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Archive for the 'Japanese Alphabet' Category

When Size Does Matter!

Are your eyes failing you, or is that hiragana character tinier than the other one? In Japanese, since there is a limit of hiragana characters, there is the need for some combinations. There are in total, 33 combination sounds that are made using small ya, yu, and yo.

The following are examples of these combinations:

KYA

KYU

KYO

example :
きゃく kyaku ( “customer” ), きゅう  kyuu  (“nine” )

SHA

SHU

SHO

example :
しゃかい  shakai  (“society” ) ; しゅみ  shumi  (“hobby” )

CHA CHU CHO

example :
ちゃいろ  chairo  (“brown” ) ;  ちゅんちゅん  chunchun  (“chirp chirp” )

NYA

NYU

NYO

example :
ぐにゃぐにゃ  gunyagunya  (“crooked” )

HYA

HYU

HYO

example :
ひゃく  hyaku  (“one hundred” )

MYA

MYU

MYO

example :
みゃく  myaku  (“pulse” ) ; みょうじ  myouji  (“family name”)

RYA

RYU

RYO

example :
りゃく  ryaku  (“abbreviation” );  みりょく  miryoku  (“charm” )

GYA

GYU

GYO

example :
きんぎょ  kingyo  (“goldfish”)

JA

JU

JO

example :
ジャズ  jazu  (“jazz”)

BYA

BYU

BYO

example :
さんびゃく  san-byaku  (“three hundred”)

PYA

PYU

PYO

example :
はっぴゃく  ha-ppyaku ( “eight hundred”)

It is important to keep notice if the character is full size or half-width, as it can really change the pronunciation and meaning. Fore example, こんにゃく(con-nya-ku  “Kojnac”..a type of Japanese food ingredient) and こんやく ( con-ya-ku..”engagement” ) !

And The Evolution Continues…

Because the range of syllables (spoken and written) in Japanese is limited, we cannot properly render many foreign sounds in Japanese. And as many more foreign words are used daily in Japanese, the solution was the addition of “new” katakana characters.

Here are a few of the more common ones:

FA

FI

FE

FO

example words:
ファイル fairu (“file” ) ; フィンランド Finrando (“Finland” ) ;  サンタフェ Santa fe (“Santa Fe” ) ;  アイフォン aifon (“iPhone” )

VA

VI

VU

VE

VO

example words:
ヴァイオリン vaiorin  ( “violin” ) ;  ヴィクトリア Vikutoria  (“Victoria” (name)) ;  デジャヴ deja vu (“déjà vu” ) ;  ラスヴェガス Rasu Vegasu (“Las Vegas” )

TI

TU

Pronounced in English as “tee” and “too.”

example word:
パーティー paatee ( “party” )

DI

DU

TYU

DYU

example word:
デュエット dyuetto (“duet” )
コメディー comedee (“comedy” )

Sometimes people find their own names to acquire a “funny” translation into Japanese sounds as a result of these similar, but not quite the same, approximations. However, it is awesome to see how the Japanese language finds a way to evolve and adapt despite its ancient origins.

The Case of The Missing Syllables

Have you noticed that in words like shika (“deer” ) and hiku (“to pull” ), the “i” sound is almost inaudible?  This often happens also at the ends of the grammatical endings desu and masu, which are pronounced [dess] and [mahs], respectively. We call this devoicing “i” and “u”. That means that they become almost “whispered.” This happens when these vowels come between two of the voiceless consonants: p, t, k, s, or h.
Also, you will notice that in Japanese, there are some sound syllable sounds that don’t exist.

For example:
“si” doesn’t exist, but is replaced by “shi”.
“ti” becomes “chi” and “tu  which becomes “tsu”
“hu” doesn’t exist, “fu” is used. However, the “fu” sound is a lot lighter than in English.
(To make the sound, blow air between the lips, and not between the lips and teeth. Imagine this sound as being a combination of both “h” and “f.” )

“yi” and “ye” sounds don’t exist  in modern Japanese.There is also no “L” block of syllables in Japanese. Instead, you will find that in many words borrowed from English, in Japanese pronunciation and katakana writing, it has become replaced by a very light “r” sound. To make this “r” sound, lightly tap the roof of your mouth with your tongue, and try to think of it like a light “d” sound, as in saying the name “Eddy” quickly.
It may take some getting used to, but remember that the “r” sound is the closest sound there is in the Japanese pronunciation group. What borrowed words can you think of that have been apparently changed when pronounced in a Japanese way?

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