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My "G" Pronunciation Woes

Tamayo

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I did a quick search to see if this topic has been visited before, and it was, but I don't think the thread had enough answers, at least for my specific issue.

I've been using Pimsluer's Japanese to learn spoken Japanese, and so far, I feel like it's going really well. At the moment, the only thing I've been having a real issue with is the pronunciation of the "g" sound. The Pimsleur program has you listening to two voice actors most of the time, one man, and one woman, and their pronunciation differences can be incredibly helpful at times because you can get a feel for somewhat of a middle ground between the two. However, the huge difference in the way that the two voice actors pronounce their "g' sounds can be really confusing.

The man usually pronounces "g" sounds in the same way we would in America, or the "hard g". The woman, on the other hand, pronounces her "g" sounds in a very nasally way. When the word calls for が, she'll usually pronounce it "ngah", like a grunt.

There are times when one or both of the voice actors will pronounce the sounds differently than they normally would, but there isn't much of a way for me to choose which one is "correct", or rather, which one is safer to use as a beginner. I understand that there will be contexts where one or both of the pronunciations of the sound will be acceptable, but as a beginner in the language, I'd like some direction as to how I should choose which pronunciation is safer.

Are there rules and/or exceptions to the pronunciations, or does it have to do with accent and/or dialect? Generally, I've been sticking to the "hard g" pronunciation since it's one I'm most familiar with, and it seems simpler most of the time. The issue is that there are times when I feel that my words come out sounding incorrect and I can't help but think that it has to do with my confusion on the topic.

TL;DR -- I need help choosing between ”が” (gah) and ”んが” (-ngah)


Any help would be greatly appreciated!
 

Angel Valis

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Can you give an example where they differ in pronunciation?

EDIT: Also, according to Japanese phonology - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:

"Non-coronal voiced stops /b, ɡ/ between vowels may be weakened to fricatives, especially in fast and/or casual speech:

/b/ → bilabial fricative [β]: /abareru/ → [aβaɾeɺɯᵝ] abareru 暴れる 'to behave violently'
/ɡ/ → velar fricative [ɣ]: /haɡe/ → [haɣe] hage はげ 'baldness'

However, /ɡ/ is further complicated by its variant realization as a velar nasal [ŋ]. Standard Japanese speakers can be categorized into 3 groups (A, B, C), which will be explained below. If a speaker pronounces a given word consistently with the allophone [ŋ] (i.e. a B-speaker), that speaker will never have [ɣ] as an allophone in that same word. If a speaker varies between [ŋ] and [ɡ] (i.e. an A-speaker) or is generally consistent in using [ɡ] (i.e. a C-speaker), then the velar fricative [ɣ] is always another possible allophone in fast speech.

/ɡ/ may be weakened to nasal [ŋ] when it occurs within words ― this includes not only between vowels but also between a vowel and a consonant. There is a fair amount of variation between speakers, however. Some, such as Vance (1987), have suggested that the variation follows social class; others, such as Akamatsu (1997), suggest that the variation follows age and geographic location."
 

Tamayo

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Can you give an example where they differ in pronunciation?
As for actual examples of when the pronunciations differ, it can really be present in just about any word, as far as I can see. Sometimes 日本語 will be pronounced "NihonGo" with a very definite hard "g" sound (usually by the male voice actor) while still other times there will be much more emphasis on the "n" sound and be pronounced "Nihonngo" without any hint of a hard "g" sound (usually by the female voice actor).

This is the case with many words which both voice actors use throughout the lessons. Just off the top of my head, some of these are (but are definitely not limited to) words like:

おおすぎます
飲みたがっている
英語
みぎ

This occurrence in the sentence, "家内はコーヒーを飲みたがっているんですが" is particularly confusing at times since there seems to be a lot of stress on the "g" sound from both speakers. The male speaker pronounces the す in a very stressed way and it comes out as "...deSUga", making somewhat of an awkward pause before が. The female speaker draws out the "g" sound in what I consider to be an awkwardly long time, which sounds like "..desunngah".

