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Muted vowels

healer

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I’ve come across so far です and ます at the end of a sentence often pronounced as “dess” and “mass” respectively, saying instead “desu” and “masu” I’ve been told are considered effeminate which (1) I would like to ask if it is true.

I understand short vowels of ‘i’ and ‘u’ are dropped in daily conversations when they’re either located between voiceless consonants or at the end of a word preceded by a voiceless consonant. (2)Is such practice always true or optional except in circumstances where the speaker wants to emphasise the word for some reason? For instance, (3) am I correct that ひ in 人 is always devoiced? (4)Is failure of dropping such vowels considered acceptable in standard Japanese? I’ve also been told that no two such vowels could be devoiced in a row. For example 尽くした has the first and the third vowels devoiced only. (5)Am I right?

Some textbooks set out the unvoiced consonants to be k, s, t, h and p only. One of other sources I’ve come across on the Internet even includes ch, f, sh, p as well. (6)Could I have the unvoiced consonants clearly defined? I had presumed all above are voiceless consonants.

I also stumbled on some exceptions such as 素晴らしい and すごい where the first vowel of both are dropped though they don’t fit in with the rules. (7)I wonder how they come about? (8)Are such pronunciations for these words standard and universal? I guess what I’m asking is whether such practice prevalent and failure of dropping the first vowel of these words is considered unacceptable.

Thanks for your kind attention and perusal.
 
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1. More women then men voice the final 'u', but it's not 'effeminate' really, it's just very 'proper' and polite and women tend to speak more politely. It's affected by age of the speaker (older people voice more often), politeness level of the conversation, and of course, regional dialect.

2. It depends on the word, and on the speaker's dialect.

3. No, 人 isn't always devoiced, but it's very commonly devoiced in Tokyo accents.

4. They aren't dropped vowels, they're devoiced vowels. While you can get away with simply dropping final vowels, if you simply skip mid-word vowels it will throw of your mora timing and sound weird. You should still do everything to pronounce them except using your vocal cords - essentially whispering them.
Some few words tend to vary in pronunciation, but most have a fixed pattern (at least in the same dialect). It would be a mispronunciation to voice the 'u' in 少し for anything like standard Japanese. It's not random, anyway, and there are dictionaries that include information for devoicing.

5. Consecutive devoicing is rare, but it's not a hard and fast rule. There are studies on consecutive devoicing if you're deeply interested.

6. chi=ti=ち, fu=hu=ふ, shi=si=し. There's no difference between those sets of rules really, just remember that entire rows are voiced or unvoiced even if you might romanize the consonant differently on different mora.

7. 素晴らしい and すごい are normally voiced as far as I know. The す sounds soft but not devoiced, which is I think a combination of a voiceless initial consonant and the pitch accent.

8. Unless I'm wrong about 7, then it's devoicing the vowel that would be strange. In any case, I wouldn't count on anything to be universal, but if you are speaking standard Japanese then you should try to pronounce everything the standard Japanese way. Just because it's something is done in a dialect doesn't make it okay in standard speech.
 

healer

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Thanks for the detailed answer. Could I say the vowel devoicing rules always apply to the Tokyo accent, the standard Japanese?

Yes, I was wrong referring to such practice as dropping the vowel. It should be devoicing in that the shape of the mouth I understand needs to be formed for the ‘i ‘ or ‘o’ even they aren’t actually said. So the devoiced “shi” and devoiced “shu” aren’t the same.

a combination of a voiceless initial consonant and the pitch accent.
Could you please tell me the pitch accent of these two words? Could they be on the second syllable of both?
By the way I got the info for the exception on this web page in the Edit section when scrolled down.

Thanks a lot!
 
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すごい is a [2] an a すばらしい is a [4], actually, but when the pitch accent falls mid-word then the word starts low, rises between 1st and 2nd mora, until it drops after the indicated "accent" mora. (actual pitch is a moderately sharp ramp from low to high, a very slight climb across consecutive highs, and then a very sharp ramp from high to low, and an almost flat but slightly climbing if there are consecutive lows, which in the case of these two words would occur in attached particles).

So, with low and high, and ばらしい.

At the same volume in physical terms (decibels), low pitches sound 'softer' than high pitches. There also physiologically must be a delay and ramp-up period between an unvoiced consonant and the following voiced vowel -- it's not physically possible to go from unmoving vocal cords to full-throated voicing instantaneously. The combination of these two factors makes initial mora that start with an unvoiced consonant have a very soft-sounding vowel.

The ramp-up time for starting to voice the vowel is close to fixed though, so when people speak slowly the vowel is fully voiced for a higher percentage of its duration.

If you're concerned about pitch accent, both weblio and kotobank give results from 大辞林 which includes pitch-accent information, and of course many offline dictionaries do as well. Close imitation of native Japanese speakers (as long as they all speak the same way, which is easiest if you're learning standard) is sufficient to acquire good pitch accent habits though. Pitch-accent isn't a conscious decision for most speakers, native or learned, but a matter of habit.

