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...su...ending question?

Goldiegirl

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Hi, I am a complete beginner when it comes to the Japanese language. I have a question with regards to words ending in "su". Genki de(su) ka?...my books show the "su" but my husband says it's not pronounced when spoken. I even noticed that on the JREF site under language it also show the "su". So, is the "su" ever spoken or is it silent?

I am really confused. I want to learn to speak the way native Japanese speakers talk. Is there any books that write in English the way spoken Japanese actually sounds when spoken, not worrying over the true spellings? I hope this makes sense!
 

Buntaro

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Goldie-san!

The u in desu is usually silent. "Genki desu ka?" is usually pronounced, "Genki dess ka?"
 

Goldiegirl

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So the u sound is silent. Why is it wrriten out then? (when writing in English letters?) I know this is probably trivial but I am curious? Thank-you for your answer Buntaro-san!:)
 

Buntaro

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Goldie-san!

This gets into the fact that Japanese speakers use syllables, not an alphabet, to write out their language. When we transliterate a Japanese syllable into ABC's, we have to write out the entire syllable. Take, for example, す. We have to write it as su (with the u) because there is no other way to transliterate it.

This is a perfect example of why beginning Japanese students need to stop using ABC's, and start using Kana as soon as possible.

As far as the use of silent vowels in Japanese, all Japanese speakers know where they are. The beginning student has to learn where they are. (There are more than this one example....)
 

Goldiegirl

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Ok, that make sense to me now. I guess I am trying to learn to speak without learning to read. I feel like I am cheating. I am in a little bit of a tight spot right now, I told by husbands boss that the next time we visit Japan I would be able to use chopsticks (can do now) and speak some Japanese...well, we are leaving in February and I can't say much of anything. I want to learn really fast some basic phrases. HELP!!! I have a month! Any suggestions? Buntaro-san, I see that you lived in Japan for a long time, do you have any suggestions? Thanks again!
 

Glenn

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The "u" isn't so much silent as it is devoiced. What I mean by that is you shape you mouth like you're going to pronounce it, but you don't add voice. It may sound strange to say you pronounce a vowel without voice, but we do something similar in English. "L" is devoiced after voiceless consonants like "s" and "k," so when you say "slip" you aren't actually "saying" the "l."
 

Buntaro

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Goldie-san!

What 20 phrases would you like to learn?

Which part of Japan will you be visiting?
 

Elizabeth

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I voice it for emphasis before "yo" in particular which comes out sounding close to Denki de(si?) yo ! in English ? Providing stress on the "su" is a feature of women's speech, although men sometimes say it that way as well.

HTH ! :)
 

Goldiegirl

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Great explanations everyone! You've all made this easier for me. Thank-you!😌
@Buntaro-san I'll be in Japan for a month. We'll be staying in Tokyo (Shinjuku) for the most of our stay. We are also going to Yokohama, Tsunam (Nigatta), Hiroshima and Kyoto. We are going to be celebrating our recent wedding there with family and friends. I would like to be able to say some nice replies to their congratulations and such. I don't have anything exact, as I am not sure what is traditionally said to newlyweds. I will think about some of the things I would like to say, but if you have anything that you think (or anyone else) would be appropriate that would REALLY be GREAT!🙂 I always seem to get myself in these last minute situations, but I think the stress helps me to learn...
 

Foxtrot Uniform

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If your husband is from the Kansai area, especially Kyoto or Osaka, he may have been referring to the local dialect there where "su" is not pronounced or used. "Native" japanese does have the "su" but the osaka dialect and I think the Kyoto dialect leave out "su" and say "genki deka?" or "shitemaka?" instead of "genki desuka" and "shitemasuka"?
 

undrentide

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If your husband is from the Kansai area, especially Kyoto or Osaka, he may have been referring to the local dialect there where "su" is not pronounced or used. "Native" japanese does have the "su" but the osaka dialect and I think the Kyoto dialect leave out "su" and say "genki deka?" or "shitemaka?" instead of "genki desuka" and "shitemasuka"?