I've familiarized myself with the sound and feel of both pronunciations since I'm sure that neither of the speakers is necessarily right or wrong, and that I'll probably have to deal with this difference when I'm in Japan speaking with native Japanese, but I would still feel a lot more comfortable having some sort of idea as to which pronunciation I should stick to. And yes, I am a little dead-set on using one particular accent/dialect/whatever it is if possible. :p

Also, forgive my ignorance, but the Wikipedia article bit of your post is a little hard for me to make much sense of. I'd really appreciate it if you or anyone else would give a fool a couple pointers.
 

Tamayo

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Glad to know at least some Japanese learners are even aware of the two sounds. I have met many learners (especially here on Jref, sad to say) that claim to know a lot of Japanese but in reality have no idea what the two g sounds are like or where the pitch accent is on the simplest two-syllable words.

発音レッスン?(鼻濁音・音の「美意識」) - YouTube

I don't know where to begin thanking you for the compliments or the link! I'm sad (and slightly embarrassed) to say that I don't know Japanese nearly well enough to understand (or read.. D: ) what they're saying, but this DOES seem to be exactly what I'm talking about! It's really exciting that people know what I'm talking about after talking with so many people who I can't seem to communicate my question well enough to.

EDIT: I feel that I should add that I do know all Katakana and Hiragana, so I was able to very easily understand when they were pronouncing が in concert with the captions -- These are absolutely the differences that have been confusing me.
 

masaegu

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There are both basic and advanced/exceptional sets of rules regarding when to produce the two g sounds. I will only list the former here as it would be too early to discuss the the latter kind unless one is advanced enough to be willing to discuss this solely in Japanese..

Use the nasal g when:
1. pronouncing the particle が.
2. pronouncing がぎぐげご in the middle or at the end of a word. 

Use the acute g when::
1. pronouncing がぎぐげご as the first syllable of a word.
2. pronouncing ガギグゲゴ in foreign-origin words EXCEPT those borrowed from Chinese.

There are more subtle "rules" but these should be enough for OP at the moment.
 

Toritoribe

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@ The OP, what you heard from the female voice actress is called 鼻濁音[びだくおん], as used in the YouTube site. You can hear the difference between the two "g"s in the page linked below.

Nasal consonant of Japanese - Wikipedia

Incidentally, I was born and raised in Western Japan, so I don't (or can't) use 鼻濁音, as you heard in the male voice actor's words.
 

Tamayo

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There are both basic and advanced/exceptional sets of rules regarding when to produce the two g sounds. I will only list the former here as it would be too early to discuss the the latter kind unless one is advanced enough to be willing to discuss this solely in Japanese..

Use the nasal g when:
1. pronouncing the particle が.
2. pronouncing がぎぐげご in the middle or at the end of a word. 

Use the acute g when::
1. pronouncing がぎぐげご as the first syllable of a word.
2. pronouncing ガギグゲゴ in foreign-origin words EXCEPT those borrowed from Chinese.

There are more subtle "rules" but these should be enough for OP at the moment.

Thanks for helping me out with that. I'd still like to understand, though, -- if you'd care to help me further -- why these rules don't seem to apply to the "g" sound often enough to be obvious to a beginner. After revisiting my latest lesson and then beginning a new one, I listened very carefully to hear the way the "g" sounds are pronounced at the beginning and near the end of words, and they still seemed to be somewhat unpredictable. Also, as per the norm, the two speakers seemed to never really use the same pronunciation as the other when pronouncing the same words with the exception of a few words.


@ The OP, what you heard from the female voice actress is called 鼻濁音[びだくおん], as used in the YouTube site. You can hear the difference between the two "g"s in the page linked below.

Nasal consonant of Japanese - Wikipedia

Incidentally, I was born and raised in Western Japan, so I don't (or can't) use 鼻濁音, as you heard in the male voice actor's words.

