the CV ratio of the word “script” is 6:1.

Although many people find Japanese pronunciation fascinating just because they are attracted by anime or Japanese culture, we can find specific reasons in terms of phonology theory. Without further ado, let’s learn three significant facts about Japanese pronunciation, so you can better acquire them and sound like a native!

Japanese is a phonetic language

We first need to know that Japanese is completely phonetic while English is just partially phonetic. What?! English, a language written in the Latin alphabet, is not a 100% phonetic language. However, Japanese, a language written with ridiculously complex Kanji and exotic symbols, is a phonetic language! Don’t panic. I was astonished when I first learned this incredible fact, too.

Generally speaking, you can write (spell) what you hear and pronounceif it’s an entirely phonetic language. English is not completely phonetic because its pronunciation and spelling do not exclusively correspond to one another.

In English, some words are written the same but have different pronunciations, for example, “live” in “live in Tokyo” and “live” in “live show.” Some are pronounced the same but have different spellings, like “ate” and “eight.” As a result, it’s difficult for anyone other than native speakers and proficient learners to read and dictate English.

In the case of the Japanese language, things are way easier because it’s phonetic. It could be said that each syllable refers to only one pair of kana (Hiragana and Katakana) and vice versa. For instance, the syllable “ga” is only represented by (or its katakana twin ) and が (ガ) has only one sound, “ga.”

English and Japanese share many pronunciations

The second fact that needs to be mentioned is that English and Japanese share many pronunciations, and Japanese is less phonetically rich than English. However, there are still some that you can only find in Japanese, which is the part we need to pay extra attention to. Meanwhile, examples (English words) for those pronunciations also contained in English will be given to help your comprehension.

Japanese is a pitch-accent language

Japanese is a pitch-accent language, which differs from Chinese (tonal) and English (stress). As we all know, the pronunciation of a word in any given language is composed of one or more syllables. In Japanese words or sentences, the pitch of syllables is different — some are relatively high while some are lower. It could be said that mastering pitch is the final hurdle of Japanese pronunciation, and it’s also a criterion to distinguish native speakers from learners.

What’s the difference between vowels and consonants

Strictly speaking, this issue is not limited to Japanese but can be applied to any language’s phonology. Given that some readers may not be familiar with these two terms, let’s review them here.

When pronouncing vowels, the air exhaled is not hindered by lips, tongue, nose, or anything else. We pronounce different vowels by changing the mouth shapes and tongue positions. Conversely, the air coming out of the lungs must be blocked (in different ways) to pronounce consonants. This is the most significant difference between vowels and consonants. 

Consonants are categorized by two criteria in Japanese (or any language), (1) where the sound is blocked (lips, nose, soft palate, etc.), and (2) voiced or voiceless (vibrating vocal cords or not).

My dear friend, maybe you aren’t quite familiar with these concepts. I will explain them in more detail in the following sections. No worries. We will not go into too much detail because this is just a Japanese pronunciation guide, not a linguistics paper. 

Please note: all pronunciations in this post are in the standard Tokyo accent if not specified otherwise. In addition, we will be using the Hepburn romanization for marking Japanese pronunciation here.

Seion

What does Seion mean

As mentioned earlier, this article will introduce Japanese pronunciation in Hiragana chart order. So let’s start with Seion, also known as Gojuon. Seion (清音) literally means “voiceless sounds.” 

“Voiceless sounds” refers to making sounds without vibrating the vocal cords (these are in the throat). For example, consonants like “sh,” “ch,” and “k” in English are voiceless, and when you whistle, your vocal cords are also not vibrating. To verify this point, you can touch your throat while trying to make these sounds to feel it vibrate or not.

The weird thing is that although “Seion” means voiceless sounds, not all syllables in the Seion category are voiceless. For instance, vowels are categorized as “Seion,” but they are actually voiced, needing to vibrate your vocal cords. As a result, we can only say that most Seion syllables are voiceless, but some are voiced.

