Take the 2-minute tour ×
Japanese Language Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for students, teachers, and linguists wanting to discuss the finer points of the Japanese language. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I've heard many people pronounce す, つ, く, and る as if く and る rhyme, す and つ rhyme, but not any other pair. It seems as if す is sometimes pronounced [sɨ] and く is pronounced [ku]. This doesn't seem to make sense though, since in many song lyrics they do rhyme and are used for rhyming effect.

Is this related to the fact that す and つ are often devoiced and the devoiced /u/ sounds like [ɨ]? Or is this related to the fact that my Chinese-accustomed ears mislead me when the う line is devoiced? This is especially since it seems like people who pronounce the vowels of す and く the farthest are speakers with a Chinese accent, like the singer Alan Dawa Dolma. I swear though that for some speakers of Japanese I hear, す does not seem to rhyme with く.

share|improve this question
Possibly related: japanese.stackexchange.com/q/5175/78 –  istrasci Apr 30 '13 at 15:25
"but not any other pair"? :) In (modern-day) normal circumstances, each syllable of the "う line" (う、く、す、つ、ぬ、ふ、む、ゆ、る) does rhyme. :) There will be times where people shorten the pronunciation of す... and times where a small っ won't be voiced... but technically speaking, that whole う line would normally rhyme. –  summea Apr 30 '13 at 17:25
す and つ are indeed pronounced with a fronted vowel compared with く. This should be mentioned in any good analysis of Japanese phonology. –  Zhen Lin Apr 30 '13 at 21:29
Where can I find such a good analysis? Neither Wikipedia nor the IPA official booklet mentions す fronting the vowel, only sometimes devoicing it. –  user54609 May 1 '13 at 0:35
@EricDong Does this help? books.google.com/… –  snailboat May 6 '13 at 13:11
add comment

1 Answer

In IPA this phenomenon is captured by the little circle under the u, i.e. [u͍̥] which indicates voicelessness.

When pronounced (almost) silent, what's left of the vowel in す and つ kana sounds pretty close to [ɨ], which makes sense, since neither [ɨ] nor [u͍̥] are rounded.

Pronouncing /u/ almost silent is not always possible, however. E.g. compare する and すき: Only the latter can be pronounced almost silent. I think す, しゅ and つ are often pronounced (almost) silently (where possible!), other syllables less often so.

As for rhyming, I think that the entire う row is considered to rhyme (as would be sensible). But in 演歌, the /u/ sound is almost never pronounced silent, but often held for several measures of music (ですぅぅぅぅぅ).

share|improve this answer
演歌 is always weird with the う sounds. I remember several of them consistently pronouncing the う line with the /y/ or German ü sound, really fronted vowel. Speaking of する, I do in fact perceive it having two different vowels: [sɨɺu] though the way I personally pronounce it it sounds like [sʉɾʉ] or [sɨɾɨ]. –  user54609 May 1 '13 at 0:37
@EricDong I think that る is usually not pronounced with a fronted vowel. –  Earthliŋ May 1 '13 at 10:08
add comment

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.