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Japanese Pitch Accent

Can you imagine offering to buy your new girlfriend a box of “rain” while shopping in Tokyo instead of “candy?” Impressive if you can pull it off, but not much help if she has a sweet tooth! When you can hear and say the pitch properly in Japanese, you won’t be caught making embarrassing mistakes!

Pitch accent refers to a characteristic of language where every syllable can be pronounced with a high or low pitch. Pitch accent is considered different from the concepts of stress and tone that appear in English and Chinese, respectively.

English: Stress
Chinese: Tones
Japanese: Pitch

Some assert that English has over 30,000 syllabic sounds. In contrast, Japanese has only 111 (112, according to some linguists). There are many homophones (words that have the same pronunciation as another but different meanings) in Japanese that differ only in their pitch. There are only two levels of pitch – high and low.



Pronunciation [ a ↓ me ] [ a  ↑ me ]
Meaning “rain” “candy”

So, it is true that the concept of pitch seems foreign (because it is), but it is impossible to ignore, there is no way around it!