General features and pronunciation of Japanese

General features of Japanese

The Japanese language is composed of verbs, adjectives, nouns, adverbs, conjunctions, particles, and so on. In Japanese, predicates always come at the end of sentence. Modifiers always appear in front of the modified word(s). Predicates are formed from verbs, adjectives, nouns and です or だ in the present tense, for example. They inflect according to whether they are (1) affirmative or negative, (2) past or non-past. They do not inflect for person, gender or number. Particles are used after a word or at the end of a sentence. They indicate relationships between words and add various meanings. Subjects and objects are often omitted if they can be understood from the context.

Japanese writing

There are three types of script in Japanese, that is, hiragana, katakana, and kanji (Chinese characters). Hiragana and katakana are phonetic symbols and are purely representing sounds, while kanji are ideographs that convey meanings as well as sounds. Japanese is usually used with a combination of hiragana, katakana, and kanji. Katakana is used to write foreign names and loanwords. Hiragana is used to write particles and the grammatical endings of verbs and adjectives. Romaji are the letters of the Roman alphabet. They are also used to write Japanese for the convenience of foreigners. You can find Romaji at every place in the town, for example, at train station.

Japanese Pronunciation

Kana and Mora

A ‘mora’ is a unit of sound equivalent in length to one Japanese kana or two of the contracted sounds called yo-on (拗音) which are written in regular sized and small kana.
Japanese language has only five basic vowels: あ(a), い(i), う(u), え(e), お(o). These vowels are used alone or attached to either a consonant (e.g., k + a = か, s + a = さ) or to a consonant + the semi-vowel ‘y’ (e.g., k + y + a = きゃ, s + h + a = しゃ). The only exception is a special mora, ん, which is not followed by a vowel. All of these sounds are equal or more or less equal in length when they are spoken.

These vowels are pronounced like those of German or Latin. Pronunciation is different from that of English language. For example, when Japanese words have double consonants like “Nippon”, you have to pronounce them like double consonants as “Nip-pon”. In other words, pronounce as if stumbling over in between the two consonants very shortly like “stopping”, “motto” and “cutting”.

You have to pronounce Japanese words without any particular accent. Most Japanese words end in vowels. So, you have to pronounce Japanese words separately and clearly by placing equal stress on each syllables. For example, “Tokyo” is pronounced as “To-Kyo. “Tomato” is “to-ma-to” without any strong accent.

The word order of a sentence is also different.

In general, Japanese words don’t have plural form, e.g., plural form of “flower” is “flowers”, but “ha-na (花)” is “hana (花)”.

Japanese can be written phonetically in kana as shown below.

Short pronunciation of vowels

a
is pronounced like the “u” in “cut”
i
is pronounced like the “i” in “pink”
u
is pronounced like the “u” in “full”
e
is pronounced like the “e” in “end”
o
is pronounced like the “o” in “fog”

Long pronunciation of vowels

a
is pronounced like the “ar” in “farm”
ɪ
is pronounced like the “ee” in “feel”
u
is pronounced like the “oo” in “cool”
e
Pronounce like the “a” in “pale” [péɪl] with not only no pronunciation of [ɪ] but elongation like [éː]. It is likely that this pronunciation [éː] is not found in English words.
o
is pronounced like the “or” in “sort”

Consonants

sh
is pronounced like the “sh” in “ship”
ch
is pronounced like the “ch” in “channel”
ts
is pronounced like the “ts” in “Mets” and “gets”
j
is pronounced like the “dge” in “Dodgers”

The Ka-ta-ka-na syllabary

A ア
I イ
U ウ
E エ
O オ
K
KA カ
KI キ
KU ク
KE ケ
KO コ
S
SA サ
SHI シ
SU ス
SE セ
SO ソ
T
TA タ
CHI チ
TSU ツ
TE テ
TO ト
N
NA ナ
NI ニ
NU ヌ
NE ネ
NO ノ
H
HA ハ
HI ヒ
HU (FU) フ
HE ヘ
HO ホ
M
MA マ
MI ミ
MU ム
ME メ
MO モ
Y
YA ヤ
YU ユ
YO ヨ
R
RA ラ
RI リ
RU ル
RE レ
RO ロ
W
WA ワ
WO ヲ
N ン

Ka-ta-ka-na with sonant (G, Z, D, B) and half-sonant (P) syllables

A ア
I イ
U ウ
E エ
O オ
G
GA ガ
GI ギ
GU グ
GE ゲ
GO ゴ
Z
ZA ザ
ZI ジ
ZU ズ
ZE ゼ
ZO ゾ
D
DA ダ
DE デ
DO ド
B
BA バ
BI ビ
BU ブ
BE ベ
BO ボ
P
PA パ
PI ピ
PU プ
PE ペ
PO ポ

