The General Japanese Learning Thread

ayase

State Alchemist
I just hate the use of Us for the long vowel when there's no actual U sound, so I refuse to use them out of principle. I'd use the line thing if I could remember how to type it. I know it's there, it's not my intention to mislead anybody, quite the opposite in fact. Take a word like Shōnen. I'm not going to write that Shounen because that looks like it should be pronounced Shoe-nen. For me the ridiculousness of the "ou" is why is it a bloody U? Why not an H, or even a W like Shirow Masamune uses? In short, screw romanisation, I'd certainly stop using it if I could bring myself to learn the characters, but I'm far more interested in being able to understand and use the spoken language than the written one.

It's the same with long vowel sounds. Is it best to represent them with a bar above the letter, or by doubling up the letter itself? In other words, do you respond more to seeing yūki or yuuki? Better acknowledge the extended vowel sound either way, because otherwise you change "courage" into "snow"!
The accents above or below the letters, every time. I don't know why we don't use those in English. Reminds me of a story I heard about someone who'd been trying to find a station in France and was getting very odd and confused looks. Turns out instead of asking where the "gare" (station) was he'd been asking people where the "guerre" (war) was.

Bless you, @ayase
Best not, I'm liable to catch fire. :p
 

Neil.T

Guild Member
For me the ridiculousness of the "ou" is why is it a bloody U?
The answer, believe it or not, is actually: because that's what's used in Japanese itself. 😯
For example, mou is written もう.
も = mo
う = u

O is the only long vowel sound this happens with; the rest just use a repetition of the hiragana character for the vowel that you'd rightly expect to see. There is an exception to using ou to represent an extended O sound, though, and that is for anything involving largeness, for some reason. Those are instead written with an extra O character. Examples:

Ooi or ōi, meaning "much" or "many", is written おおい.

お = o
い = i

Family names such as Ootomo/Ōtomo or Oobari/Ōbari that begin with the kanji 大 ("big") similarly take an extra O instead of a U. That's arguably even more off-putting to look at than the ou combination, and is one of the few times I would prefer to use the horizontal bar above the letter.

I myself usually prefer doubling the letter, because I think it's just outright more noticeable and forces you to acknowledge how it affects the pronunciation.

Why not an H, or even a W like Shirow Masamune uses?
I've seen an H used in stylings such as the name Gendoh, and it's a good shout, but it falls down in cases where the proceeding sound is another vowel. Ooi in the example above would end up as ohi, which is unreadable.

The spelling Shirow is unfortunately not foolproof either. I've seen a trailer on an old Manga Entertainment DVD (probably for Dominion Tank Police) where the voiceover guy pronounces it so that it rhymes with "cow" rather than "crow". I don't think there's really any completely foolproof method, unfortunately, and that's simply because we don't have long versus short vowels in English. 😕
 

ayase

State Alchemist
I think the problem with using two Os is that that in English, that's even more likely to be pronounced with an "ooh" rather than an "oh" sound. As far as names are concerned, I'll use whatever they use, I'm not gonna tell someone how to romanise their own name. I notice from watching BGC that O'bari romanises his name like it's an Irish one and surprisingly, I think that actually works better than any other way as it's something English speakers are familiar with. Perhaps an apostrophe would be a better way to go?

I've seen an H used in stylings such as the name Gendoh, and it's a good shout, but it falls down in cases where the proceeding sound is another vowel. Ooi in the example above would end up as ohi, which is unreadable.
I dunno, it seems to make more sense to me, but then English is mostly to blame for this "ou" issue anyway. Look at this list - In "soup" it's pronounced "ooh", in "house" it's pronounced "ow", in "should" (which also contains a stupid silent l) it's pronounced "uh"...

I wud ther-for also lyk to propohz- the reformayshon of th- Ingish langwij along thees lyn-z, as confyuzing as it may be- for uz to lern uther langwijiz, I imajin it'z even wers- for forenors to understand how to pronowns- Inglish werdz. It'z hard inuf for Inglish children. Tede- Rohzavelt waz ryt-.

The answer, believe it or not, is actually: because that's what's used in Japanese itself. 😯
For example, mou is written もう.
も = mo
う = u
So how is う actually pronounced on its own? Is it, even? From my admittedly limited understanding of the written language, I was under the impression long vowels in Japanese just used a - after them to denote that they went on for longer (like in my proposed “Inglish” above!) which doesn't work in romanisation since that's like hyphenating two words in English.

Edit on that last point: That's Katakana, isn't it? Well, just so ayase's destructive and controversial language reformations are fair I'm all for the elimination of both the other scripts from Japanese.
 