Vowels: あいうえお (a, i, u, e, o)

Japanese has five vowels: a, i, u, e, o. They can only be represented by one pair of kana (Hiragana and Katakana). Unlike English, the pronunciation of Japanese vowels is constant, meaning they sound the same no matter where they are putIn English, the vowel “o” in “boy,” “flow,” and “mood” can sound totally different. In contrast, the Japaneseo” is pronounced almost the same wherever it’s in “tokyo,” “sokka,” or “mori.” 

As I mentioned, although vowels are voiced (vibrating vocal cords), they are categorized as “Seion” in Japanese phonology. In fact, vowels are voiced in any language, which requires the vocal cords to vibrate when pronounced. 

あ - a
い - i
う - u
え - e
お - o
"a" in "car" (without stress)"i" in "joy""o" in "food" (without stress)"e" in "lemon""o" in "bot"

“Without stress” means that when pronouncing each kana, there are no changes in pitch or stress as the example syllables in English words do, but always flat.

Ka-line: かきくけこ(ka, ki, ku, ke, ko)

The pronunciation of ka-line kana is our first set of syllables involving consonants. As we mentioned before, consonants can be categorized as voiced or voiceless. “Seion” means voiceless sounds, but not all consonants in the Seion group are voiceless. Fortunately, the consonant “k” is voiceless. It is faithful to the “Seion” category ; )

Why do I say the consonant “k” is voiceless? To pronounce voiceless sounds (consonants), you don’t need to vibrate your vocal cords, remember? Now, let’s do some pronunciation exercises. Please try to pronounce “k” (drop any vowels because all of them are voiced) and touch your throat simultaneously. You will find that your throat is not vibrating. But when you try to pronounce vowels or ka-line syllables such as “ka” or “ko,” you can feel the slight vibration in the throat.

か - ka
き - ki
く - ku
け - ke
こ - ko
"ca" in "card" (without stress)"ki" in "kiss" (without stress)"ku" in "kudu" (American accent)"ca" in "care" (British accent, without stress)"co" in "coffe" (American accent, without stress)

Sa-line: さしすせそ (sa, shi, su, se, so)

“S” is a voiceless consonant. Some kanas’ pronunciations in the sa-line can be quite tricky, especially “shi” and “su.” When pronouncing “shi,” please notice that it is not cacuminal, which means a sound pronounced using a retroflexed tongue. By the way, there is not a single syllable in Japanese that is cacuminal. “Shi” sounds like “she” without stress.

“Su” is one of the most headache-inducing syllables in Japanese. Take a deep breath and relax. Let’s do it in two steps — first, please forget about the vowel “u,” just pronounce the consonant “s“; second, change your mouth shape to the shape for pronouncing the vowel “u” when you pronounce the consonant “s.” Please note that there should be no other change, like tongue position, except for the shape of your mouth. Got it? You’ll better grasp the nuts and bolts of it with more practice.

*Two typical incorrect pronunciations of “su”: (1) pronouncing it as “su” in “suit.” (2) pronouncing it as “s” in “Stephen.” (excessive sibilance).

さ - sa
し - shi
す - su
せ - se
そ - so
"so" in "sorrow" (American accent)"sh" in "sheet" (without stress)/"se" in "set" "so" in "sorry" (British accent)

Ta-line: たちつてと (ta, chi, tsu, te, to)

“T” is a voiceless consonant. In this line, “tsu” can be hard to pronounce. Indeed, all syllables with the vowel “u” are kind of troublesome. However, it will be much easier to pronounce “tsu” if you have grasped how to pronounce the syllable “su” well. Likewise, there are two steps to pronounce “tsu,” — (1) pronounce the consonant “ts” and (2) change your mouth shape to the shape for pronouncing the vowel “u” when you pronounce the consonant “ts.”

た - ta
ち - chi
つ - tsu
て - te
と - to
"ta" in "Tajikistan""che" in "cheese" (without stress)/"Te" in "Terry" "To" in "Toast"

Na-line: なにぬねの (na, ni, nu, ne, no)

“N” is a voiced consonant, which means the vocal cords will be vibrating when pronouncing this consonant. As we mentioned, some syllables have voiced consonants in the “Seion” group, yet “Seion” means voiceless sounds. 

