Phonetic in Linguistic

Abstract

A detailed study of Japanese and native English show some of the differences in sounds in both languages. However, many linguistic experts have attributed these differences to differences in tongue movement. For example, both languages have five vowel sounds; however, linguists considers the Japanese sound pure with long and short sounds and two vowels cannot appear side by side while English is not considered pure due to two vowels which can appear side by side. This paper aims to compare the phonetic differences between the Japanese and native English.

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Introduction

Japanese is a language that is spoken by approximately 130 million Japanese plus some other people scattered all over the world. Many linguists believe that Japanese language is closely related to Korean and Turkish languages. However, English has been considered to be most spoken by many people around the globe with over 1 billion speakers spread across America, Africa, Europe and parts of Asia. Many linguists have taken their time to study the differences between the two languages in an attempt to formulate theories that can make it easy to learn them with ease. This paper will, therefore, discuss some of the differences and similarities between the two languages by focusing on the phonetic and pronunciation differences as well as the structure of the two languages. Japanese language differs from English language in a number of aspects especially the way words are pronounced and how the sentences are structured.

Vowels

These differences in sound result from the rules of combining sound patterns, stress and intonation patterns between the two languages. According to linguists, the differences in native English and Japanese languages lie in the differences in phonetics. Japanese have 5 vowel sounds with each vowel having long and short sounds; however, there is no sound that can be produced by putting two vowels side by side. English, on the other side, have 5 vowel sounds with long and short vowel sounds; however, two vowels can be put side by side to form a sound. For this paper, vowels will generally be taken as sounds which are pronounced with a clear vocal tract whereas consonants will be taken as produced with some sort of obstruction to the air flow. Vowels are voiced whereas constants can be voiced or voiceless.

Japanese vowel system when compared with English vowel system show some differences and similarities. According to Iwasaki, these differences have been observed in the number of vowels, tense and lax distinction and vowel organization. For instance, Nishikiori notes that Japanese vowels have been reduced to five; however, the vowels were more than 5 before. Nishikiori also observes that vowels such as /yi/ and /ye/ used to be considered as vowels but they have been replaced with /i/ and /e/ as young people realized their similarities. English vowel system, for instance, has “15 different vowels identified, which include several diphthongs like /aw/, /ay/ and /oy/”. On the other hand, Japanese vowel system has 5 vowels with each vowel having either long or short sounds. The Japanese five vowels are /a/, /i/, /u/, /e/,and /o/ whereas English vowels includes several diphthongs. However, the clearly known 5 vowels in English are /a/, /e/, /i/, /o/, and /u/. Besides the well-known vowels, English language also includes several diphthongs such as /ε/, /ǝ/, /ǣ/, /ͻ/, /І/, /aw/, /ay/ and /oy/”.

The comparison of Japanese and English high, medium and low vowels sounds reveal significant differences. The following chart shows the vowel phoneme charts of the two languages:

English

 

Front

Central

Back

High

i

І

 

u

Mid

e

ε

Λ

 

Ə

 

o

/ͻ/

Low

|æ|

a

a

 

Japanese

 

Front

Central

Back

High

i

 

u

Mid

e

 

o

Low

 

a

 

 

For example, the Japanese low central vowel /a/, when compared to English low central vowel /a/ show that both vowels are high but Japanese /a/ is more front. Japanese high front vowel /i/ is also considered similar to vowel /i/ of English even though in the pronunciation of the vowel in Japanese the lips do not spread as in the case of English pronunciation of the same vowel. The mid front vowel /e/ is a bit higher than the English mid front vowel /ε/. Similarly, Japanese mid back vowel /o/ is same with the vowel |ɔ| of English. However, the Japanese /o/ is a bit higher and even more front as compared to English vowel |ɔ|. Finally, the Japanese high back vowel /u/ is completely different from that of the high back English vowel /u/. In addition, Japanese /u/ is not rounded whereas the English vowel /u/ is rounded.