Last edited:

Neil.T

Guild Member
Edit on that last point: That's Katakana, isn't it?
That's absolutely right, yes. It's katakana, which is used for foreign words, that uses that convention. So, for example, the English word "computer" is written コンピューター [compyuutaa], with the long U and A sounds represented by those dashes.

So how is う actually pronounced on its own?
It's a short, clipped sound like the U in the English word "put". The long version, such as in yuuki ("courage") sounds like the vowel sound that makes up most of the word "queue".

I imajin it'z even wers- for forenors to understand how to pronowns- Inglish werdz.
Oh my god, the spellings. 😆👍

Even that attempt at standardisation falls apart, though, ayase, as soon as you factor in regional accents. As I'm Scottish, your "werdz" would be "wurdz" coming from me.

Another serial offender is the word "girl". It's "girrul" in parts of Scotland, "gehl" in Liverpool, and "gorl" in the American South.

Don't tell me you're going to propose that we standardise accents next. Cultural heritage and all that. 😉
The French would never stand for it!
 

Rui

Karamatsu Boy
Administrator
I am going to stand up for 'u'.

The reason that tearing all of the extended vowels out of words and homogenising them is wicked and wrong is that you then cause lots of collisions that shouldn't be confusing. I get that it's weird to know how to pronounce 'ou' based on English sounds, because English is a terrible language for consistent phonetics and nobody knows how any of our own words are pronounced without hearing them spoken first, unless they happen to know which language we stole them from. But I found it easier to internalise how to say 'ou' than to pronounce a macron or circumflex in English, which are symbols we seldom use and Japanese doesn't use at all. Inventing an entirely separate system to avoid learning the comparatively consistent Japanese way is too hard for my old brain!

It's critically important that the long vowels are mentioned rather than hidden away or obfuscated with inconsistent symbols (of course, if someone wants to romanise their own name in some incredible way that is their right!) otherwise you get cases like shojo (virgin)/shoujo (girl)/shojou (letter)/shoujou (orangutan) all sharing the same sounds. Japanese has more than enough homonyms already! But to me it's also important to be able to tell whether Mr Ôi is Mr Ooi or Mr Oui (there's a fun one for anglophone pronunciation) so that I can start to narrow down how to pick out his name when written. I think there's a good chance that a non-speaker would mangle all three of those equally, anyway, so the one closest to consistent romanisation wins in my book.

It's not immediately apparent to me (from the romanisation alone; I know the guy's name in this case!) whether Shirow is written that way to denote a long vowel or whether it's to look dramatic and cool as a 'brand'. And don't get me started on the random trailing 'h' some people like, which I can never work out how to pronounce in English at the best of times. It definitely doesn't indicate a long vowel to me, and it seems to be used randomly in romanisation to denote either a long vowel or just to decorate a word that otherwise might look rude in romaji.

R
 

ayase

State Alchemist
otherwise you get cases like shojo (virgin)/shoujo (girl)/shojou (letter)/shoujou (orangutan) all sharing the same sounds
<screams externally>

I've changed my mind, I think everyone should use the International Phonetic Alphabet from now on. You might find a "h" more confusing Rui, but I find it near impossible to understand how to pronounce any of those words any differently when it's a "u"! Maybe I just don't do either long or short "o" sounds as a result of my own regional accent? I don't even know any more.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Rui

WMD

Vampire Ninja
English is an awful language to standardise from. Our mix of Celtic, Saxon, Nordic, Germanic, Latin and ancient Greek is a mad foundation to build a language on. Add in all the modern words we consume into our language it's no wonder schools have to focus on spelling over grammar.

I couldn't find the clip but theres a great episode of Dave Gormans Modern Life is Goodish where he talks about the syllable 'ough' and how it has 7 pronunciations in English which is insane.
 

Neil.T

Guild Member
As far as names are concerned, I'll use whatever they use, I'm not gonna tell someone how to romanise their own name. I notice from watching BGC that O'bari romanises his name like it's an Irish one and surprisingly, I think that actually works better than any other way as it's something English speakers are familiar with.
The late Osamu Tezuka's son apparently romanises his name as Macoto, using a C in place of the K that you'd expect, and even styles his surname as "Tezka".

Perhaps an apostrophe would be a better way to go?
Interestingly, apostrophes are sometimes used in romanisation of Japanese to clarify whether a letter N is a syllable on its own or a part of another. For example, anime character designer Kenichi Sonoda's given name might also be written as Ken'ichi.

The apostrophe would indicate that the N belongs on its own and that the syllable ni is not present at all, making it Ke-n-i-chi (four syllables), as opposed to Ke-ni-chi.

The opposite would be, for example, the Studio Ghibli film Ponyo: that's Po-nyo rather than Po-n-yo.

