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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Sorry, I Don’t Speak Manglenese: Pronouncing Foreign Terms through Japanese Phonetics (part 3)

Let’s begin with the ‘A’ and ‘U’ sounds, which are close enough in how they’re formed to be major stumbling block for many English learners-including Japanese students. For the most part, sound, rather than spelling, is key to rendering foreign terms in Japanese-which is why most who hang around Japanese speakers for a while seem to pick the process up through some sort of verbal osmosis. With long and short ‘A’ and ‘U’ sounds, this difficulty holds especially true (keeping in mind, of course, The Rule of Exceptions), since the short sounds for both-as in Hat and Hut-use both Japanese 「ア」Mora to render them. When you wanna use words like Gallon 「ガロン」& Butter 「バター」 in your chats with Japanese speaking friends, be sure to remember this well; you never know when you might it call on it (such as when your friend asks if you’ve ever heard of スパーバタードッグ

Now when the word uses a long ‘U’ sound, extended 「ウ」Mora are employed to render words like Blues 「ブルーズ」, Groove 「グルーブ」and Sooners 「スーナーズ」; if the Red River flows in favor of your Alma Matter, you can now say it to those you practice the language with (If this feels unfamiliar to you, then the red river likely doesn’t flow in favor of yours, and you can carry on). Longer ‘A’ sounds, in contrast, can be quite tricky to render just so, in particular when to use the harder, American-style ‘A’ sound and when not to.

England and American are among the countries Japan’s borrowed terms from during its trading history; both known as English speaking, but not the same kind of English (just ask anyone who uses The Queen’s English). This difference reflects in how they pronounce different terms taken from the language, including Cassette 「カセット」, Catcher 「キャッチャー」, Gas 「ガス」, & Gal 「ギャル」. The general rule of thumb is to use 「ア」Mora to render them, reserving the structure 「イ」Mora+「ャ」for when the word calls for the harder, American-style ‘A’ sound, like Diamond 「ダイヤモンド」 (often rendered by the shorthand 「ダイヤ」), Candy 「キャンデー」and Gap 「ギャップ」.

When the ‘A’ sound is lower and more extended-like those in Bare and Stare- extended「エ」Mora come into play; should you spot a good looking Case 「ケース」, or get sprayed in the face with Mace 「メース」now you can bring it up in your chats. Why someone would discuss getting Mace-blasted is best pondered on as you hear their tales and adventures unfold.

One curiosity, concerning ‘A’ sound, is that ‘Aw’ –as heard in Maw and Claw- is that they’re rendered using extended 「オ」Mora; something to keep in mind next time you wanna talk about Jaws 「ジョーズ」, or Saw 「ソー」. When 'A' and 'U' appear together in a word-as in the name Aurora- it's rendered as an extended 「オ」Mora. For anyone hailing from Austin, that means you'd sound the city's name as オースティン. Similarly, any time ‘all’ is used, whether in a word or by itself, it’s sounded out using an appropriate extended 「オ」Mora+「ル」, thus making the phrase ‘All for one’ sound out like 「オールフォーワン」.

It does take some getting used to, but the person practicing Japanese with will appreciate not having to rack their brain just to talk with you. With practice and smart study you’ll get down, and the next set of vowels rules, these involving the ‘I’ ‘E’ and ‘O’, become that much easier to learn.

Key Takeaways

  • Short ‘U’ and ‘A’ sounds ->「ア」Mora (EX: Buster->バスター/Spam->スパム)
  • Harder, American-style short ‘A’ sounds -> 「イ」Mora+「ャ」(EX: Camping->キャンピング/Gang->ギャング/Dial->ダイヤル)
  • Long ‘U’ sounds -> extended 「ウ」Mora (EX: Spoon->スプーン)
  • Long ‘A’ sounds -> extended「エ」Mora (EX: Game->ゲーム/Blame->ブレーム)
  • ‘Aw’ sounds -> extended 「オ」Mora (EX: Shawshank->ショーシャンク/Pawn->ポーン)
  • 'A'+'U' -> extended 「オ」Mora (EX: Austraila->オーストラリア/Bauble->ボーブル)
  • ‘All’ sounds -> an appropriate extended 「オ」Mora+「ル」(EX: Hall->ホール/Ball->ボール)

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