According to research conducted by Nishikiori, it shows that majority of Japanese have problem in differentiating ten of the English vowels. Japanese vowel /a/ sounds similar to four English vowels |a|, |æ|, |ʌ| and |ɔ|. It explains why Japanese speakers are unable to distinguish the difference in sounds of the four English vowels. For example, the Japanese vowel /i/ and English vowels /i/ and /I/ sound the same to Japanese speakers. This as well makes it difficult for Japanese speakers to distinguish between the different sounds in English vowels /i/ and /I/. Moreover, the Japanese vowel /e/ sounds similar to five of English vowel |ɪ|, |e|, |ɛ|, |æ| and |ə|. Therefore, Japanese cannot pronounce English vowel /e/ in the correct manner. Equally, English vowel |ɔ| sounds in the same way as /a/ and /o/ vowels in Japanese. In this regard, when Japanese adopt new words the sounds that are closest to English vowel is used to replace the English vowel, for instance, the English word hotel, /howtel/ becomes hoteru, /hoterw/ in Japanese.

Also, the two languages’ vowels sounds differ based on the lax as well as tense vowels in them. Ohata notes that the tense vowels is different from the lax vowels by how the mouth is moved when pronouncing the vowels that is the lips are spread when the vowels are produced. In this regard, tense vowels are produced with more mouth movement whereas lax vowels are produced with less mouth movement. For example, the English vowel /i/ in “sit” is a tense vowel while |ɪ| is a lax vowel. However, tense and lax are lacking in Japanese vowels. This, therefore, brings out the differences in sounds in both languages. Japanese vowels are produced with little mouth movement.

Another reason related to the tense/lax vowel is movement of the tongue. According to Nishikiori, Japanese speakers do not significantly move their tongue when producing the vowels. They do not also move their mouth in a noticeable manner when making a distinction of each vowel. When Japanese five vowels are pronounced, there is very minimal movement of the tongue. In fact, many linguists have noted that when pronouncing the five vowels the tongue does not move. This is very different to pronunciation of English vowels which involves movement of the tongue and lips in order to produce lax or tense vowels.

Diphthongs

Similarly, Japanese and English sounds have significant differences because of the use of Diphthongs in one language as opposed to the other. The long vowels or short vowels are used in Japanese to bring variation in sounds in their language while English uses Diphthongs to represent short and long vowels. In English, Diphthongs are “sounds that have change in vowel quality during the course of the syllable and are counted as single vowel units”. Japanese makes a distinction between the short and long vowels by repeating the vowel twice, thus /a/, /i/, /u/, /e/ and /o/ are repeated twice to show that it is a long vowel. Japanese language unlike English does not use Diphthongs to define short or long vowels. For example, long vowel /a/ will thus appear in a syllable as ‘aa’ or /i/ will be ‘ii’ to indicate that the syllable contain long vowel as opposed to representation of short vowels simply as ‘a’ for /a/, ‘i’ for /i/. However, in English, special vowels are used to distinct long vowels from short vowels and the special vowels are known as diphthongs. For example, /ow/, |æ|, |ʌ| and /ey/ are long vowels whereas /a/, /e/ are examples of short vowels. Japanese replaces diphthongs like /ey/ and /ow/ with long vowels /e/ and /o/ respectively. In other words, Japanese will replace, for example, /ey/ with ‘ee’. In this regard, an English word like cork pronounced as |koʊk| will be pronounced by Japanese as /kook/.

Consonant Phonemes

Moreover, differences in consonant phonemes between English language and Japanese language contribute to sound differences between the two languages. From the analysis of the two languages, English and Japanese has almost the same consonant phonemes. According to linguistic studies of Japanese consonants, /f/, /v/, /θ/, /ð/, / ʃ/, / ʒ/, /ʧ/, and /ʤ/ do not exist in the Japanese consonantal system. The charts below shows comparison of Japanese phoneme and English Phoneme:

Table 1 Japanese consonant phoneme

Table 1 Japanese consonant phoneme.