I've even seen a hyphen used as an attempt at guiding the reader to the correct pronunciation of a Japanese name. That would be with film director Hirokazu Kore-eda, where the hyphen is an attempt to indicate the long E sound.

Trying to guide the reader to the correct pronunciation often ends up being a bit of a fool's errand anyway. An immediate example that springs to mind is the Gainax anime series we in the West call Gurren Lagann. Where do I even start with this one? 😅

The actual pronunciation of it in the Japanese dialogue is Guren Ragan (apparently translating as "Crimson lotus, Spiral stone", language trivia fans). The title that we know is an attempt at preventing us from pronouncing the first word like "gyuren". Naturally, one would end up pronouncing it like "gurrin" instead. Perhaps "Gooren" would've been more accurate, but let's face it: that just looks crap. 😅

For the second part, the decision was made (who by, I don't know) to style the beginning of the second word as an L. That's perfectly good. The rest isn't really that helpful, though, and it ends up being misspelled (and mispronounced) as "lagaan". I know that the objective was to stop it being read as if it rhymed with "(Ronald) Reagan", and that part works well enough, but... it just lands a bit short. Much better, in my view, would have been to render it as "Laagan", giving us at least "Gurren Laagan".

I must hold my hand up and admit that I've never actually heard any of the English dub of the show, and I'd prefer to keep it that way, so I don't actually know how the name of the titular robot is even pronounced in that.

Fun fact: the names of the two individual robots appear on screen as "Gren" and "Ragun" in episode 13 of the Parallel Works short animations.

It's not immediately apparent to me (from the romanisation alone; I know the guy's name in this case!) whether Shirow is written that way to denote a long vowel or whether it's to look dramatic and cool as a 'brand'
The romanisation of the name of the man who created Trigun immediately popped into my mind with that. It's styled "Yasuhiro Nightow".

I like it. Just as I like "Masami O'bari".
 

WMD

Vampire Ninja
I must hold my hand up and admit that I've never actually heard any of the English dub of the show, and I'd prefer to keep it that way,
On the flip side I've only seen it in English and I desperately hope to keep it that way. The dub is perfect as far as I'm concerned.

Vaguely related I've seen similar discussions over Death Note. If you saw it in Japanese first you think it's better and if you saw it in English first you think that's better. Personally I hate the Japanese for it but the dub voices are so integral to my enjoyment/understanding/interpretation that I cant dissociate it.
 

Neil.T

Guild Member
otherwise you get cases like shojo (virgin)/shoujo (girl)/shojou (letter)/shoujou (orangutan) all sharing the same sounds
<screams externally>
. . .
I find it near impossible to understand how to pronounce any of those words any differently when it's a "u"!
Oh dear. 😅
Is this any clearer?

Shojo "virgin"
Shōjo "girl"
Shojō "letter"
Shōjō "award certificate"?*

*
I entered the last of Rui's four words into Google Translate, and it returned "award certificate" rather than "orangutan". 🤔

I tried reversing the polarity and translating "orangutan" from English into Japanese, and it just gave me オランウータン, the same word represented in katakana.

he talks about the syllable 'ough' and how it has 7 pronunciations in English
I just did a search for a word list there, because I could only come up with five. (I missed the sounds from "drought" and "thorough".)

Oh my god, that's legitimately horrendous. What a nightmare. 😅
 
  • Like
Reactions: WMD

ayase

State Alchemist
Oh dear. 😅
Is this any clearer?

Shojo "virgin"
Shōjo "girl"
Shojō "letter"
Shōjō "award certificate"?*
Right. Let’s break this down. I understand the difference in principle, but I’m not sure I’m capable of vocalising them. We’ve got long “o”s right? In order to avoid confusion over “u”s, “h”s or “w”s we’ll say they sound like the “o” in the word “show”. Then we’ve got short “o”s. I’m presuming - I could be wrong - That they sound like the “o” from the word “shod” (if they should instead sound like a clipped version of the “show” sound, I’m in even worse trouble, frankly).

I can make that sound from “shod” if there’s a letter following it that I can vocalise to call a halt to my “o” sound. But it seems utterly unnatural (I have to do some seriously horrible sounding twisting of my vocal chords) to try and end a word with a short “o”. Shojō and Shōjō I can do. Shojo and Shōjo however I can only make sound either identical to the former or like I’m ending them with the entire word “oar” which sounds just as long as the “show” sound and probably even more wrong. It’s like something from My Fair Lady.

Edit: It occurs to me that “shod” probably has a long vowel with a Scottish accent. We really can’t win.
 