Apart from dialect, when it comes to "su" of "desu" "shimasu" ending, I think they pronounce "su" more clearly in kansai region while in kanto area we tend to pronounce it "s" instead of "su".
 

nice gaijin

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You've asked a very interesting question! Since I'm studying for a phonology final, I'll give you an answer far more detailed than you could possibly want ;) Obviously, you shouldn't consciously try to apply this rule while learning the language--to do so would probably be more counter-productive than simply repeating the pronunciation you hear from others. This is just an explanation for why this happens in some Japanese words and not others. warning: this may be too complicated and confusing for beginners, so if you're happy with quick answers, stop right here!

The general phonological rule for most Eastern Japanese dialects is that high vowels (i and u) become devoiced when either surrounded by voiceless consonants (k, t, s), or preceded by a voiceless consonant in the final position.

Examples of this would be the differences between
  1. しか (shika, deer): phonemically, this would be written "sika," where it's apparent that the high vowel "i" is surrounded by voiceless consonants 's' and 'k.' Therefore, the vowel becomes devoiced and the word sounds more like "shka"
  2. しま (shima, island): sima. 'm' is a voiced consonant, so the rule is not applied, and the 'i' vowel is pronounced.
  3. つ た (tsuta, ivy): 'tsu' is a member of the 't' phoneme. Even though it's technically two consonants in a row, they are both unvoiced, and the rule is still applied. The word becomes "ts'ta," where the apostrophe marks a mild aspiration.
  4. かし (kashi, sweets): the 'i' sound here is in a final position, and preceded by the voiceless 's' phoneme, so the 'i' gets devoiced.
  5. 4. さかな (sakana, fish): 'a' is not a high vowel; the devoicing rule can only be applied to 'i' and 'u' sounds.


so for "genki desu ka," or even "genki desu," the "u" sound is either sandwiched between two voiceless consonants (s and k), or in a final position, which means it becomes devoiced, and comes out more like a mild aspiration.

As I said, this is just a general rule. Some dialects (most notably those in the western prefectures) apply different rules, and tend to voice these vowels. Also, there are exceptions to this rule even in the eastern dialects. Other factors also need to taken into account; such as in Elizabeth's examples of women voicing the final "u."

As with many rules for our own first languages, we are aware of how they work but do not fully understand them, which is why we can usually tell if "something is off" when we hear something that breaks one of these phonological rules. For us language learners, our most effective resource is our ability to mimic those around us; outside of academia, it's almost entirely unnecessary to be conscious of rules like the one explained here. It's possible to be quite fluent in a language without understanding the underlying rules and structures, which is why so many English speakers don't know a gerund from a german shepherd.
 

yukio_michael

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Though ~su definitely is given ample attention as a devoiced sylable, I don't think there is enough time is given in lessons to the nature of the Japanese sylablary, as far as voiced, unvoiced & aspirated sylables goes.... We're given these simplistic idea of pronunciation which are close, but it takes some practice to duplicate a native speaker... even when you disregard tonality...

When you are speaking about the difference between arigatou, and the correct, aRIgatou, tonality gives your speech a more natural sound.

Another example I can give is for the word kimochii, in hiragana we would writ this

きもちい

...but the nature of the slyablary gives us some clues about how we should pronounce this word, even though we are taught

ta chi tsu te to...

It's closer I think to ki-mo-tz(ch)ii, than simply ki-mo-chii...

Coloquial pronunciation is an obsession of mine, its a shame I don't have such an equal understanding of grammar & vocabulary... If only, I just might possibly be useful in some aspect.
;)

For us language learners, our most effective resource is our ability to mimic those around us; outside of academia, it's almost entirely unnecessary to be conscious of rules like the one explained here. It's possible to be quite fluent in a language without understanding the underlying rules and structures[...]
I try to keep as much linguistics out of my descriptions as possible, and what you say is 100% correct... there should be an orthodoxy of language that requires no thought, rather the duplication of common pronunciaton.
 

Glenn

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The general phonological rule for most Eastern Japanese dialects is that high vowels (i and u) become devoiced when either surrounded by voiceless consonants (k, t, s), or preceded by a voiceless consonant in the final position.