So does this go to say that accent and/or dialect does come into play with this specific issue? Thanks for the link, by the way, this is very helpful!
 

epigene

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The "bidakuon" in Japanese pronunciation is still regarded standard but the reality is, however, that it is being heard less and less today, especially among the younger generations (when I mean "young" I include people in their 30s and 40s). As Toritoribe-san said, people of Western Japan don't use it, and I rarely hear it here in Tokyo.

You might think it is a relic of the past from what I'm writing, but it is still regarded "standard" and important for TV/radio announcers and other voice professionals. People of educated backgrounds and belonging to older generations use it. Also, it is still widely used in the Tohoku region.

For a Japanese language learner, I think it is nice to be able to master it, but it is something that is lower in priority compared to essential grammar and intonation.

Hope it helps. (Note; I'm writing without reading the entire thread, so my apologies if this had been stated earlier.)
 

masaegu

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Thanks for helping me out with that. I'd still like to understand, though, -- if you'd care to help me further -- why these rules don't seem to apply to the "g" sound often enough to be obvious to a beginner. After revisiting my latest lesson and then beginning a new one, I listened very carefully to hear the way the "g" sounds are pronounced at the beginning and near the end of words, and they still seemed to be somewhat unpredictable. Also, as per the norm, the two speakers seemed to never really use the same pronunciation as the other when pronouncing the same words with the exception of a few words.
I do not know what materials you use for your study but I do know that not every Japanese speaker whose voice is recorded for study materials is actually all that trained for it. That would be the major reason that you find their use of the two different g sounds unpredictable. Trust me, those people will not be hired as professional announcers as epigene mentioned above.
As the title of the Youtube video that I gave a link to says, this is a matter of aesthetics in addition to being a matter of regionality. It all depends on how far you want to go with your Japanese. If you always produce the acute G as 95% of all Japanese-learners do, people at least in the eastern half of the country (including Tokyo) WILL notice it just as you blessed with a good ear.noticed the difference in your pronunciation study materials. They may or may not care. We mostly will not because we are the kind of people that will compliment on your Japanese if you can say a few words with a thickest foreign accent. Some people might say "lol She ain't got no class!" behind your back but what if you did not care?
Try listening to NHK news on Youtube to see if its announcers would ever use the two sounds randomly.
 

Tamayo

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The "bidakuon" in Japanese pronunciation is still regarded standard but the reality is, however, that it is being heard less and less today, especially among the younger generations (when I mean "young" I include people in their 30s and 40s). As Toritoribe-san said, people of Western Japan don't use it, and I rarely hear it here in Tokyo.

You might think it is a relic of the past from what I'm writing, but it is still regarded "standard" and important for TV/radio announcers and other voice professionals. People of educated backgrounds and belonging to older generations use it. Also, it is still widely used in the Tohoku region.

For a Japanese language learner, I think it is nice to be able to master it, but it is something that is lower in priority compared to essential grammar and intonation.

Hope it helps. (Note; I'm writing without reading the entire thread, so my apologies if this had been stated earlier.)

So in other words, it's just more traditional and/or proper to speak with the nasally "g"s? That actually makes a LOT more sense. You've been incredibly helpful, thank you so much!


I do not know what materials you use for your study but I do know that not every Japanese speaker whose voice is recorded for study materials is actually all that trained for it. That would be the major reason that you find their use of the two different g sounds unpredictable. Trust me, those people will not be hired as professional announcers as epigene mentioned above.

Ah, that makes more sense. I've looked it up and read that both of the speakers in the lessons are native Japanese, and since the program almost exclusively teaches me the more polite way to say things (For example, almost everything ends in masu), I figured that the pronunciations would also probably be more proper than not.

Please, take a listen! Here's a link. You can listen to the first lesson for free. Going back and listening to it again very briefly, I noticed that the Male speaker's "g" in 英語 was acute but the woman's "g" was very soft and nasally in 日本語.