Similarly, attention needs to be given to “nu” — please do not let your mouth move too much when pronouncing it. Our mouth shapes can change a lot when we are speaking in English. However, the Japanese language uses fewer movements than English does. It could be said that the Japanese pronunciation is just as conservative as the national character of the Japanese people.

な - na
に - ni
ぬ - nu
ね - ne
の - no
"no" in "nod""ni" in "bikini"/"ne" in "neck""know" in "knowledge" (British accent)

Ha-line: はひふへほ (ha, hi, hu, he, ho)

“H” is a voiceless consonant. In this line, the two syllables, “hi” and “hu,” with the vowels “i” and “u,” are not easy to pronounce. You may have learned somewhere else that the pronunciation of “hi” in Japanese is equivalent to “hi” in “history.” It’s not correct. 

The IPA symbol for the Japanese “hi” is /hi/, which is the same as English “he”‘s (without stress). However, the IPA symbol of “hi” in “history” is //. This point can also be applied to other Japanese syllables with the vowel “i” — the IPA symbols for Japanese “i” is always /i/, never /ɪ/.

When it comes to the syllable “” (typed both hu or fu), unfortunately, it can’t be pronounced as “hu (purely exhaled)” or “fu (like food),” which are two typical mispronunciations of “.” Furthermore, we can’t find the same syllable in English. The correct pronunciation of “ふ” sounds more like the middle ground between “hu” and “fu.” You will feel airflow rub against your lower lip when you pronounce “” correctly. Linguists call it a voiceless bilabial fricative.

は - ha
ひ - hi
ふ - hu
へ - he
ほ - ho
"hu" in "hustle""he" in "he" (without stress)/"he" in "helicopter""ho" in "hop" (without stress)

Ma-line: まみむめも(ma, mi, mu, me, mo)

“M” is a voiced consonant. The ma-line may be the most straightforward in terms of pronunciation. Still, you don’t want to make your mouth move too much when you pronounce “mu” or “mo.”

ま - ma
み - mi
む - mu
め - me
も - mo
"ma" in "mama""me" in "meet"/"me" in "mess" (without stress)"mo" in "mole" (American accent, without stress)

Ya-line: やゆよ (ya, yu, yo)

“Y” is a voiced consonant. Writing the same sound in different ways to distinguish the consonant and vowel. Therefore, there is no “yi” for ya-line because it’s already represented by the vowel “い(i).” As for “ye,” there used to be one – “ye(𛀁),” which has been abolished.

や - ya
 ゆ - yu
 よ - yo
"ya" in "yard" (without stress)"Yu" in "Yusuf""yo" in "yolk" (American accent, without stress)

Ra-line: らりるれろ (ra, ri, ru, re, ro)

“R” is a voiced consonant. The ra-line may be the hardest for many English speakers, and many learners mispronounce the ra-line kana without even realizing it.

The consonant “r” in Japanese is different from both “r” and “l” in English. When pronouncing “r” in English, we need to roll our tongues, like in “nerd” and “rude.” When pronouncing “l” in English, the space between the tongue and the hard plate (the hard roof of your mouth) is quite large, like in “Los Angeles” and “laugh.”

So, how do we pronounce the consonant “r” or ra-line kana in Japanese? Simply speaking, it needs a smaller space than “l” does. When pronouncing the Japanese “r” or other ra-line kana, you can feel the sides of your tongue touching the upper alveolar teeth. If you speak Spanish, you can try to pronounce Spanish “r” without vibrating the tongue, which has the same sound as Japanese “r.”

ら - ra
り - ri
る - ru
れ - re
ろ - ro
/////

H3 Wa-line: わを (wa, wo)

w” is a voiced consonant. There used to have “we(ゑ)” and “wi(ゐ),” but they faced similar fates to the “ye(𛀁)” we mentioned earlier.

What’s more, the spelling of the syllable “wo” may make you think it’s pronounced as “wo” in “word.” Well, this is also an annoying trap. Actually, “を(wo)” has the same pronunciation as the vowel “お(o).” 

