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背負う is pronounced せおう, but many dictionaries also list a second pronunciation as しょう.

  1. I've never heard it pronounced as しょう in practice. In what situations does it have this pronunciation? Is that only an archaic pronunciation, or is it still in use? Is it a regional/dialectical thing? Is one free to pronounce it with either way, unrestricted?

  2. せおう (or おう, rather) conjugates as a 五段. Does しょう also conjugate as a 五段?

  • ます形 → しょいます
  • ない形 → しょわない
  • ~て・た形 → しょって・た
  • 命令形 → しょえ
  • 仮定形 → しょえば
  • 可能形 → しょえる
  • 意志形 → しょおう
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There are separate dictionary entries for both words in 大辞林 and 大辞泉. – snailplane Sep 1 '13 at 14:25
up vote 5 down vote accepted

The only difference I perceive is that しょう sounds slightly more "intimate" as if it's a regional dialect. But this doesn't mean せおう is less of everyday language. Probably I feel this way because the pronunciation is a naturally slurred version of せおう (i.e., /seo/ -> /syo/), which is most likely the result of a natural sound shift like 音便.

The tricky thing is that しょう here is not a homonym of しょう as in 賞, 章, and 小. While they look exactly the same in kana, しょう as 背負う does not have the double mora お. It's しょ as one mora plus う as another mora, i.e., it's not the same pronunciation as しょー.

As for its conjugation, it's 五段 as you guessed.

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The tricky thing is that しょう here is not a homonym of しょう as in 賞, 章, and 小. That's a bold claim and I'm not quite sure I understand how they could be pronounced differently. Do you have a source that can verify this? – istrasci Sep 27 '13 at 15:00
Haha! I guess you can add him if you want. Do you know of somewhere online that has audio pronunciations of these so I can hear how they're different? – istrasci Sep 27 '13 at 15:09
@istrasci I think it's like how 思う isn't pronounced オモー. The う is a different morpheme so it can't represent the second mora of a long vowel. – snailplane Sep 27 '13 at 16:09
Oh, like "show" vs. "shoh"/"shō"? – istrasci Sep 27 '13 at 17:40

One can hear しょって used often when talking about rucksacks or backpacks.


There isn't really much difference (しょう pronunciation is from せおう anyway), though, and people use them quite interchangeably. Though, sometimes the nuance of しょう can be such that it is [迷惑]{めいわく}...

However, there is one situation, when one's talking about someone being vain or full of themselves, where one can use しょってる and not せおってる. One hears this usage often in [落語]{らくご}...

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