Examples of this would be the differences between
  1. し か (shika, deer): phonemically, this would be written "sika," where it's apparent that the high vowel "i" is surrounded by voiceless consonants 's' and 'k.' Therefore, the vowel becomes devoiced and the word sounds more like "shka"
  2. しま (shima, island): sima. 'm' is a voiced consonant, so the rule is not applied, and the 'i' vowel is pronounced.
  3. つ た (tsuta, ivy): 'tsu' is a member of the 't' phoneme. Even though it's technically two consonants in a row, they are both unvoiced, and the rule is still applied. The word becomes "ts'ta," where the apostrophe marks a mild aspiration.
  4. かし (kashi, sweets): the 'i' sound here is in a final position, and preceded by the voiceless 's' phoneme, so the 'i' gets devoiced.
  5. 4. さかな (sakana, fish): 'a' is not a high vowel; the devoicing rule can only be applied to 'i' and 'u' sounds.
Of course, there's すき, where the "i" is pronounced but it falls between two voiceless sounds ("k" and nothing). There's an extra element in the general rule: accent. Accented syllables don't have devoiced vowels, generally speaking, as bears out with すき.

nice gaijin said:
so for "genki desu ka," or even "genki desu," the "u" sound is either sandwiched between two voiceless consonants (s and k), or in a final position, which means it becomes devoiced, and comes out more like a mild aspiration.

It's also devoiced in ii desu ga. This one was explained as a sort of generalization -- i.e., due to it usually being devoiced in the word desu, it maintains that condition even when a voiced sound comes after it.

Just out of curiosity, have you looked at ん and all of its incarnations yet? Those are fun.
 

Glenn

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Though ~su definitely is given ample attention as a devoiced sylable, I don't think there is enough time is given in lessons to the nature of the Japanese sylablary, as far as voiced, unvoiced & aspirated sylables goes.... We're given these simplistic idea of pronunciation which are close, but it takes some practice to duplicate a native speaker... even when you disregard tonality...

When you are speaking about the difference between arigatou, and the correct, aRIgatou, tonality gives your speech a more natural sound.

I don't really understand what you mean by this. As far as voiced and unvoiced sounds in Japanese go, English speakers don't really need to pay much attention to them because English is basically the same. Just hearing "ba" or "ka" is enough for us; we don't need it explained because we understand it intuitively. What's harder is finding the right level of aspiration, as Japanese tends to be lightly aspirated or not aspirated at all, whereas in English all initial voiceless stops are aspirated. Anyway, that would be too much for a beginner to think about, so it's best left for study when you reach a more advanced level.

What's the difference between "arigatou" and "aRIgatou," by the way?

yukio_michael said:
Another example I can give is for the word kimochii, in hiragana we would writ this

きもちい
You mean きもちいい?

yukio_michael said:
...but the nature of the slyablary gives us some clues about how we should pronounce this word, even though we are taught

ta chi tsu te to...

It's closer I think to ki-mo-tz(ch)ii, than simply ki-mo-chii...
I don't know what you mean here either. As far as I'm aware ち is always pronounced [ʨ] (like English "ch" in "church" [both of them]). "Ta chi tsu te to" is a pretty good phonetic transcription of タ行, I think.
 

nice gaijin

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Of course, there's すき, where the "i" is pronounced but it falls between two voiceless sounds ("k" and nothing). There's an extra element in the general rule: accent. Accented syllables don't have devoiced vowels, generally speaking, as bears out with すき.
I agree that accented/stressed syllables are rarely devoiced, but I don't voice the "u" in suki... perhaps this is a dialectal difference, as I notice you are living in Kyoto.

It's also devoiced in ii desu ga. This one was explained as a sort of generalization -- i.e., due to it usually being devoiced in the word desu, it maintains that condition even when a voiced sound comes after it.
agreed; the word-final position seems to take precedence over the successesive consonant.

Just out of curiosity, have you looked at ん and all of its incarnations yet? Those are fun.
actually, I'm really hoping that comes up on the test :) ん is a very fascinating phoneme!