Table 2 Japanese consonants phoneme

Table 2 Japanese consonants phoneme

In addition, Japanese and English have differences in consonants phoneme liquids /r/ and /l/. /r/ is known as retroflex liquid while /l/ is lateral liquid. This, however, can be attributed to the Japanese tongue movement when pronouncing consonants. In this regard, Japanese have difficulties in pronouncing English words with consonants /r/ and /l/ sounds. For example, the word “laugh” becomes “raugh”, “rot” becomes “lot” and “rice” becomes “lice”. Consonants /r/ and /l/ in Japanese are considered as variations of the same sound thereby they cannot be distinctively considered different consonants as in the case in English.

Stops

Another difference is how stops are articulated in both languages. Six stops can be distinguished in Japanese language. These are “the bilabials /p,b/; the velars /k,g/; and the alveolar /t,d/”. The movement of the tongue in articulating stops in Japanese is less tensed while in English, more and tense tongue movement is used to produce the stops. Therefore, in Japanese, the sounds are produced with less tension as compared to English speakers.

According to linguists, the major differences in consonant phonemes between the two languages are noted in differences in fricatives in both languages. English has more phonemes as compared to Japanese; nine in English against five in Japanese. Some fricatives are found in Japanese language but not in English consonants. For example, voiceless palatal fricative /Φ/ and /Ҫ/ are not found in English. Voiceless bilabial fricative /f/ is also not found in Japanese language. Similarly, Japanese do not have voiced labio-dental fricative /v/ in their language therefore they often replace consonant /v/ with /b/. This method of replacing consonants brings a big difference in sounds of words between English speakers and Japanese speakers. For example, the word “valley” in English is pronounced as “bary” in Japanese and English word like “ventricle” is often pronounced as “bentricle”.

Nasals

Both English and Japanese languages have three nasals namely: /m/, /n/, and /h/. /m/ and /h/. According to linguists, both languages produce similar sounds when articulating nasals. Even though there is similarity in sound produced, there is a slight difference in the way nasal /n/ is produced in both languages. For example, “/n/ is produced with the tip of the tongue against the back of the front teeth, whereas the English /n/ is alveolar”. However, the difference is insignificant and is not easily detected.

Affricates

Affricates are also Japanese consonants that are considered to be produced in same sound quality as their English counterparts. Ford note that palatal affricates /c,Ô/ are similar in sound quality with English /tß,dzj/ though they are produced in slightly different places. Another area in consonants phoneme that some sound similarities can be noted is glides. Both English and Japanese have three glides in their consonant phonemes and the sound produced in articulating these glides are identical.

Syllable

Syllable types used in both languages brings out a significant difference in sound between the Japanese language and English language. Each language uses different syllable type to form a word. For example, in Japanese unlike in English, a syllable cannot be formed by putting two vowels adjacently. English is thus considered to allow wide varieties of syllable types as compared to Japanese language. For example, some of the syllable types in English language include: CV. Other possible syllable types in English are CCVC, CVC, CCCVCC, and CCVCC as can be seen in words like pit, spit, spits, and sprint respectively (Ohito, 2004). However, Japanese syllable types are rather limited. For example, some of the syllable types in Japanese include CV, CVCV, and CVCVCV as can be seen in words like ke, kare and kakureru respectively. From these examples, it can be deduced that Japanese syllable types do not include either consonants or vowels appearing adjacently. In addition, Japanese syllables do not contain a constant at the end. Therefore, Japanese syllable type are known as open syllables unlike English syllable types that can be both open or closed. Open syllable are those syllables that has a vowel at the end whereas a closed syllable are syllables that have a consonant at the end.

Plosive

Another comparison between the sounds produced by the two languages is seen in the use of plosive. Both English and Japanese languages uses plosive in their syllables. Plosive, sometimes referred to as stops, are consonants which are produced by interrupting the air flow by hindering it in a way. In phonetics, sounds that is produced by building up of pressure and releasing it is what is known as plosive. Both Japanese and English languages treat double plosive as syllable. For example, ‘tt’ and ‘kk’ are plosive sounds and ‘kk’ used in kakko is considered different from kako.

