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Can Japanese represent the sounds of the letters from an alphabet?

TH1

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For example, if I want to help an English speaker to understand the sounds of the Russian alphabet I'd say:

А = "A" as in "Father"
Б = "B" as in "Ball"
Ф = "F" as in "From"

How should one go about translating this?

Ps.: I don't speak a word of Japanese but I'm genuinely curious about this. I compared these two Wikipedia pages hoping to find an answer but the Japanese page uses English words.

English:

2020-06-02 00_06_52-Window.png


Japanese:

2020-06-02 00_05_43-Window.png


Thanks!
 

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bentenmusume

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First of all, your topic and main post seem to be asking two different things. (Your topic seems to be asking if you can describe the pronunciation of English words written in the alphabet in terms of Japanese, while the post itself appears to be talking about the reverse, i.e. representing words in Russian/Japanese in terms of English sounds.)

At any rate, Japanese and English phonology both contain many sounds that are not in the other, so there are certain sounds in Japanese that you can't explain at all in terms of English (and vice versa).

For example, the long "a" in "father" corresponds pretty closely to the vowel sound represented in Japanese as あ/ア ("a"), か/カ ("ka"), さ/サ ("sa"), etc. (i.e. the top row here), so you could say that 赤 ("red") is pronounced "aka" with "a" as in "father", but the short "a" in "cat", for example, doesn't exist in Japanese (when the word is transliterated, it becomes キャット, pronounced like "kyatto", which is an approximation, but doesn't accurately reproduce the English vowel).

Likewise with consonant sounds; as you probably know, the sounds "L" and "R", as well as the distinction between them, don't exist in Japanese. Similarly, the ら/ラ, etc. sound ("ra" column) on that same wiki page doesn't really correspond to the English "r" (or "l"), so there's no way to describe this sound to an English speaker in terms of English words they already know. The only way a native speaker of English can learn to pronounce ら・り・る・れ・ろ, or a native speaker of Japanese can learn to pronounce "la" or "ra", is by training their mouth to produce a sound that does not exist in their native language.
 

TH1

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Hi bentenmusume, I'm sorry if I wasn't clear. What I'd like to know if there's a way to translate the concept of Б = "B" as in "Ball"

For example, in case there's a Japanese version of "Russian for dummies," in the first pages there should be a pronunciation guide. So, how do you express the consonant sounds of Russian using only the Japanese characters in such a guide given that you can't break the consonant from the vowels?
 

mdchachi

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Hi bentenmusume, I'm sorry if I wasn't clear. What I'd like to know if there's a way to translate the concept of Б = "B" as in "Ball"

For example, in case there's a Japanese version of "Russian for dummies," in the first pages there should be a pronunciation guide. So, how do you express the consonant sounds of Russian using only the Japanese characters in such a guide given that you can't break the consonant from the vowels?
The simple answer is that you can't do this because Japanese "alphabet" are all syllables -- there are no consonants or vowels.
There is no "B." There is BA BI BU BE BO. (Pronounced BAA BEE BOO BEH BOW).
I think most beginning books simply lay out the alphabet (hiragana / katakana) for students to learn and they naturally relate it to their own language. See chart below. (Note, the B-series of syllables is not listed here because it's sort of an "advanced topic".)
1591105297138.png
 

TH1

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So I just went on a search on amazon jp and found this interesting chart on this book.

It seems that the letter Б sound is represented by two sets of Japanese characters:

2020-06-02 16_58_33-Window.png


The kanji on the center means "Letter name" and on the right it's the kanji for "education".

So, for the Б letter, the author is telling us that the letter name is "bee" (katakana for "be" + the choonpu) which is a smart move because that's how a Russian would read the letter when uttering the alphabet.

However, on the right, under the "Education" kanji, the author chose to use the katakana for "bu."

Why??

What am I missing?

I've posted the screenshot for the whole page as an attachment in case it helps.

Edit: Minor typos
 

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Buntaro

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What am I missing?

TH1,

The Japanese language does not use vowels and consonants. Japanese only has symbols for individual syllables. For example, if we look at the syllable BA, in English, it uses the consonant B and the vowel A. This does not happen in Japanese. Japanese only has symbols for the entire syllable.

Here are the symbols for five syllables.

BA ば or バ

BI び or ビ

BU ぶ or ブ

BE べ (べ)

BO ぼ or ボ

You are looking for a Japanese symbol for the consonant B, but such a symbol does not exist in Japanese.
 
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mdchachi

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However, on the right, under the "Education" kanji, the author chose to use the katakana for "bu."

Why??