One thing, though: [ʨ] is not like the ch sound in "church," because it involves no lip rounding. Church starts with [ʧ]
 

Glenn

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I agree that accented/stressed syllables are rarely devoiced, but I don't voice the "u" in suki... perhaps this is a dialectal difference, as I notice you are living in Kyoto.

I don't know anyone who does, or at least I haven't noticed it. I was talking about the "i" not being devoiced, even though it falls into the general requirements for being devoiced when you don't take accent into account.

actually, I'm really hoping that comes up on the test :) ん is a very fascinating phoneme!

It sure is!

nice gaijin said:
One thing, though: [ʨ] is not like the ch sound in "church," because it involves no lip rounding. Church starts with [ʧ]

True, they aren't the same. But I can fall back on my statement by saying that I said it's like the "ch" in "church," not the same as. :)
 
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Goldiegirl

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Great information. I like the reasons why a language is spoken a certain way. It's really fascinating. I need to know why things are done a certain way to learn. It was really upsetting for me to not have all the information. Wow, I am impressed with everyones replies. The people on JREF never let you down! 👍
 

Tomii515

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The "u" is silent in "desu", so it's just pronounced "des" or something to that effect. Also, in formal verb endings "-masu" for example, "iku ---> ikimasu" or "hanasu ---> hanashimasu". The "u" in "iku" is pronounced, so it's pronounced the way it's written, but the "u" in "ikimasu" isn't, so it's more like "ikimas". The same effect is with "hanasu & hanashimasu". The "u" in "hanasu" is pronounced, but the "u" in hanashimasu" isn't, so it's like "hanashimas"

I hope this helps =]

-Tommy

The "u" isn't so much silent as it is devoiced. What I mean by that is you shape you mouth like you're going to pronounce it, but you don't add voice. It may sound strange to say you pronounce a vowel without voice, but we do something similar in English. "L" is devoiced after voiceless consonants like "s" and "k," so when you say "slip" you aren't actually "saying" the "l."


o_O... When I say "Slip" I can hear the "l" sound >.< lol
 
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yukio_michael

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I don't really understand what you mean by this. As far as voiced and unvoiced sounds in Japanese go, English speakers don't really need to pay much attention to them because English is basically the same. Just hearing "ba" or "ka" is enough for us; we don't need it explained because we understand it intuitively.
I don't think that it's entirely necessary to know that kya is unvoiced, and gya is voiced... This is how the syllabary is organized, and one thing I'm saying is that most books just skip over this aspect of organization.

I do agree that voiced/unvoiced sylables are more naturally understood than aspirated syllables.

What's the difference between "arigatou" and "aRIgatou," by the way?
The high tonality is on the ri, it's more natural Japanese. I'm of the opinion that tonality is important to pronunciation, but that it's something you have to listen to, rather than memorize... I've always disregarded texts which point out where the rise and fall of tonality is, as it's only until you hear it pronounced by a native speaker that it makes much sense... At least to me...

Some Japanese learners I've spoken to disregard tonality altogether, and say that the way that they pronounce Japanese is natural, for them, much like the way that the way English might be pronounced by someone in ESL... I just prefer colloquial pronunciation.

You mean きもちいい?
Yes, I misspelled it in hiragana, but spelled it correctly in roumaji...


I don't know what you mean here either. As far as I'm aware ち is always pronounced [ʨ] (like English "ch" in "church" [both of them]). "Ta chi tsu te to" is a pretty good phonetic transcription of タ行, I think.
My own listening exercises seem to pick up a barely audible "t' at the beginning of where the chi syllable would start... The Kunrei-shiki & Nihon-shiki romanizations are both "ti" instead of "chi", so I think that this somewhat reinforces my theory.

The syllable ん was mentioned, which I find interesting when it ends a word... Listening to Japanese speech this syllable is nasal, so when we say X-chan... the n is not pronounced the way we would in English by ending the syllable by touching the roof of the mouth near the teeth... It's just something I've noticed that gets paid more attention to by native speakers...
 

nice gaijin

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I hope the IPA characters come through, cause I'm at a school computer which means they get replaced by boxes here...

regarding ち, the character Glenn and I were talking about is an affricate, which is a plosive followed by a fricative. In the case of /chi/, it's the unvoiced alveolar plosive [t] followed by an unvoiced alveolo-palatal fricative [ɕ].

