[sumo] [off-topic] Japanese pronunciation - long- (was Re: English Commentators)

sumo at paketjapan.com sumo at paketjapan.com
Sun Mar 19 21:06:54 EST 2006

On the pronunciation debate, rather than worrying about rules for which
"i" should be silent, I think the best first step is to realise that for
all but a few exceptions, every consonant in Japanese is followed by a
vowel and that unlike English these vowel sounds should all be spoken
for the same length of time.  This will also aid for even the "less"
voiced vowel sounds, as although they might be deemphasised in their
audible level, the time taken for their not being voiced should still be
the same as all other vowels (hope this makes some sense).

The biggest problem for non-speakers I have seen is them looking at the
representation in roman characters and automatically adding the
elongation/emphasis normally associated with those vowels in English.
First step then, concentrate on making all vowel sound lengths the same.
    Even voicing less voiced sounds for the right length of time (i.e.
the same amount of time as all other vowels) will come out much better
and closer to the native Japanese pronunciation than the incorrect

Even for long time speakers of Japanese as a second language, roman
character representations can be distracting, as all of their
programming in their native first language still kicks in when it sees
something represented by the alphabet, leading to the incorrect vowel
elongations.  I know for myself, even after long term exposure to
Japanese, I find it difficult to get the correct Japanese pronunciation
when reading whole sentences in real-time if they are written in roman
characters, due to this automatic effect kicking in from my native
language programming.

All that said then, the best thing you can do to get an idea of the
correct Japanese pronunciation is to actually learn to read
hiragana/katakana, and even if not brilliant at that use piecewise
voicing from a reference sheet for the hiragana/katakana in the same way
you would have done in your own native language when first learning
reading and correct pronunciation.  I'm not talking about learning 2000
kanji, just learning the sounds and representations for something that
is like the alphabet, just three times bigger in number of characters,
but many similar sounds so not much more complex than getting the 26
sounds of the alphabet.  Also, there are many pictographic learning
methods out there on the web and in books, that can help to get hiragana
and katakana down (at least for just reading) in a remarkably short time.

If you are serious, this will aid much more in trying to get the correct
pronunciation in Japanese, than any hard and fast rules for the less
voiced sounds.  Learning the hiragana/katakana will also aid you in
understanding the nuances of the long "o" sounds, the double consonants
(or rather extra pause before voicing them) and other what seem subtle
differences to those only reading roman character representations of
Japanese.  Even if you don't learn them all or forget how to write them,
just going through and looking at the basis for all sounds in Japanese
(i.e. their phonetic representations in hiragana/katakana) even once
will help your awareness of what sounds exist in Japanese and how they
should be spoken.

To put it slightly back on topic, once you become more aware of the
correct pronunciations, the unfortunate down side is that pronunciation
by some of the English side NHK sumo commentators is very likely to
become like finger nails on a chalk board to you ;-).

All this aside, if you just want to hear correct pronunciations, I think
Moti or another member of the list had audio files for kimarite or many
current shikona on their web site.  If anyone has the link please post
to the list.

Back to the basho.

Cheers, Pete.

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