わ - wa
 *ん - n
 を - wo
"wha" in "what" (American accent, without stress)/"o" in "old"

Dakuon and Handakuon

What do Dakuon and Handakuon mean

After reviewing the above contents, I believe you have sufficiently grasped the Seion group, which is the introductory Japanese phonology. Next, let’s talk about the Dakuon and Handakuon group.

Dakuon means voiced sounds. This is in contrast to Seion, which means voiceless sounds. All of the syllables categorized as “Dakuon” are indeed voiced, while not every syllable in “Seion” is voiceless.

Handakuon means half-voiced sounds. The pa-line is the only member of the Handakuon group. Even though the consonant “p” is voiceless, Japanese people prefer to call it “Handakuon” to differentiate it from the Dakuon “b” and Seion “h.” I know this is very puzzling, but it’s okay – just remember that pa-line is the only Handakuon.

Two voice marks: Dakuten and Handakuten

We had better look at two voicing marks before learning specific Dakuon and Handakuon syllables. 

As its name implies, Dakuten is the voicing mark used to indicate Dakuon. It refers to two very short strokes゛ appearing on the top right of each Dakuon kana. Some Seion kana can be converted to Dakuon kana if the Dakuten are added. For example:

か(ka) – が(ga)

さ(sa) – ざ(za)

た(ta) – だ(da)

は(ha) – ば(ba)

Likewise, Handakuten is a little circle゜ for indicating Handakuon, a.k.a the pa-line. For example

は(ha) – ぱ(pa)

ひ(hi) – ぴ(pi)

H3 Ga-line がぎぐげご (ga, gi, gu, ge, go)

“G” is a voiced consonant. You may have noticed that the only difference between the writing of each ka-line and ga-line kana is the Dakuten — adding Dakuten to ka-line kana can make it turn into ga-line kana. 

が - ga
ぎ - gi
ぐ - gu
げ - ge
ご - go
"ga" in "Lady gaga"/"goo" in "goof" (without stress)"gue" in "guess" (without stress)"goa" in "goal" (without stress)

Sometimes you may  hear some older people or speakers with non-standard dialects nasalizing ga-line kana. This is also very common, so you don’t have to be surprised if you hear it. You can compare them in the audio below.

nasal 
nga ngi ngu nge ngo
 
ga gi gu ge go
 
dai-nga-ku
 
dai-ga-ku
 
ni-hon-ngo
 
ni-hon-go
 

H3 Za-line ざじずぜぞ (za, ji, zu, ze, zo)

“Z” is a voiced consonant. I’m guessing you are wondering why there is a “ji” instead of “zi.” I won’t expand on the history of phonological change as it’s easier to just remember it as irregular for now. Please note that “ji(じ)” and another syllable, “di(ぢ)” that we will learn later, have the same pronunciation. They are represented by different consonants, which distinguish them from each other in terms of kana.

When pronouncing the syllable “zu(ず),” You can also refer to the same way of “su(す)” mentioned earlier — first, pronounce the consonant “z” and then change the shape of your mouth to “u” (don’t stop making the “z”). It’s worth mention that “zu(ず)” has the same pronunciation as “du(づ),” just like the pairs  “ji(じ)” and “di(ぢ).”

ざ - za
じ - ji
ず - zu
ぜ - ze
ぞ - zo
"zza" in "bizzare" (without stress)"Je" in "Jesus"/"ze" in "zest" (without stress)"zo" in "zone"

H3 Da-line だぢづでど (da, di, du, de, do)

“D” is a voiced consonant. The only difference between the ta-line and da-line in terms of writings is the Dakuten, which converts the voiceless consonant, “t,” to the voiced “d.” Additionally, “(ji)じ,” “(di)ぢ” and “(zu)ず,” “(du)づ” have the same in pronunciations as I mentioned above.

