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I have heard words such as shigoto, sugata, sugu (ni) and they end up sounding like shimoto, sunata, and sunu ni. Even in sentence such as Haru ga kimasu. I've heard sound like: Haru na kimasu.

So why is that? Do the Japanese not like the g sound (g as in gorilla)? This seems to be a everyday spoken, I daresay colloquial, thing. I don't know, so obviously I'm asking.

Here is a good example of what I mean. If you skip to the 4:00 mark and listen up to the 4:30 mark, you'll hear (hopefully what I hear) the "different" pronounciations of shigoto.

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Have you thought that "G" is simply only a romanised approximation the of が row syllables? Just as how "R" is only a romanised approximation for the ら series (there are claims that they sound like "L" too). But yes there is a variation with "ga/i/u/e/o", sometimes you may hear the "nga/i/u/e/o" variant (but never word-initial). –  Flaw Feb 18 '12 at 0:25
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Also related: Pronouncing が as 'nga'. (Not a duplicate, the other question asks for "how common" and demographic usage while this question asks "why".) –  Flaw Feb 18 '12 at 0:50
    
I realise this is a rather abrupt answer, and dainichi and Flaw have given better and far more complete answers than me, but: the g sounds more like an n because it's not a g. It is written as g (by Westerners!), but that's simply a polite and convenient lie - just like the 'f' in ふ, the 'h' in ひ, the 'sh' in し, the 'ch' in ち, the 'u' in the whole う-row of the kana table, and so on. These are all approximations, and Japanese people do not think of these sounds in the same way as you do. Sometimes, even when they overlap, they don't overlap completely. I think this is very important to know. –  Billy Sep 22 '12 at 21:35
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2 Answers

up vote 9 down vote accepted

I've heard sound like: Haru na kimasu. So why is that?

I'm going to be very frank here. I think it's because you're not yet able to distinguish intervocalic [ŋ] from [n] and [m]. Incidentally, listening to the passage you link to, I hear [ŋ] in the first, [ɡ] in the second ocurrence of しごと.

Do the Japanese not like the g sound (g as in gorilla)?

It's not that they don't like it. But the fact is that the phone [ɡ] is just one of the ways that the phoneme /ɡ/ is realized in Japanese. Have a look here. Often intervocalic /ɡ/ is realized as [ɣ] or [ŋ]. Also, intervocalic /b/ is often realized as [β], but this might not catch your attention as much, since this is less likely to cause confusion with other consonants.

If by the first question, you meant to ask why /ɡ/ it is pronounced differently from [ɡ], one way to answer that would be that [ɣ] or [ŋ] require less effort to pronounce intervocalically. [ɡ] is a stop, meaning that you have to stop the airstream while articulating, while [ɣ] or [ŋ] are a fricative and a nasal stop. In the former, the airstream is not stopped although the channel that the air goes through is made narrower. In the latter, the air stops going through the mouth and is directed through the nose.

This phenomenon, known as weakening, happens in other languages as well, e.g. in Castillian Spanish, where intervocalically (and in certain other positions) /ɡ/ -> [ɣ], /b/ -> /β/ etc.

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I'm going to be very frank here. I think it's because you're not yet able to distinguish intervocalic [ŋ] from [n] and [m]. I'll be frank as well. I completely agree with you. Incidentally, listening to the passage you link to, I hear [ŋ] in the first, [ɡ] in the second ocurrence of しごと. Good, I'm glad you heard that. At least I know, I'm not going crazy. I'm guessing she purposely pronounced that way the second time. I wonder if other non-natives have as much of a hard time with the difference in pronounciation like I do. –  dotnetN00b Feb 18 '12 at 3:11
    
The weakened versions are more commonly used in fast/colloquial speech, which is probably why she is using [g] the second time, where she is articulating more clearly. –  dainichi Feb 18 '12 at 7:42
    
Actually, the phonetics of /g/ are a little bit complicated. The realisation [ŋ] is disallowed in some positions – for example, at the beginning of "words" (excluding the が meaning "but"). I think there's also some interaction with compound words, but I can't remember –  Zhen Lin Feb 18 '12 at 11:07
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That is actually a valid question. I did some reading and here's what I found (from Wikipedia):

Moraic Nasal Neutralisation, Archiphoneme and Underspecification:

Some analyses of Japanese treat the moraic nasal as an archiphoneme /N/. However, other, less abstract approaches take its uvular citation pronunciation as basic, or treat it as a regular coronal /n/. Even when the nasal coda is proposed as /N/, it is in a complementary distribution with the nasal onsets within a syllable. In any case, it undergoes a variety of assimilatory processes. Within words, it is variously:

  • uvular [ɴ] at the end of utterances and in isolation.

  • bilabial [m] before [p], [b] and [m]; this pronunciation is also sometimes found at the end of utterances and in isolation. Singers are taught to pronounce all final and prevocalic instances of this sound as [m], which reflects its historical derivation.

  • dental [n] before coronals /d/, /t/, [ɾ] and [n]; never found utterance-finally.

  • velar [ŋ] before [k] and [ɡ].

  • [Ṽ] (a nasalized vowel) before vowels, approximants ([j] and [w]), and fricatives (/s/, /z/, and /h/). Also found utterance-finally.

Some speakers produce [n] before /z/, pronouncing them as [ndz], while others produce a nasalized vowel before /z/ (see Akamatsu 1997). The assimilation occurs beyond word boundaries.


Phonemes that are contrastive in certain environments may not be contrastive in all environments. In the environments where they don't contrast, the contrast is said to be neutralized. In English there are three nasal phonemes, /m, n, ŋ/, as shown by the minimal triplet,

  • /sʌm/ sum

  • /sʌn/ sun

  • /sʌŋ/ sung

I think the reason is because in English, we subconsciously group and distinguish "m", "n", and "ng" but for Japanese, the distinction among them is not as strict. So it may seem to be entirely different for "English-conditioned" minds while it's only a little variation for "Japanese-conditioned" minds.

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