I see what you mean in the comments... yes, there are probably some speakers who sometimes don't voice in すごい・すばらしい, especially when speaking quickly.
Dialect may play a part too. Although, because it takes time to get the vocal cords fully voicing, there's probably at least a *little* bit of voiced vowel, otherwise you risk saying 「すこい」 and 「すぱらしい」 instead.

Could I say the vowel devoicing rules always apply to the Tokyo accent, the standard Japanese?
Tokyo is not quite standard. "Standard Japanese" is an artifact of classrooms and broadcast standards. No native speaks that way by nature, but many speak that way in school, business, and when broadcasting. It is very similar to but not exactly Tokyo. (Well, and Tokyo contains several accents, really.)

But the devoicing "rules" apply to the majority of words in Tokyo and Standard Japanese. The NHK electronic dictionary's samples could probably be considered definitive for standard. Tokyo you'd have to judge by the way people actually speak.





they aren’t actually said.

Well, they are actually said though, the devoiced vowels... just not... voiced. Your vocal cords don't vibrate but air still flows -- if air stops that's indicated with the glottal-stop marker little-tsu (っ). The sound is very soft and hissy as in a whisper, but it's not non-existent. Stopping the sound completely - stopping your breath - would sound as a っ, which isn't the sound of a devoiced vowel. In recordings it's sometimes not audible at all of course, but often it is. A devoiced though is a noticeably different vowel from a voiced even when sounded loudly (i.e. with a lot of airflow), while a loud but devoiced is, at least to my ears, just a hissing sound. (This, along with a hissy 'h' consonant, contributes the 'shhto' sound of some Tokyo 人 pronunciations).
 
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healer

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So, with low and high, and ばらしい.
Wow you're very knowledgeable in the linguistics of the Japanese language. I know it's too early for me to be concerned about the pitch accent at my level of Japanese competency. I asked because I was wondering how the first vowel of either words while not fitting in with the rules becomes devoiced or as you said becomes soft. I attempted to establish if that is a consistent practice for other words with similar pattern of pitch accent since you said it could be the effect of a combination of voiceless initial consonant and the pitch accent.

By the way, is a mora roughly equivalent to a syllable in the Japanese language. I always take a kana in a word as a syllable in the English language. However I'm not sure if a kana with devoiced vowel in a word should be considered a mora for it might not be taken as a unit in phonology. If I have opened a can of worm, please overlook what I've just said.

By the way, I've tried looking up both words at weblio and kotobank for the pitch accents. I quickly glanced through the pages and I wasn't able to see the indication of the pitch accent. Of course I was looking at the Japanese-English dictionary section. Though my Japanese language proficiency is no good, I can read every kana and every kanji at least for the meaning. I'm not going to look up every Japanese word for the the accent at this stage but it is handy to have it at my disposal. It would be nice if you could point out where the indication at weblio and kotobank just for these two words for example so that I would know where to go to in the future.
 
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By the way, is a mora roughly equivalent to a syllable in the Japanese language.
Yes. It's not quite a syllable because, e.g. 「ん」 is a mora, and it's not quite '1 kana' because e.g. 「きょ」 is a mora.
An important distinction between a syllable and a mora is that a mora is pronounced for 1 'beat' of time, while a syllable has no particular time constraints.
(Of course pacing isn't absolute, it can change from one sentence to the next, or even during a sentence, but not in the middle of a word).

A mora with a devoiced vowel is still a mora, and still takes the same amount of time.

I was looking at the Japanese-English dictionary section

Unfortunately I don't know of any online JE dictionaries that have pitch accent information, you have to look at the 国語 dictionary for pitch accent information.

E.g., for すばらしい for the 「三省堂 大辞林 第三版」 entry you have,

す ばらし・い [4]【素晴らしい】


This [4]is the pitch accent indicator. [0] starts low, goes high between 1st and 2nd mora, [1] starts high and falls low between 1st and 2nd mora,
larger numbers start low, go high, and fall between the indicated number and the following mora.

Both weblio and kotobank give results from multiple dictionaries, so you do need to be careful you are looking at the 三省堂 大辞林 result. (Which edition doesn't matter).
If 大辞林 doesn't include pitch accent for a word, it's because that word is not used in modern Japanese.


I've covered the essentials, but if you want to try reading it the guidance on pitch accent for 大辞林 is here,

 

nice gaijin

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Ooh phonology questions! Always a good time.

We've covered some of these topics (and others you might touch upon) in previous threads, here are a few I was able to dig up:







I seem to be a bit of a broken record on these subjects, often linking to my own previous comments as I am now, but I think the content holds up still. Kudos to @SomeCallMeChris for engaging here!
 
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