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I'm learning Japanese, but I'm still very early on in my education (Rosetta Stone, some books and a Japanese-speaking friend). I'm pretty sure I'm grasping the basic concepts okay, but I'm having issues when hearing other people speak the language. Specifically, right now, hearing the "ん" sound.

When hearing a word like おんなのこ spoken, how do I know this word is written おんなのこ and not おなのこ? To me, the pronunciation is extremely similar.

Is there a rule or any tips that will help me discern when I am hearing "んな" ("nna") as opposed to "な" ("na")? (Also "んの" instead of simply "の", you know what I mean.)

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2 Answers

up vote 4 down vote accepted

The difference is audible as Japanese pronunciation has a rhythm based on morae:

  • Every simple kana あ, ぬ, や, etc., is one mora long. (This includes ん!)

  • The contractions りゃ, ぴょ, etc. are one mora long.

  • The long vowel mark (長音符) ー (e.g. in アート) is one mora long.

  • The small つ (っ) counts one mora.

So こんにちは is five morae long and should be pronounced that way, i.e. /ko.ɴ.ni.tɕi.wa/ and not /ko.ni.tɕi.wa/. Similarly, おんな will be pronounced /o.ɴ.na/, not /o.na/.

If you listen closely, you should detect the difference.

N.B. The difference between の and んの is clearly audible (the latter is pronounced twice as long as the former). The difference between んの and んお is much subtler: [反応]{はんのう}, [銀杏]{ぎんなん} are examples, where the etymology is clearly んお/んあ, but the words are now written んの/んな instead.

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Sounds like it'll get easier as I develop an ear for the language, which is promising. Thanks! –  Edd Morgan Jan 18 at 12:33
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I hate to say, but at this point in your study, what's gonna help the most is just learning vocabulary, and lots and lots of repetition.

So you know that おんなのこ is a word. But is おなのこ a word? At this point (to you), it very well could be, so look it up in a dictionary (some online dictionaries are listed here if you don't have one). If it's not a real word, then you know it must have been おんなのこ. If it is a real word, then you have to distinguish which is correct by the context of the sentence/conversation.

You will have the same issue with the small as well.

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