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... nani desu ka?


30 Apr 2002
Hello, I have a couple of things I am wanting to know...

1) In all books (and dictionaries) I have regarding learning Japanese it is stated that an "i" makes an english "ee" sound (like in feet), however many words (most infact except when i is the last letter) have the i make the same sound an english i makes (much like in the word english). Can someone explain this to me, are there rules regarding the sound?

2) How do you say the equivalent of "Pardon" or "What"... just nan desu ka? or is there a different word...

3) Is there a difference in the usage of Nihon on and Nippon? I was on a website a while back written by a Japanese-American, and he claimed that Nihon was the proper term and that Nippon was derogatory. At first I believed this until I realized that Nippon is used by many Japanese and is even printed on money. Is there a difference in how they are used or is it much like the difference between saying "U.S" and "U.S.A", with no real differences?

Thank you in advance.
Hi Kyujuni,

an "i" at the end of a word is indeed pronounced like the English "ee". Take for instance "midori": you pronounce it "mee-do-ree".

Could you give me an example where "i" at the end of a word is pronounced like the English "i"?

"What" can be translated as "nan desu ka", but it depends on the situation you are in. That's very typical for Japanese, there are specific phrases that have to be used in specific situation. Don't worry, foreigners are always forgiven.

There's no difference between Nihon and Nippon (both use the same kanji), and Nippon is certainly not derogatory.

Do you still have the URL of the web site where you found this claim?

1.) all vowels remain constant in usage. There are no pairing to make a new sound. so ...
I = the letter E or as you said ee in feet

cute = kawaii = ka - wa-"I"-"E"

2.)Pardon = "sumimasen" or "shitsureishimasu" I definitely need a usage reference since both of these are used at different times other times replaceable and at others not.
What = "Nani" If you Japanese is still at a low level it's better to keep word usage easier and childlike therefore preventing yourself from making inadvertent "foot in the mouth" mistake. "Nan desu ka?" is fine but sounds like you're giving me some attitude.

3.) hehehe there's a common phrase "ware ware nipponjn" = "we Japanese" which is used quite often. I have always thought that Nippon is just an older usage of Nihon and / or just a constant reflection in the "h" sound.

It sounds like that Japanese-American person doesn't really know what's up! I'll check with a "kokugo" Teacher later today (a kokugo Teacher would be an English Teacher in the States) .... kokogu=mother tonugue.


Thank you for the replies.

I was wondering more when it comes to words like "Shinto" how is the I pronounced? In North America we would pronounce the I like an I, should it be "ee" there to? (another example is Ronin), What really put this question into my mind (I would not have thought about it if not for this) is the number of people, who pronounce "Hiroshima" with english sounding "I"'s, and who also have first or second hand experience visiting the city. At the end of words though, I have never heard it said as an english "I".

""Nan desu ka?" is fine but sounds like you're giving me some attitude."
Yep, that is exactly why I asked, asking it like that just sounds to pushy. As someone else said, foriegners are always forgiven, however I prefer that people don't have to forgive me :)
but I think I'll take the advise that until I understand the language better I will talk like a child and ask "nani"

I don't remember the page I got the Nippon is derogative thing from, it was about 2 or 3 years ago (and I've formated many times since) when I first started trying to find out all I could about Nihon so I didn't know much.

Thank you for your responces though, I've spent years accumulating info on Japan and would have studied the language in school if not for the fact that my school is a small one (I pushed to get it in, but I was the only one who wanted it)

again, domo
language study. With the net you're soo lucky. Back about 10 years ago the net was still on a unix geek level. I'm sure you can find lots of sites to help with the written side.

for the "i" if it's in a constant-vowel pair normally it's a "e" sound like in English sort of ....

i -> e
ki -> key
shi -> she
chi -> chi as in the Chinese chi
ni -> knee
hi -> he
mi -> me
ri -> re (as in the again re ... re-do)
wi -> we

I think I got the whole lot ... I tried to pair the sound with an English word that looks and sounds similar.


@Nahoko ... lolololo ... looks like we replied at about the same time 🙂
Questioned 2 teachers (history and Japanese "errrr mother language teacher")

The History teacher said that Nippon is the official Government usage spelling used on money and what not. Although, He did not mention about legal documents and what not.

The Japanese Teacher
Mentioned that it was just a fluctuation in the pronunciation of the characters [ni - hon , the ho can be modified to po]. He also mentioned that either way is fine. hehe.... I brought up the money issue and he was like ... hmmm ... ahhh ... I see ... It's the same.

So, no neither is discrimatory.

I hope that this helps!
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