だ - da
ぢ - di
づ - du
で - de
ど - do
"da" in "darling""Je" in "Jesus"/"dea" in "endeavor" (British accent, without stress)"do" in "donut" (American accent)

H3 Ba-line: ばびぶべぼ (ba, bi, bu, be, bo)

“B” is a voiced consonant. The ba-line’s pronunciation is relatively easy, but be careful to distinguish these triplets — “ha(は),” “ba(ば),” and “pa(ぱ).”

ば - ba
び - bi
ぶ - bu
べ - be
ぼ - bo
"bo" in "boxing" (American accent)"Be" in "Beyoncé""boo" in "bamboo" (without stress)"be" in "bed" (without stress)"bo" in "bone"

H3 Pa-line: ぱぴぷぺぽ (pa, pi, pu, pe, po)

“P” is a voiceless consonant. However, Japanese people call the pa-line “Handakuon (half-voiced sounds)” to distinguish it from the Dakuon ba-line and Seion Ha-line.

ぱ - pa
ぴ - pi
ぷ - pu
ぺ - pe
ぽ - po
"pa" in "papa""pe" in "peak" (without stress)"po" in "pool" (British accent)"pe" in "pet" (without stress)"po" in "pope" (without stress)

Yoon

In this section, we will not learn any new kana. Yoon refers to a syllable that is formed of “i-ending kana” plus any of the three vowels, “(ya)や, (yu)ゆ, (yo)よ.”

For example, “ki(き)” + “ya(や)” = “kya(きゃ).” As you can see, the second ya (や) is written in a sort of lowercase for combining with ki(き) to form a Yoon syllable. What if it’s not in lowercase? Well, “kiya(きや)” is not a Yoon syllable but two independent syllables we learned before. 

Please note that although one Yoon syllable consists of two kana, it is still just one syllable. You can compare the difference with the audio below.

Yoon 
kya
 
kiya
 
myu
 
miyu
 
cho
 
chiyo
 

Three easily overlooked sounds

ん(n)

Last but not least, let’s learn three easy-to-forget but essential syllables. (n)ん is the only syllable in Japanese that does not end with a vowel and doesn’t begin any words in standard modern Japanese. (n)ん always follow other syllables.

When n(ん) appears in front of a vowel in a word, it’s often mistakenly treated as a na-line syllable. For example, the word “funiki (雰囲気)” is pronounced “fun-i-ki,” not “fu-ni-ki.

ongaku
 
funiki
 
shinkata
 

っ(sokuon)

The sokuon, , looks like “tsu(つ),” but they are not the same syllables. Its Katakana is . We don’t have to know what “sokuon” specifically means. The only thing we need to know is that the sokuon is the only one that doesn’t make a sound, which means we can’t really hear it. Nevertheless, it’s still an independent syllable, so we need to pause to indicate it. 

Note: Japanese is not a syllable-based language. It’s based on mora. Syllables can be heard, but っ can’t be heard, so it’s a mora. In this article, I have chosen to call them syllables instead of mora in order to make things simpler for beginners.

Sokuon is like a mute between two syllables, which you have to indicate through a pause. This can sound hard to understand, but the audio below will help you understand it better. 

shusseki
 
nikki
 
Sapporo
 

When typing some words containing the sokuon “,” you need to double type the consonant of the syllable following the sokuon. It shows that the sokuon is used to mark a geminate consonant.

Long sounds

Long sounds in Japanese are a general term for lengthened vowels and we don’t need to learn any new kana to read and write them.

In Hiragana, long sounds are represented by vowels. For example, the second in the word “(Ōsaka) おおさか” is an elongation of the previous . In Katakana, the long vowel symbols are represented by “ー,” such as “(raamen) ラーメン.”

Ōsaka

raamen

Please note that the long sound is a lengthening of the vowel in the previous syllable, and there is no pause between them. You don’t want to pronounce “okaa-san (お母さん)” as “oka-a-san.”

okaa-san

oka-a-san

Japanese pitch and accent

Japanese is a pitch-accent language, which means a word’s syllables have a different pitch (tone) – some are relatively higher and some are lower. You may be wondering,” Isn’t English the same way?” English is not a phonetically flat language, but it depends more on volume and length to strengthen certain syllables as opposed to pitch. Japanese also contrasts with Chinese, which is seen as a tonal language — pitch (tone) changes within even a single syllable. 