Intonation, Rhythm, and Stress

Finally, English sounds and Japanese sounds can be compared based on linguistic aspects such as intonation, rhythm, and stress of a language. Linguists state that there is a significant difference between English and Japanese languages according to intonation, rhythm, and stress. Ohito noted that languages that have different types of rhythm can be classified either as stress-timed or syllable-timed. Stress timed languages are languages that have a regular interval of stressed syllables occurrence in a sentence whereas syllable-timed languages syllables have regular time intervals of occurrence in a sentence and not necessarily stressed syllables. In this regard, English language can be categorized as a stress timed language whereas Japanese language is a syllable timed language. This is because in Japanese there is no tense and lax vowels thereby no stressing of syllables. For example, In English language it may take same amount of time to pronounce two different sentences of different number of syllables depending on number of stressed syllables present. However, in Japanese language, it takes different times to pronounce two different sentences with different number of syllables.

Similarly, the difference in sounds can be noticed due to differences in stresses in both languages. English is characterized by stress accent whereas Japanese language is characterized by pitch accent. For example, in English stressed syllables are produced by making vowels louder and longer, while in Japanese stressed syllables are produced by pronouncing vowels in high pitch. This pattern of stressing syllables by using either high pitch or making vowels long and loud explains why English is regarded as a stress-timed language while Japanese regarded as a syllable-timed language. Thus, the rhythm is different in both languages due to different pattern of stressing syllable. In addition, the amount of time spent in pronouncing a sentence is depended on the number of stressed syllables in English while in Japanese, this is not the case.

Patterns of Intonation

English language also differs from Japanese language in regard to patterns of intonation. According to, Japanese language is considered to use pitch variation that is less as compared to that of English language. Intonation is defined as the rise and fall of voice pitch. In English, intonation variation is mainly used to convey a meaning of a sentence by using different pitch to show a stressed syllable. On the other hand, Japanese do not use intonation variation to convey meanings in sentences but rather uses pitch to portray stress at the word level. This difference in pitch variation plays a vital role in differences in sounds in Japanese and English languages that can be observed from the speakers of respective languages.

Allophone

Different from English language, Japanese language’s vowels lack positional allophones except for /u/. In most cases, Japanese learners attempt to apply their allophonic rules to English. The replacement is noticed when Japanese pronounce words like seat as sheet since the language’s [s] does not occur prior to [i]. It means that ‘Si’ sounds ‘shi’. Though, the language has not had its syllables’ vowels undergo much effects, it has experienced various effects on allophones because the different pronunciations of phonemes based on contexts. In addition, a number of Japanese consonants posses special positional allophones prior to [i]. They include /d/, /z/ and /t/. Instead, those speaking in Japanese have them replaced with [tf], [cl], and [t] in a respective manner. It means that the sound that will be heard when a Japanese speaker pronounces /t/ is ‘ch’ sound from English. Unlike English, this is what makes Japanese to miss the proper pronunciation of such words as team to ‘chiimu’ and tick to ‘chick’; though the cases are common with the Japanese who are just beginning to learn English. The students attempt to transfer the patterns of their language to English without knowing that the allophonic consonants being produce may appropriately fit into Japanese and never to English.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the differences between Japanese and English languages in terms of consonantal, vowel and linguistic aspects like stress and rhythm have resulted in differences in sounds between both languages. From the comparison above, these differences are as a result of differences in vowels, consonants, syllable types, intonation, rhythm and stress that can be observed in both languages. English has more vowels than Japanese making it hard for some words in English to have similar sounds to those of Japanese. Number of consonants differs in Japanese and English this has also attributed to sound differences between the two languages. Similarly, syllable types are not same with English having wide variety of syllable types and unlike Japanese, which has only open syllable type, English has both open and closed syllable. Finally, English and Japanese sounds differ based on super segmental aspects such as rhythm, stress and intonation as well as tongue movement.

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