on July 15, 2015 Basic Information and Tags: , with 0 comments

What sounds are used in the Japanese language?

Japanese uses single vowels, consonant + vowel sounds with modified versions, and one lone consonant. The main set of sounds can be represented on a five by ten grid, often called the 五十音 (gojūon) – literally, “fifty sounds”, along with modified sounds.

Vowel K (G) S (Z) T (D) N H (B) (P) M Y R W
a ka ga sa za ta da na ha ba pa ma ya ra wa
i ki gi si zi ti zi ni hi bi pi mi ri
u ku gu su zu tu zu nu hu bu pu mu yu ru
e ke ge se ze te de ne he be pe me re
o ko go so zo to do no ho bo po mo yo ro wo
kya gya sya zya tya dya nya hya bya pya mya rya
kyu gyu syu zyu tyu dyu nyu hyu byu pyu myu ryu
kyo gyo syo zyo tyo dyo nyo hyo byo pyo myo ryo
n

All very neat, and this is the Kunrei-shiki romanisation system taught in Japanese schools.

But – as often happens when moving from one language to another – it’s not quite so simple. While the sounds for most of the consonant + vowel combinations are well represented by the consonant for the column + the vowel for the row, a few are not. In particular, si is pronounced more like shi, ti more like chi, and tu more like tsu.

These differences are reflected in another romanisation system, Hepburn (named after the creator of an early Japanese-English dictionary).

Vowel K (G) S (Z) T (D) N H (B) (P) M Y R W
a ka ga sa za ta da na ha ba pa ma ya ra wa
i ki gi si ji chi zi ni hi bi pi mi ri
u ku gu su zu tsu zu nu fu bu pu mu yu ru
e ke ge se ze te de ne he be pe me re
o ko go so zo to do no ho bo po mo yo ro wo
kya gya sha ja cha ja nya hya bya pya mya rya
kyu gyu shu ju chu ju nyu hyu byu pyu myu ryu
kyo gyo sho jo cho jo nyo hyo byo pyo myo ryo
n

F or H?

The Japanese sound is somewhere between the two, and the same applies to the sound represented here as R – it’s somewhere between R and L. The sound often represented by N is sometimes represented by M. Some individuals prefer to use C instead of K, such as Tezuka Macoto (not Makoto) film director and son of the influential comic artist Tezuka Osamu.

It’s always best to ask when it comes to Japanese personal and place names.