What am I missing?
This is a chart trying to tell Japanese people how to pronounce the alphabet letters and their pronunciation.
Left column is the letter, middle column is the name of the letter and right column is the sound it makes.
So they are saying that the letter Б itself is pronounced "bee" but the sound it makes is "boo."
So that's like saying the letter S is called "es" but the sound it makes is "ssss."

But as we said, this doesn't answer your original question because there is no one-to-one mapping of alphabet letters to the Japanese syllabic alphabet.
 

TH1

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I want to thank you all for your help, the subject is now much clearer to me
 

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In Japanese junior high school, students are taught English using the International Phonetic Alphabet as a supplement to their English studies. Teachers and students may become very adept at rendering of English words using IPA, but like many things it gets discarded after school because it has little use in daily Japanese life (unless you continue with English or other foreign language studies).

With or without IPA, the th sound, or the difference between l and r, is confounding because these sounds don't exist in Japanese.
Below is a snip of an online English/Japanese dictionary, showing the entry for the word "father". You can see how IPA is used here.



father pronunciation.PNG
 

Buntaro

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TH1,

I want to emphasize that Japanese does not have an alphabet, it has a syllabary. There are no 'letters' in the Japanese syllabary.
 

nice gaijin

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Yay! Love these kinds of questions, it really highlights the interesting differences between languages!

As others have said, there are no written symbols in Japanese that represent a consonant by itself. Every consonant sound is followed by some kind of vowel (with the notable exception of the moraic nasal represented by ん (ン in katakana). For this reason, no syllables or words in Japanese end in a non-nasal consonant. So Jim becomes Jimu, Bob Sapp becomes Bobu Sappu, Hazmat becomes hazu-matto, the unvoiced plosives [ p ] and [ t ] pick up a sokuon (long consonant) to more closely approximate the plosive "pause" at the end of the word, and the final vowels may be diminished or devoiced, but they're present. This is why Japanese accents seem to have a very specific pattern to them, even people who don't understand the phonology will often pick up on the fact that they seem to stick vowels to the end of everything.

To be precise, Japanese is a moraic language, meaning the base phonological unit in Japanese is the mora. There are just a handful of moraic languages, most notably dead languages like Latin, ancient Greek, Old English and Sanskrit. Mora usually consist of a vowel called the syllable nucleus, which can be accompanied by a consonant (in Japanese the consonant comes before the vowel). So although there's no native symbol for the consonant "B," There's a whole row of mora that represent the [ b ] (voiced bilabial plosive) followed by the 5 standard vowels used in Japanese: BA, BI, BU, BE, and BO. You can't break those sounds any farther down in Japanese.

The mora is a matter of timing that determines the cadence and stress of the spoken language. For the phonetic syllabaries, hiragana and katakana, generally each character counts as "one" count, including the characters that represent long vowels or consonants, so those are "heavy" syllables made of multiple mora.
  • If you ask English speakers to "clap along" as they speak, usually they will cIap with the syllables. Words like "Tokyo" and "Sanzen" would get two claps each ("To-kyo," "san-zen," etc).
  • But if you were to ask Japanese people to clap along as they say those words, they would clap 4 times each: と-う-きょ-う "to-o-kyo-o" and さ-ん-ぜ-ん"sa-n-ze-n", because they count each mora individually. The o's in Tokyo are long and syllables ending with N are "heavy," so they are bimoraic and get two claps each.
This innate sense of phonetic timing is built into the language, because there are several words that may seem to be homophones (have the same pronunciation), but while they may have the same syllables, they are moraically dissimilar. When you look at the kanji, the difference is apparent; a slight change in pronunciation may represent a completely different set of characters.

KanjiKanaPronunciationEnglish
N/A (loan word)シートshi-i-toSheet
使徒しとshi-toApostle
嫉妬しっとshi-t-toJealousy
指頭しとうshi-to-oFingertip

This is exploited for words games like Shiritori, where you have to come up with a new noun that starts with the same mora at the end of the last word (because no words start with ん, if you say a word that ends with N, you lose).

Another phonetic game is Babigo, where every mora is repeated but the syllable onset (initial consonant) is replaced with [ b ], so every other mora starts with a B. For example, in the video when they say ai shite/あいして it becomes a-ba-i-bi shi-bi-te-be/あばいびしびてべ. To me, this is proof that there is a strong understanding of the concept of the "B" sound, even though there's no native symbol to represent it.


This is apparently the Japanese/moraic equivalent to Ubbi Dubbi in English, where a similar principle inserts extra sounds in between syllables (Today is the first time I'd heard of Ubbi Dubbi, but most native Japanese speakers seem to be familiar with shiritori and babigo).
 