Last edited:

Neil.T

Guild Member
Edit: It occurs to me that “shod” probably has a long vowel with a Scottish accent. We really can’t win.
It would in a Glasgow accent, actually, but mercifully not in mine! 😆

We’ve got long “o”s right? In order to avoid confusion over “u”s, “h”s or “w”s we’ll say they sound like the “o” in the word “show”.
Then we’ve got short “o”s. I’m presuming - I could be wrong - That they sound like the “o” from the word “shod” (if they should instead sound like a clipped version of the “show” sound, I’m in even worse trouble, frankly)
Right. So... let's deal with this all in one. The Japanese O sound always sounds like (just for the sake of using something simple) the sound in the English negative "no", irrespective of whether it's a long or short vowel. In other words, the way you hold your mouth to pronounce it never changes; all that changes is how long you hold it there.

Think of how you might say the word "no" if you were reacting to something in shock or dismay. "Nooo!"

But what if you were issuing a flat denial, almost disinterestedly? "No."
(Think of it like "Nope.")

The first of those is like the long vowel, and the second one is like the short. How's that for making sense of it? Any use?
 

ayase

State Alchemist
Think of how you might say the word "no" if you were reacting to something in shock or dismay. "Nooo!"

But what if you were issuing a flat denial, almost disinterestedly? "No."
(Think of it like "Nope.")

The first of those is like the long vowel, and the second one is like the short. How's that for making sense of it? Any use?
Oh, it makes sense. The issue arises because due to my accent I don’t ever say “no” with a short vowel (I don’t know how familiar anyone is with a Middlesbrough/East Cleveland accent but think that particular word as being a less extreme version of Ozzy Osbourne’s Brummie) it’s always “nō” (which is why I thought the English naming of No Face in Spirited Away was a really clever pun - They have a Nō mask for a face and also no face, both of which I would pronounce identically - I still don’t know if that was intentional).

Believe me, I have a lot of experience with being misheard with a word very similar to “no” particularly by Americans and Canadians - The only way I found to remedy that was to affect a sort of New Jersey accent and vocalise a “w” sound on the end. Not sure if that would fly in Japan.

I think the takeaway is, I get it, it’s just going to take a hell of a lot of practice or fudging to try and vocalise the Japanese short “o” sounds, especially on the end of words.
 

Neil.T

Guild Member
I thought the English naming of No Face in Spirited Away was a really clever pun - They have a Nō mask for a face and also no face, both of which I would pronounce identically - I still don’t know if that was intentional
Wow, I've never actually thought of that. That's interesting.

It is genuinely unintentional, though, or is just a happy accident at best, because "No Face" is just a simple translation of the character's Japanese name, Kao Nashi. (Kao = face, nashi = without)

Believe me, I have a lot of experience with being misheard with a word very similar to “no” particularly by Americans and Canadians
Do you mean "now"? I really didn't follow that at first, because in my accent, "no" and "now" sound very little alike. I had to think about your Brummie Ozzy there.
 

WMD

Vampire Ninja
Has anyone ever used Duolingo? Decided to have a go at learning japanese on it. Dunno how it will go. Done numbers 1-4 so far and not sure how much stuck.

Ichi, ni, san, yuan is that right? Defo wouldnt remember the japanese characters yet.
 

Neil.T

Guild Member
@WMD:

Ichi, ni, san, yon. 🙂👍

I've had Duolingo recommend to me, but I've never actually had the chance to look at it. Sounds like a good start, though?
 

WMD

Vampire Ninja
@WMD:

Ichi, ni, san, yon. 🙂👍

I've had Duolingo recommend to me, but I've never actually had the chance to look at it. Sounds like a good start, though?
Nice.

Yeah it's an interesting way to structure learning a language. By gamifying it, it becomes more addictive to learn and you're hitting achievements in the app as well as learning a language in real life. A friend of mine has been using it for Spanish and shes been raving about it. I originally was going to see if it had Basque on it, but it doesnt so thought why not give Japanese a go.
 

Demelza

Adventuring Alchemist
AUKN Staff
It's an okay starting point but I have heard Duolingo isn't very good once you get further in because it shows you kanji for words it has never taught you and various other annoying things. Not sure if that has changed in the year or so since I was looking at it, but it certainly isn't known for being the best.

I prefer Memrise and use the Japanese Talk Online courses. They have an app as well, which I find easy to use and all the N level courses from Japanese Talk Online gave me a pretty good foundation (although I'm not sure the grammar stuck, but I find that the hardest element anyway 😅 ). There is also WaniKani once you get on to learning the dreaded Kanji...
 
  • Like
Reactions: WMD

WMD

Vampire Ninja
Crikey. I'm beyond my limit with just Japanese. 😅
Haha. My mums is from Navarre which is pseudo Basque country so I have cousins and friends out there who speak it and have always thought about learning it but never really looked into it.
 
Top