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Saturday, November 21, 2009

Lesson 1.3 Elision

A key aspect to pronunciation is the concept of Elision. What is Elision? 
To put it simply, elision is a sound that's either a sudden stop in breath or drawn out, a bit like how we would say match, pack or bus, in terms of the end sound(each one respectively applying to sounds like chi, ki or su). 

The more elaborate explaination, according to Wikipedia, is that Elision "is extremely common in the pronunciation of the Japanese language. In general, a high vowel (/i/ or /u/) that appears in a low-pitched syllable between two voiceless consonants is devoiced, and often deleted outright. However, unlike French or English, Japanese does not often show elision in writing. The process is purely phonetic, and varies considerably depending on the dialect or level of formality." 

A few examples (slightly exaggerated; apostrophes added to point out elision): 

Matsushita-san wa imasu ka? ("Is Mr. Matsushita in?") 
Pronounced: matsush'tasan wa imas'ka 

roku, shichi, hachi ("six, seven, eight") 
Pronounced: rok', shich', hach' 

Shitsurei shimasu ("Excuse me") 
Pronounced: sh'ts'reishimas' 

Gender roles also influence how this is used in spoken Japanese. Doing it is generally seen as manly, especially the final u of the polite verb forms (-masu, desu, which you'll learn later on), where not doing it is seen as more feminine.  Doing it too much is generally viewed as obscure, while doing it wrong is seen as overly fussy or old-fashioned(like Grampa-style).

Some dialects, like  Satsuma-ben(more on dialects later), are known by standard Japanese speakers for their extensive elision. Keep in mind that different dialects also influence how you are perceived in different social circles, since Japanese from different parts of the country hold different views about those from other parts of Japan, one common one being city people seeing those out in the sticks as backwards and dumb, and those out in the sticks viewing cityfolk is arrogant and inconsiderate. (More to be found when you make Japanese-native friends and pick their brains about it). In short, where and when you use elision can affect how others see you, so choose carefully. 

For an example of this in English, let's examine the words skosh[meaning a little or a bit], and also draws it's meaning from Yidddish and Rickshaw. Derived the Japanese words sukoshi[same basic meaning as Skosh] and rikusha(same basic meaning as Rickshaw), they reflect very closely how elision sounds when used in Japanese, so if you ever need help remembering this part of Japanese pronunciation, remember Skosh and Rickshaw.  

1 comment:

  1. very cool, I could see this blog becoming very useful !