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(Today is the first time I'd heard of Ubbi Dubbi, but most native Japanese speakers seem to be familiar with shiritori and babigo).
Oh. I know this thing, only as the variant 'op'. They don't list 'op' only 'ob', but it's definitely the same rules just a different inserted syllable.
I thought the guys who I learned it from had been super-clever to come up with it, but now I realize they almost certainly learned from a children's book or show. (Shoulda known, they also took credit for some clever puns and riddles that were from public radio shows.)

It is originally a clever nonsense language, since if you know the rule it's easy to learn to understand, but if you don't know the rule it's rather difficult to figure out. 'course the internet will ruin that since anyone can find out the rule much more easily now.
 

mdchachi

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Oh. I know this thing, only as the variant 'op'. They don't list 'op' only 'ob', but it's definitely the same rules just a different inserted syllable.
I thought the guys who I learned it from had been super-clever to come up with it, but now I realize they almost certainly learned from a children's book or show. (Shoulda known, they also took credit for some clever puns and riddles that were from public radio shows.)

It is originally a clever nonsense language, since if you know the rule it's easy to learn to understand, but if you don't know the rule it's rather difficult to figure out. 'course the internet will ruin that since anyone can find out the rule much more easily now.
I didn't know it had a name. I always thought it was some natural extension of pig latin. My friends and I also used "op" and none of these others. As preadolescents we had loads of fun making popenopis jokes.
 

healer

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But if you were to ask Japanese people to clap along as they say those words, they would clap 4 times each: と-う-きょ-う "to-o-kyo-o" and さ-ん-ぜ-ん"sa-n-ze-n", because they count each mora individually. The o's in Tokyo are long and syllables ending with N are "heavy," so they are bimoraic and get two claps each.
How many times would Japanese people clap for 嫉妬 しっと, 3 or 2 or 2 1/2? I just wonder if the small っ which is supposed to be a pause regarded as one full mora?
 

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Three. The small "tsu" is still one mora.

This is how you differentiate 切手 from 来て. Of course in conversation it is not always easy to catch, especially for foreigners. If if you've lived here for 30 years, this can still be difficult to hear and process.

 

nice gaijin

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I've found the best defense sometimes is active listening, including aizuchi, and repeating a bit of what the other speaker is saying. This has an extra effect of showing that you're very interested in what they have to say, which makes them like you more.

Remember, the mora is the basic unit, it can not be broken down any further, so there are no half-counts for mora. the sokuon (っ, AKA small tsu) and long vowels are one extra count, respectively. Generally, every character you see represents a single mora.

The only exception to this are the yōon, palatalized consonants. In this case, the small (usually) ゃ, ゅ, or ょ is used to insert the "y" sound and indicate which vowel the mora ends with. Small characters show up in usage a lot in digital text communication, so real world use is informed but not constrained by these textbook rules.
 

healer

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Thanks guys!

Do you think if I just pause for one mora is sufficient or I had better end the syllable before っ with consonant after っ? That is in case of しっと, some say one should say ****-to, rather than shi-pause-to. I understand the consonant T is not meant to be pronounced but mouthed in such way that one was going to say it but not actually saying it.
 

nice gaijin

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So the thing about sokuon is that it always precedes an unvoiced plosive (p, t, k), fricative (s, sh), or affricate (plosive followed by fricative, like the "ts" in tsu)

In the case of the plosive and affricate, the sound always starts with a complete blockage of air from your mouth, followed by a burst of air. The way to pronounce a word like 発行 / はっこう versus 箱 / はこ is when you go to make the "k" sound, you hold the breath a beat longer. Because the difference is in the pause before you release the plosive, no word will begin with a sokuon. You need a vowel to precede it to hear the pause at all.

hit the "listen" button on this page, under the Japanese text and see if you can hear it.
 

healer

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I've found the best defense sometimes is active listening, including aizuchi, and repeating a bit of what the other speaker is saying. This has an extra effect of showing that you're very interested in what they have to say, which makes them like you more.
Thanks a lot nice gaijin san. I enjoy reading your posts and everything you say is very instructive and enlightening.
 

healer

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hit the "listen" button on this page, under the Japanese text and see if you can hear it.
Not sure where the button is. I can't find a "listen" button on this page.

Just two more things about mora!
Is ティ in ティーポット one mora also?

What about silent vowels before unvoiced consonants? Are they one mora too?
For example
く in やくしょ 役所
く in せんたくき 洗濯機
で in です at the end of a sentence
 

nice gaijin

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Yes, good questions! I should have specified that my examples of the yōon were not the only creative ways around the limitations of Japanese phonology.