Ka-ta-ka-na with consonant (k, s, t, n, h, m, r) and semi-vowel (y, h) and vowel (a, i, u, e, o) syllables

kya キャ
kyu キュ
kyo キョ
sha シャ
shu シュ
sho ショ
(tya =) cha チャ
(tyu =) chu チュ
(tyo =) cho チョ
nya ニャ
nyu ニュ
nyo ニョ
hya ヒャ
hyu ヒュ
hyo ヒョ
mya ミャ
myu ミュ
myo ミョ
rya リャ
ryu リュ
ryo リョ

Ka-ta-ka-na with sonant (G, Z, B) or half-sonant (P) and semi-vowel (y, h) and vowel (a, i, u, e, o) syllables

gya ギャ
gyu ギュ
gyo ギョ
ja ジャ
ju ジュ
jo ジョ
bya ビャ
byu ビュ
byo ビョ
pya ピャ
pyu ピュ
pyo ピョ

The Hi-ra-ga-na syllabary

A あ
I い
U う
E え
O お
K
KA か
KI き
KU く
KE け
KO こ
S
SA さ
SHI し
SU す
SE せ
SO そ
T
TA た
CHI ち
TSU つ
TE て
TO と
N
NA な
NI に
NU ぬ
NE ね
NO の
H
HA は
HI ひ
HU (FU) ふ
HE へ
HO ほ
M
MA ま
MI み
MU む
ME め
MO も
Y
YA や
YU ゆ
YO よ
R
RA ら
RI り
RU る
RE れ
RO ろ
W
WA わ
WO を
N ん

Hi-ra-ga-na with sonant (G, Z, D, B) and half-sonant (P) syllables

A あ
I い
U う
E え
O お
G
GA が
GI ぎ
GU ぐ
GE げ
GO ご
Z
ZA ざ
ZI じ
ZU ず
ZE ぜ
ZO ぞ
D
DA だ
DE で
DO ど
B
BA ば
BI び
BU ぶ
BE べ
BO ぼ
P
PA ぱ
PI ぴ
PU ぷ
PE ぺ
PO ぽ

Hi-ra-ga-na with consonant (k, s, t, n, h, m, r) and semi-vowel (y, h) and vowel (a, i, u, e, o) syllables

kya きゃ
kyu きゅ
kyo きょ
sha しゃ
shu しゅ
sho しょ
(tya =) cha ちゃ
(tyu =) chu ちゅ
(tyo =) cho ちょ
nya にゃ
nyu にゅ
nyo にょ
hya ひゃ
hyu ひゅ
hyo ひょ
mya みゃ
myu みゅ
myo みょ
rya りゃ
ryu りゅ
ryo りょ

Hi-ra-ga-na with sonant (G, Z, B) or half-sonant (P) and semi-vowel (y, h) and vowel (a, i, u, e, o) syllables

gya ぎゃ
gyu ぎゅ
gyo ぎょ
ja じゃ
ju じゅ
jo じょ
bya びゃ
byu びゅ
byo びょ
pya ぴゃ
pyu ぴゅ
pyo ぴょ

The Ka-ta-ka-na letters below are not in the above table. They are used to write sounds of loanwords. These are not original japanese sounds

wi ウィ
we ウェ
wo ウォ
she シェ
che チェ
tsa ツァ
ti ティ
tu トゥ
fa ファ
fi フィ
fe フェ
fo フォ
je ジェ
di ディ
du ドゥ
dyu デュ

Months of the year

January
I-chi-ga-tsu(1月)
February
Ni-ga-tsu(2月)
March
San-ga-tsu(3月)
April
Shi-ga-tsu(4月)
May
Go-ga-tsu(5月)

June
Ro-ku-ga-tsu(6月)

July
Shi-chi-ga-tsu(7月)
August
Ha-chi-ga-tsu(8月)
September
Ku-ga-tsu(9月)
October
Ju-ga-tsu(10月)
November
Ju-i-chi-ga-tsu(11月)
December
Ju-ni-ga-tsu(12月)

Days of the week

Sunday Ni-chi-yo-bi(日曜日)
Monday Ge-tsu-yo-bi(月曜日)
Tuesday Ka-yo-bi(火曜日)
Wednesday Su-i-yo-bi(水曜日)
Thursday Mo-ku-yo-bi(木曜日)
Thursday Kin-yo-bi(金曜日)
Saturday Do-yo-bi(土曜日)

Four seasons

Spring Ha-ru(春)
Summer Na-tsu(夏)
Autumn [fall] A-ki(秋)
Winter Hu-yu (Fu-yu)(冬)

