Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Ra ra ra

It's not something that's really featured in my life recently, but I felt the need to vent my annoyance with books that tell you how to pronounce Japanese. Specifically, the Japanese r-sound, which I'm reliably told is sort of half-way between a 'r' and a 'l'.

That's just silly, isn't it? There isn't some kind of sliding scale with 'r' at one end and 'l' at the other. It's either one or the other. After some experimentation, involving saying "ra la la ra" to myself repeatedly, I can say with some confidence that you touch the roof of your mouth with your tongue to say 'la', and don't to say 'ra'.

In my experience, Japanese people either say 'r' or 'l', depending what they feel like at any given moment, and then insist that they make the same sound every time. Or that's how it seems to my English-speaking ears, anyway. I just say 'l', seeing as I always have a problem with that other sound. And saying 'w' instead of 'r' in Japanese is at least 50% more likely to lead to saying an actual different word, probably. I haven't checked, but it's best to avoid it anyway.


Dai Griffiths said...

It sounded a bit like the Welsh Ll to me after a couple of tries. The tongue is between those two letters but forward a bit. It has to be pronounced over a sink or toilet though. It could be a cross between the Welsh Ll and Dd though. The problem with finding the answer is that people not used to the strange pronounciations tend to spit on the people they are asking. Spitting on Welsh people is fine but, all Japanese people are ninja's and may throw ninja stars at you. This is why Welsh people never go to Japan.

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Anonymous said...

As part of studying my own speech impediments, I learned a lot about Phonology:

R and L are both "liquid consonants" which is to say, the tongue moves as they're being voiced. J and W are liquid too, but also share some characteristics of vowels so they're not considered here.

Anyway, I've made no formal study of the Japanese language, but have always thought that the sound you're referring to might be the result of a less flamboyant tongue movement that somehow falls between the other two...

~ My $0.02,