Silent Vowels
Yes, silent vowels are still counted. A little explanation for your examples:
く in やくしょ 役所 - This one is fine, 3 counts: ya-ku-sho
く in せんたくき 洗濯機 - In kanji compounds that link unvoiced mora like this, the natural shortening of that is to squeeze out the unvoiced vowel and use a sokuon instead, so せんたくき becomes せんたっき. Just keep repeating the first one over and over quickly, and it'll naturally become the second pronunciation. The total number of mora in the word is the same.
で in です at the end of a sentence - While the word-final high vowel is unvoiced, "e" is not a high vowel (more mid-back) and is voiced. Regardless, they both count.

Using kana to describe non-Japanese sounds
You'll notice running through the kana that some of the consonants change depending on the vowel it's paired with. Namely, ち, ぢ,つ, づ, and ふ. So in order to spell out non-Japanese words that do have those sounds, like Teapot, Disney, Tattoo, Voodoo, or Fettucine, we can use small vowels ぁぃぅぇぉ to create phonetic pairs that aren't in Japanese... or at least approximations of those foreign sounds.

To be specific, since the /t+i/ or /d+i/ are realized in native Japanese as [tɕi] and [dʑi] (sounding like "chi" and "ji," respectively), in order to get that non-native "tea" sound in Japanese, they'll use the /te/ character, and then a small /i/ to replace the vowel sound: ティ. There's a phonetic rule behind this, that turns alveolar plosives into unrounded affricates when they are followed by a high vowel. Because this sound change rule is in place, it creates a "hole" where this specific sounds doesn't occur in native Japanese. For foreign words, we'll either see a common approximation used or the "hole" will be patched with a compound sound.

Since these sounds appear in loan words, you won't often see these compounds in hiragana, except for languages like Uchinaaguchi in Okinawa which uniquely combine the chōonpu and sokuon with novel compounds, all written in hiragana: くゎっちーさびたん kwacchī sabitan

Moraic length:
Small vowels are modifications to the mora, which is why these semi-compound characters still count as one. So, in your example, the ティ sound is one mora, but it's followed by the dash (called chōonpu), making the /i/ a long vowel, so ティ is one mora, and ティー is two.

Give a listen to these two words, you see that although in English we think of "Tea" as a single phonetic unit [ti:], but in Japanese, if we take that chōonpu out it doesn't sound right anymore because the vowel gets clipped by the next consonant..

Lastly, just because there's a "closer" approximation doesn't mean it always gets used. Although you could still write Tibet with a hard [t] as ティベット (16.8K search results), it's commonly written チベット (14M+ results). Listen for the difference, the second one is the common pronunciation.

The "listen" button in google translate is the "volume" icon at the bottom of the text, next to the little microphone. You can have the computer pronounce both sides of the translation, but be sure to use other video materials to hear natural enunciation:

1595609968961.png
 
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healer

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Thanks again nice gaijin!

Silent vowels as I had learnt are ‘i‘ and ‘u’ between “p, k, s, t, h” such as く in せんたくき or after any of the same consonants at the end of word such as す in です. Is it always true? In other words is it a hard and fast rule?

く in やくしょ 役所 - This one is fine, 3 counts: ya-ku-sho
Right, I quoted a wrong one. This example doesn’t fit in with the criteria of silenced vowels.

In kanji compounds that link unvoiced mora like this, the natural shortening of that is to squeeze out the unvoiced vowel and use a sokuon instead, so せんたくき becomes せんたっき.
Is unvoiced mora the same as silenced vowel?
Are you saying that unvoiced mora only happens to kanji compounds? If not kanji, vowel never goes silent?
Do we treat all silent vowels like 促音 in every respect,timing/mora and the way to say them?
I have noticed both versions of 洗濯機 are set out in the dictionary under one headword. Could I expect the version showing the silenced vowel always appears side by side with the standard one such as せんたくき and せんたっき for 洗濯機?

で in です at the end of a sentence
Regrettably I need to correct my question in that “で in です at the end of a sentence” should read “す in です at the end of a sentence”

While the word-final high vowel is unvoiced, "e" is not a high vowel (more mid-back) and is voiced.
What is a high vowel?

Regardless, they both count.
Are you saying two moras always in this case?
I realize some say “desu” for です and some simply says “des”. Is the latter still two moras? If it is how could one say it?

The "listen" button in google translate is the "volume" icon at the bottom of the text
How much could we trust computer-produced pronunciation? Let alone the correct pronunciation of every word, I suspect the pitch might not be reliable at all.
 

nice gaijin

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How much could we trust computer-produced pronunciation? Let alone the correct pronunciation of every word, I suspect the pitch might not be reliable at all.
Google isn't too terrible to check these things, but I'd always prefer a native speaker.