Anyway, thanks a bunch for your help! You guys have been more helpful than you think! I honestly started to doubt that I'd ever find my answer since there seems to be so very few people who have talked about it.
 

Toritoribe

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For a Japanese language learner, I think it is nice to be able to master it, but it is something that is lower in priority compared to essential grammar and intonation.
I completely agree with this.


Phonetically, 鼻濁音 is a complementary allophone in Tokyo dialect, which is the base of Standard Japanese. There is a rule which one(鼻濁音 or plain "g") should be used, as already explained, and 鼻濁音 is considered to sound elegant, sophisticated or soft. However, in some regions like Western Japan, 鼻濁音 is a free variant allophone. Most of all speakers and listeners don't care about whether 鼻濁音 is used or not.

鼻濁音 is not taught in school in Japan. I didn't know the word or the existance of that kind of pronunciation in Japanese language until twenty. Wiki, too, says that the use of 鼻濁音 tends to be declining today.
現在は、ガ行鼻濁音の使用自体が全体に衰退傾向となっている。
鼻濁音 - Wikipedia
(all in Japanese)
 

masaegu

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Wiki, too, says that the use of 鼻濁音 tends to be declining today.
鼻濁音 - Wikipedia
(all in Japanese)
lol How ironical it is that the language section of this website is actually lead by someone who needs to copy from Wiki of all things to back up his posts when a young Japanese-learner from across the ocean can actually hear the difference!
 

masaegu

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Please, take a listen! Here's a link. You can listen to the first lesson for free. Going back and listening to it again very briefly, I noticed that the Male speaker's "g" in 英語 was acute but the woman's "g" was very soft and nasally in 日本語.
Exactly as you observed. The male speaker sounds pretty "unrifined" to me, who learned about the two G sounds in first grade.
 

Toritoribe

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lol How ironical it is that the language section of this website is actually lead by someone who needs to copy from Wiki of all things to back up his posts when a young Japanese-learner from across the ocean can actually hear the difference!
Like your comments are almost always so? Ah, no. I meant sarcastic, not ironical.
I want to know whether there is any evidence that proves that the use of 鼻濁音 has not been declining, if it exists.
 

Tamayo

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I completely agree with this.


Phonetically, 鼻濁音 is a complementary allophone in Tokyo dialect, which is the base of Standard Japanese. There is a rule which one(鼻濁音 or plain "g") should be used, as already explained, and 鼻濁音 is considered to sound elegant, sophisticated or soft. However, in some regions like Western Japan, 鼻濁音 is a free variant allophone. Most of all speakers and listeners don't care about whether 鼻濁音 is used or not.

鼻濁音 is not taught in school in Japan. I didn't know the word or the existance of that kind of pronunciation in Japanese language until twenty. Wiki, too, says that the use of 鼻濁音 tends to be declining today.

鼻濁音 - Wikipedia
(all in Japanese)

Well, thank you very much. This has cleared up my issue and I'm feeling a lot more confident about my progress in spoken Japanese. I hope I can count on you for similar issues in the future!
 
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I believe i've got used to distinguishing 鼻濁音 from なーconsonants. But here's that phrase where a syllable sounds neither "ga" nor "nga" not even "na". It sounds like nothing but "wa" to me.
Now i wonder what do other forum members hear? "eiga" or "eiwa"?
 

OoTmaster

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lol How ironical it is that the language section of this website is actually lead by someone who needs to copy from Wiki of all things to back up his posts when a young Japanese-learner from across the ocean can actually hear the difference!
I'm assuming you meant ironic instead of ironical. Pretty ironic that someone is criticizing a member helping another member, especially in a language they're not even capable of speaking fluently. I'm sure there are plenty of things I'm not familiar enough with in English and would likely link to wikipedia as well. It's not like this is a peer reviewed paper or Toritoribe-san has anyone with enough information to refute the article.
 
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This thread is ancient, and the person you're responding to isn't even around anymore from the looks of it.
 

OoTmaster

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Guess that's what I get for not checking if a thread was necro posted or not.
 
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