The sound is often transcribed as "ti" because [ʨ] belongs to the /t/ phoneme, but to English speakers, "chi" is preferred because we don't follow the same rule (t->ʨ/_i), as evidenced by such words as "tea." The Japanese sound, as Glenn pointed out, more closely represents the "ch" in "church" (written ʧ) than the /ti/ sound in "teal." This is because both ʨ and ʧ are voiceless affricates.

As a general rule, however, there are no affricates that place unvoiced consonants next to each other. While you are right that there is a "t" sound in ち, transcribing it as "tzi" would be violating the rules of the language's phonetic structure (and phonetics in general).

As for ん, it is an example of nasal assimilation. The mora (for all characters in hiragana and katakana are morae, not syllables) ん assimilates the place of articulation of the following consonant or vowel, and becomes a nasal sound. When it occurs word final, it is realized as a nasalized velar approximant [ɰ̃]. Because of this, there are many realizations of the ん phoneme, even within the same word:

  • 三番
      さんばん
      [sambaɰ̃]
      b is bilabial, so the n becomes a bilabial nasal: m.
      the final character becomes the nasalized velar approximant
  • 三分
      さんぷん
      [sampɯɰ̃]
      p is also bilabial, so it becomes m again
  • 三点
      さんてん
      [santeɰ̃]
      t is alveolar, so the ん remains the alveolar nasal n
  • 三冊
      さんさつ
      [sansatsɯ]
      s is also alveolar
  • 三個
      さんこ
      [saŋko]
      k is velar, so the ん becomes a nasalized velar [ŋ]
  • 三号室
      さんごうしつ
      [saŋgo:ɕitɯ]
      g is also velar
  • 三千万円
      さんぜんまんえん
      [sanzemmaẽeɰ̃]
      this word sees four different instances of ん, each with its own realization.


Note that this rule of nasal assimilation is not affected by the manner of the following consonant, or whether it is voiced or not (all nasal sounds are voiced by default), but only asks where the sound is articulated. In the case of vowels following the ん mora, the sound is realized as a nasalized version of the same vowel (as in the last example)
 

Elizabeth

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Some Japanese learners I've spoken to disregard tonality altogether, and say that the way that they pronounce Japanese is natural, for them, much like the way that the way English might be pronounced by someone in ESL... I just prefer colloquial pronunciation.
How does the tonality in arigatou or pronounciation of kimochii differ from conversational or colloquial to business-level or formal speech ? I'm not following this line of argument at all.
 

yukio_michael

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How does the tonality in arigatou or pronounciation of kimochii differ from conversational or colloquial to business-level or formal speech ? I'm not following this line of argument at all.
I'm missusing the word colloquial, I'm sorry. I mean to say natural Japanese, common, typical Japanese... regardless of formality.

I'm saying that depending on how you pronounce words, what tonality you give them, your Japanese can sound "flat", or "Western" to a Japanese ear.
 

nice gaijin

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I took my test today and I think it went well, though I wish there was more time to write my responses to the questions. Afterwards I asked the professor about the examples Glenn mentioned. She said that there is a bit more to take into consideration when applying the devoicing rule. Basically, the devoicing is less likely to occur at a word-final position, and usually if there are multiple high vowels in a devoicing environment in a word, the final instance isn't likely to be devoiced (as in すき, where the first instance is devoiced, but not the second). Other factors can affect this as well, such as whether the high vowels occur in succession, or are separated by mora containing low vowels. Interestingly enough, she said that the /u/ in ですが is in fact voiced, as is not in a devoicing environment (followed by a voiced plosive).

Regarding the discussion about the accent in ありがとう, its important to remember that some of the rules regarding accent patterns change with the dialect. "Natural Japanese" is an extremely loose term, as it would have to encapsulate the "proper" pronunciation of all dialects. Placing the accent on /ri/ in ありがとう would be considered "natural" in most eastern dialects, but the accent is placed elsewhere in other regions. While these two pronunciations are distinct, they are no less "natural" or "typical" than the other, for they both follow their own accent patterns.
 
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