Silent vowels as I had learnt are ‘i‘ and ‘u’ between “p, k, s, t, h” such as く in せんたくき or after any of the same consonants at the end of word such as す in です. Is it always true? In other words is it a hard and fast rule?
Yes, you pretty much got the rule correct. High vowels are /i/ and /u/ in Japanese, and you'll notice that all of the consonants you listed are unvoiced. Fricatives like sh are also unvoiced and included in the rule, so yakusho does get devoiced. What I meant was just that devoiced mora are still counted.

We've covered the devoicing of high vowels in some other threads, (most extensively here, but here as well) as the word-final high vowels which can go both ways: です can be pronounced more like "des," literally [desɯ̥] in IPA, which lets you see that the vowel is still there, or with the word-final high vowel pronounced "desu,"which would be written [desɯ].

However, if you were to isolate that sound bite of someone saying です it would probably be indistinguishable from [des], as it's practically impossible to hear the devoiced vowel. Taken out of the context of Japanese, it's understandable for an English speaker to hear it as one, because it's one syllable. However, a native Japanese speaker would probably think they hear the "u," or know that it is there, because in Japanese there is no "s" sound that isn't followed by a vowel; their brain fills it in for them.

So, although the sound occurs in spoken Japanese, there isn't a concept of a word-final "s" sound. When you introduce new foreign words to native speakers, they'll naturally fill in a word-final vowel at the end. That's why "Beth" and "death" are written as ベス and デス in Japanese.

Why say it one way or the other? It depends the context, and I would just listen to Japanese people speaking to learn the patterns. Usually it's an affectation or used for emphasis or a joke. Even when the /u/ is devoiced and it becomes a single syllable, a Japanese speaker will still "feel" that the words is two counts, because even unvoiced mora are still counted.

Is unvoiced mora the same as silenced vowel?
You could say that they refer to the same thing in this context. Remember that in Japanese the base phonological unit is the mora, so that they would say that the "ku" is devoiced, rather than the vowel "u." If I'm talking about vowels in Japanese, it's strictly from a phonological perspective.

Are you saying that unvoiced mora only happens to kanji compounds? If not kanji, vowel never goes silent?
No, these are phonological rules, and happen based on the order the sounds are made. It doesn't matter how the word is written, but you'll most often see these sound changes with sokuon when combining kanji that start/end with morae headed with unvoiced consonants. You can test it because you can make new kanji combinations and native speakers will inherently apply these rules to the resulting compound.
 

healer

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Thanks again nice gaijin for your continued help.

Fricatives like sh are also unvoiced and included in the rule
Yes, you’re right. I forgot about this one.

However, a native Japanese speaker would probably think they hear the "u," or know that it is there
But some do actually skip saying the vowel of す in です, don’t they? When they skip, do they ever linger on for the full value of a mora or a beat? Is one mora counted as one beat when it is pronounced? If it is at the end of a sentence, probably doesn’t matter since it is devoiced. If other word follows, does it mean we should pause for a beat as if we pronounce the 促音?

I have noticed both versions of 洗濯機 are set out in the dictionary under one headword. Could I expect the version showing the silenced vowel always appears side by side with the standard one such as せんたくき and せんたっき for 洗濯機?
With the examples of せんたくき and せんたっき for 洗濯機, I would like to know whether saying a silenced vowel is the same as saying a 促音?
For examples:
てした, ひと, すこし, ひかり, すき, つくした, ます, すきやき, ひゃくてん

I came across at Why in Japanese do you leave out the U in Desu? - Quora saying “The vowels are still there, and they are still pronounced, but they are unvoiced, so they sound like they have been dropped”. It seems to say unvoiced moras are almost the same as 促音 in that a pause is in force but the following consonant is not repeated at the pause, so deshta, not deshtta for てした for instance where there is still a pause for a beat between sh and t.

I understand female says “desu” instead of “des” for です at the end of a sentence more often than male. So it looks like silenced vowels fitting the criteria do not necessarily go silent. In other words the rules might not be hard and fast after all. Is that correct? I wonder if ます has the same phenomenon as です at the end of a sentence.

these are phonological rules, and happen based on the order the sounds are made
I’m not sure what “on the order the sounds are made” means? You don’t mind to explain and give some examples.

you'll most often see these sound changes with sokuon when combining kanji that start/end with morae headed with unvoiced consonants
Could you please give me some examples if you don’t mind?
You are not talking about 連濁, are you?
 

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