Days of the month

1st
Tsu-i-ta-chi(1日)
2nd
Hu-tsu-ka(2日)
3rd
Mik-ka(3日)
4th
Yok-ka(4日)
5th
I-tsu-ka [Go ni-chi](5日)
6th
Mu-i-ka [Ro-ku ni-chi](6日)
7th
na-no-ka [shi-chi ni-chi](7日)
8th
Yo-ka [Ha-chi ni-chi](8日)
9th
Ko-ko-no-ka [Ku ni-chi](9日)
10th
To-ka(10日)
11th
ju-i-chi ni-chi(11日)
12th
Ju-ni ni-chi(12日)
13th
Ju-san ni-chi(13日)
14th
Ju-yok-ka [Ju-yon ni-chi](14日)
15th
Ju-go ni-chi(15日)
16th
Ju-ro-ku ni-chi(16日)
17th
Ju-shi-chi ni-chi(17日)
18th
Ju-ha-chi ni-chi(18日)
19th
Ju-ku ni-chi(19日)
20th
Ha-tsu-ka [Ni-ju ni-chi](20日)
21st
Ni-ju-i-chi ni-chi(21日)
22nd
Ni-ju-ni ni-chi(22日)
23rd
Ni-ju-san ni-chi(23日)
24th
Ni-ju-yok-ka [Ni-ju-yon ni-chi](24日)
25th
Ni-ju-go ni-chi(25日)
26th
Ni-ju-ro-ku ni-chi(26日)
27th
Ni-ju-shi-chi ni-chi(27日)
28th
Ni-ju-ha-chi ni-chi(28日)
29th
Ni-ju-ku ni-chi(29日)
30th
San-ju ni-chi(30日)
31st
San-ju-i-chi ni-chi(31日)

Ways of counting

1
2
3
people
hi-to-ri(一人)
hu-ta-ri(二人)
san-nin(三匹)
cats, dogs
ip-pi-ki(一匹)
ni-hi-ki(二匹)
san-bi-ki(三匹)
cattle, horses
it-to(一頭)
ni-to(二頭)
san-to(三頭)
pencils, lines, trees, etc.
ip-pon(一本)
ni-hon(二本)
san-bon(三本)
paper
i-chi-ma-i(一枚)
ni-ma-i(二枚)
san-ma-i(三枚)
cars, bicycles, bikes
i-chi-da-i(一台)
ni-da-i(二台)
san-da-i(三台)
birds, rabbits
i-chi-wa(一羽)
ni-wa(二羽)
san-wa(三羽)
flowers
i-chi-rin(一輪)
ni-rin(二輪)
san-rin(三輪)
chopsticks
i-chi-zen(一膳)
ni-zen(二膳)
san-zen(三膳)
houses
ik-ken(一軒)
ni-ken(二軒)
san-ken(三軒)
cup, bowl
ip-pa-i(一杯)
ni-ha-i(二杯)
san-ba-i(三杯)
books
is-sa-tsu(一冊)
ni-sa-tsu(二冊)
san-sa-tsu(三冊)
eggs, apples, etc.
ik-ko(一個)
ni-ko(二個)
san-ko(三個)
couples
hi-to-ku-mi(一組)
hu-ta-ku-mi(二組)
san-ku-mi(三組)
sets
hi-to-ku-mi(一組)
hu-ta-ku-mi(二組)
san-ku-mi(三組)
name of classroom
i-chi-ku-mi(一組)
ni-ku-mi(二組)
san-ku-mi(三組)
boats
is-se-ki(一隻)
ni-se-ki(二隻)
san-se-ki(三隻)

Time

1 o’clock
I-chi ji(1時)
2 o’clock
Ni ji(1時)
3 o’clock
San ji(3時)
4 o’clock
Yo ji(4時)
5 o’clock
Go ji(5時)
6 o’clock
Ro-ku ji(6時)
7 o’clock
Shi-chi ji(7時)
8 o’clock
Ha-chi ji(8時)
9 o’clock
Ku ji(9時)
10 o’clock
Ju ji(10時)
11 o’clock
Ju-i-chi ji(11時)
12 o’clock
ju-ni ji(12時)
13 o’clock
ju-san ji(13時)
1 p.m.
Go-go i-chi ji(午後1時)
1 a.m.
Go-zen i-chi ji(午前1時)
12 a.m.(= 0 p.m.)
Go-zen ju-ni ji(午前12時 = 午後0時)
0 a.m. (= 12 p.m.)
Go-zen re-i ji(午前0時 = 午後12時)

Numerals

Cardinals
Counting units

Kanji
1
i-chi(いち)
hi-to-tsu(ひとつ)
2
ni(に)
hu-ta-tsu(ふたつ)
3
san(さん)
mit-tsu(みっつ)
4
shi(し)
yot-tsu(よっつ)
5
go(ご)
i-tsu-tsu
6
ro-ku(ろく)
mut-tsu(むっつ)
7
shi-chi(しち)
na-na-tsu(ななつ)
8
ha-chi(八)
yat-tsu(やっつ)
9
kyu(きゅう)or ku(く)
ko-ko-no-tsu(九)
10
ju(じゅう)
to-o(とお)







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