@@@@@@@@@ Essential Sounds in Japanese

Standard Japanese (that Japanese spoken by educated natives of Tokyo) can be described in terms of distinct syllables, of the following kinds:
single vowel
single consonant + vowel
two differing consonants + vowel
single consonant

Each syllable is worth one beat in time.

The following is a chart listing the essential sounds in Japanese.  All sounds have a one-to-one correspondence with the hiragana  syllabaryiextra sounds, to accommodate foreign-derived words adopted into Japanese, can be found in katakana).  (The only exception is when the ei combination in hiragana is expressed as either ei or ee in certain romanizations, such as that employed in our textbook, Yookoso).

Syllables of Japanese
                                                                                                                                                             


1@

Q

3

 4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

13

14

15

16

a

ka

ga

sa

za

ta*

da*

na*

ha

pa

ba

ma

ya

ra

wa

k

i

ki

gi

shi

ji

chi

(ji)

ni

hi

pi

bi

mi

---

ri

---

s

u

ku

gu

su

zu

tsu

(zu)

nu*

fu

pu

bu

mu

yu

ru

---

t

e

ke

ge

se

ze

te*

de*

ne*

he

pe

be

me

---

re

---

p

o

ko

go

so

zo

to*

do*

no*

ho

po

bo

mo

yo

ro

(w)o

/n/

 

kya

gya

sha

ja

cha

(ja)

nya

hya

pya

bya

mya

---

rya

---

 

 

kyu

gyu

shu

ju

chu

(ju)

nyu

hyu

pyu

byu

myu

---

ryu

---

 

 

kyo

gyo

sho

jo

cho

(jo)

nyo

hyo

pyo

byo

myo

---

ryo

---

 

**double consonant combinations possible with k, s, t, p:  kk. ss, ssh_, tt, tch_, tts_,  pp
     (see further explanation below)
*hdental sounds:h  i.e., sounds which necessitate touching the back of the front teeth with the tongue during pronunciation

                                          Special Issues in Pronunciation
I.  Pronunciation of /n/
A.  Group 1:  immediately before p, b, or m, /n/ is pronounced as a long gm.h
       Examples:  sanbai (sambai)     tenpura (tempura)   anmari (ammari)
B.  Group 2:  immediately before t, d, s, n, j,  or r,  /n/ is pronounced as a long gn.h
        Examples:  kentoo   kondo   bantai   dannasama   benjo   benri

C. Group 3:  before k or g, /n/ is pronounced gngh as in the word gsinger.h
Examples:              benkyoo              nihon ginkoo                nihongo

Group 4:  elsewhere, that is, before vowels + y, w, h, f, s; or at the end of an     utterance, /n/ is pronounced by raising the tongue toward the roof of the mouth but not making contact anywhere, and at the same time releasing the flow of air through the nasal passage and vibrating the vocal cords.

      Examples:  ten(f)in     hon(f)ya    den(f)wa   han(f)han   san(f)fujin(f)ka   sen(f)see       arimasen

  1. When /n/ is followed by (w)o, the o can be anticipated and one may insert a slight gwh sound between the /n/ and (w)o.
  2. When /n/ is followed by e, in a similar manner one may insert a gyh between the /n/ and e.

II.Standard Japanese is characterized by the frequent occurrence of whispered (i.e., voiceless) syllables.  Whenever an gih or guh vowel occurs between any two voiceless consonants (k, s, sh, t ,ch, ts, p, h, f), the vowel automatically becomes voiceless or, in some cases, is lost.  This happens whether the two consonants come in the same word or in consecutive words.  Of course, no syllabic value is lost.

kisha   kite  kitte   kushami   nakute   shite   shitte   suki  sukii   susumu   suteru   nasutte
chikai   chittomo   tsukimashita   tsutomete  hikimashita   hisho   hito   hipparu   fukai
fushigi   futoi  futtobooru  hihan   dotchi ka   desu kara   itsu kara   hikooki to

When an gih or guh vowel preceded by a voiceless consonant comes at the end of an utterance, the vowel either has its full voiced value or is whispered.  There is variation depending on the speaker, the occasion and the word in question.

hitotsu              soo desu               ohayoo gozaimasu

 

                      Double Long Consonants in Japanese
K occurs as a syllable by itself immediately preceding a syllable having initial gk.h  The back of the tongue is raised as in the production of a single gkh and is held in that position for a full syllable beat before being released (compare the somewhat similar long gkh in English gbookkeeperh).  The following syllable, which has initial gk,h is pronounced without aspiration\that is, without a puff of breath after the gk.h

Examples:  mi-k-ka        yu-k-ku-ri        ni-k-ko-o         ha-k-ki-ri        se-k-kyo-o
                    ha-k-kyu-u

T occurs as a syllable by itself immediately preceding a syllable having initial gth or gtah or gch.h  The front of the tongue is pushed against the back of the upper teeth as in the production of a single gth and is held in that position for a full syllable beat before being released (compare the somewhat similar long gth in English ghot tiph).  The following syllable is pronounced without aspiration.

Examples:  ka-t-ta      i-t-te      cho-t-to      ma-t-chi       ko-ma-t-cha-t-ta    yo-t-tsu-me

P occurs as a syllable by itself immediately preceding a syllable having initial gp.h  The lips are brought together as in the production of a single gph and are held in that position for a full syllable beat before being released (compare the somewhat similar long gph in English gtop parth).  The following syllable, which has initial gp,h is pronounced without aspiration.

Examples:  i-p-pai      i-p-pu-u      ri-p-po-o      ha-p-pi      ha-p-pya-ku-me
           ha-p-pyo-o      ni-p-po-n

S occurs as a syllable by itself immediately preceding a syllable having initial gsh or gsh.h  Its articulation lasts for a full syllable beat and has the same quality as the hsh or the gshh which follows (compare the somewhat similar long gsh in English gless sleeph and the long gshh in ghorse-showh).

Examples:  a-s-sa-ri     ma-s-su-gu     i-s-so-o     ma-s-shi-ro     i-s-shu-u

 

(Above adapted from Young and Nakajima, Learn Japanese and
        Jorden, Beginning Japanese)