Japanese pronunciation is a piece of cake for English speakers because most Japanese syllables also exist in English. However, Japanese pitch and accent are not that easy to grasp, which plays a decisive role in identifying authentic speakers. Thus, my dear friend, please don’t omit the below guidance if you want to sound less like a foreigner.

Basic rules

Pitch not only adds vibrancy to the Japanese language, but also functions in phonetically indicating words and sentences. Let’s learn four essential rules of the Japanese pitch.

(1) Almost all words’ pitch is fixed, meaning you need to look it up and remember it.

(2) Within a word, the pitch of the first syllable must be different from the second one’s. If the first syllable starts high, the second one will be lower, and vice versa.

部屋 – へや – (LH)

バス(HL)

悪い – わるい – (LHL)

不便 – ふべん – (HLL)

(3) The pitch can only go low up to one time in a word. 

友達 – ともだち -(LHHH)

卵 – たまご – (LHL)

動物園 – どうぶつえん – (LHHHLL)

お金 – おかね – (LHH)

(4) The pitch goes low near a word or a sentence’s ending. 

Pitch in words

The below table shows several pitch accent patterns of the most common words. It’s hard to list all the possible cases here, but you can handle most situations if you understand these patterns. 

Please note: “H” refers to the high pitch, while “L” refers to the low pitch. The “H “or” L “in parentheses refers to the pitch of particles (e.g., は, が, を) that follow the word.

syllables→ type↓12345
start high without fallingL(H)LH(H)LHH(H)LHHH(H)LHHHH(H)

spirit
かぜ
wind
わたし
I
ともだち
friend
だいどころ
kitch
start low, goes high, fall in the particleLH(L)
LHH(L)LHHH(L)LHHHH(L)
やま
mountain
おとこ
male
おとうと
younger brother
さんばんめ
the third
start high, goes lowH(L)HL(L)HLL(L)HLLL(L)HLLLL(L)

fire
うみ
ocean
ホテル
hotel
ポップス
pops
かとうさん
Mr./Mrs. Katou
goes high in the middleLHL(L)LHLL(L)LHLLL(L)
からい
spicy
どようび
Saturday
しゃしんてん
photo exhibition
LHHL(L)LHHLL(L)
せんせい
teacher
クリスマス
Christmas
LHHHL(L)
おくります
present to

As mentioned above, the pitch goes low only once or none in a word. This rule can also be applied to compound words. The pitch goes low only once within a compound word, even though it consists of two independent words. 

word 1word 2 compound word
- わすれ - LHH
- もの - LH
- 忘れ物 - LHHHH
- えいご - LHH
- しけん - LHL
- 英語試験 - LHHHHL
- ヒマワリ - LHLL
- ようちえん - LHHLL
- ヒマワリ幼稚園 - LHHHHHHL

I know the above content can be challenging, especially for beginners. Please take it easy, as Japanese people are highly tolerant of foreigners’ language skills. In most cases, no matter whether your pitch is correct or not, they will be able to understand what you are trying to say : )

Pitch in sentences

In Japanese, the pitch of a word goes low at its ending. This rule is also valid for sentences — the pitch always starts high and becomes lower near the end. Therefore, Japanese people would think a word or a sentence is finished when they hear the falling pitch.

You probably already know how vital particles are for Japanese grammar. They also play an essential role in Japanese phonetics. Generally speaking, a slight pause (very short) occurs when encountering a particle, and the pitch also changes. 

Please listen to the following phonetics to get a feel for how particles work in Japanese phonology. These recordings were made with a Japanese voice generator developed by a research laboratory at the University of Tokyo.

わたしはハワイからました – I am from Hawaii.

 

ラーメンと餃子ぎょうざだいきです – I love ramen and dumplings.

gyoza

 

アメリカ合衆国がっしゅうこくは、きたアメリカに位置いちし、連邦共和国れんぽうきょうわこくです

The United States is a federal republic located in North America.

0 0 votes
Article Rating

Leave a comment

0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments