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Sometimes, sounds are lengthened for emphasis. For example, see "とっても versus とても".

What are the rules governing this process?

  • Are there restrictions on where lengthening can be inserted?
    とっても or とてえも or とても~?
    すんごい or すご~い or すごいー?

  • Is it predictable which sound is inserted?
    すんごい rather than す~ごい or すっごい?

I've given examples, but I'm hoping to learn if any general rules exist.

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The sound of すごい can be lengthened to not only すんごい but also すっごい and すごーい. –  Tsuyoshi Ito Dec 6 '12 at 22:46
There are rules, but they aren't all characterized strictly as lengthening. For example すごい->すんごい isn't a lengthening of any phone. If the medial /g/ is lengthened retrogressively than it results in gemination /Q/ not an epenthetical mora nasal /N/ which is the case here. The only dominant commonality in your examples is that the words are prosodically longer. So I'm guessing that's what you meant by lengthening; prosodic lengthening via epenthesis to the the moraic skeleton? –  taylor Dec 7 '12 at 19:47
@taylor: Isn’t it possible to interpret the change from すごい to すんごい as a result of lengthening [ŋ] in [sɯŋoi], as suggested in alexandrec’s comment? –  Tsuyoshi Ito Dec 8 '12 at 11:11
@TsuyoshiIto Going with my textbooks it can't be a lengthening of [ŋ]. It just seems that way. [ŋ] is an allophone first of all, which means it's a fully specified segment. It doesn't make sense to lengthen an allophone, but I don't think I know enough phonology to explain exactly why other than that's just not the defined role of allophones. I'll try to do a Q on this すんごい specifically and try to work out the details if I can. –  taylor Dec 9 '12 at 2:26
@taylor: Thanks, but I do not know why that explanation is relevant. Both [ŋ] and [g] are allophones for the same phoneme /g/ in Japanese, but I have no idea why it should mean that the change from すごい to すんごい cannot be interpreted as lengthening of [ŋ]. (Just in case, I am not saying that this change actually arose in this way. I am just saying that considering this change in this way does not contradict any facts that I know.) –  Tsuyoshi Ito Dec 9 '12 at 3:48
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3 Answers

Maybe this is an overgeneralization, but I find this often has to do with pitch accent. Example:





It seems as if inserted sounds, if they exist, all appear on low to high pitch transitions. Obviously most words do not have these sounds inserted, and often only very common interjections would use them.

As for why ん is used rather than a っ, try pronouncing すっごい. It's pretty difficult, and since intervocalic "g" is allophonic with "ng" which sounds like ん, it is natural for すっごい to turn into すんごい.

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In both of the examples you presented, it's the first consonant of the second syllable (or mora) that is doubled. Sometimes, I also hear dekai as dekkai. I've also heard verbs like して being pronounced as しって. That too matches the pattern of CVCV(x)>CVCCV(x).

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So すんごい doesn't exist? –  dainichi Oct 17 '12 at 0:01
Since g and ng (as in English -ing) are interchangeable, you can have ng-g, gg and double ng. However, you will never get g-gn. –  alexandrec Oct 17 '12 at 13:31
I think it's dangerous to generalize this to such a simple rule -- because though it is true in many cases, it doesn't hold up under closer scrutiny. One example of this is the case of すごーい, where it is the /u/ that is being lengthened (incidentally, I believe すーごい to be acceptable as well, though すごいー is not). So while consonant lengthening on the second syllable is certainly one case of sound-based emphasis, I'm not sure it fully describes the situation. –  rintaun Nov 26 '12 at 17:30
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I'm not a native speaker, so there may be errors in my observation.

Strictly speaking, the examples you gave is not lengthening, but inserting. I think they are not predicable, but explicable.

There are generally two types of sounds that can be inserted, っ and ん. っ is used before unvoiced consonants such as k, t, p(h becomes p), s and sh. ん is used before voiced sounds such as b, d, g, n, m, z, w, j, etc. As for voiced stops like b, d, g, old words tend to use ん, while new words tend to use っ.

Most adverbs consist of three syllables. Many can be emphasized by inserting a syllable after the first one. What syllable to be inserted is not fully predicable. You must look up in a dictionary to know them.

You may be especially interested in ~ん~り/~っ~り words.

Apart from those ~ん~り/~っ~り words, some other words, especially intensifiers, have their emphasized forms, too.

やはり【LHL】 → やっぱり【LLHL】
あまり【LHH】 → あんまり【LHHH】
とても【LHH】 → とっても【LLHH】
すごく【LHL】 → すっごく【LLHL】 (The original accent should be すごく【HLL】, but I have never heard that)
すこし【LHL】 → すっこし【LLHL】
ひどい【LHL】 → ひっどい【LLHL】

さっき seem to be an colloquial from rather than an emphasized form. たった is not always interchangeable with ただ

Some intonation may affect the vowel length.

  1. You can lengthen the っ and ん part of above adverbs, or lengthen the vowel before it. (ん or the vowel before are both lengthened as nasal vowels, I think they don't make any difference.)

  2. You can lengthen the second last syllable (last syllable of the stem) of a verb or an adjective.


    Sometimes it may sound absentmindedly.


    Auxiliary verbs like る/く/い/ぬ/ん are never lengthened. But た can.


    Imperative forms lengthen the last syllable normally.


    The last particle or the last syllable of a noun can be stressed and lengthened. I feel it sounds like the speaker want to make sure he is understood. The stressed syllable is always pronounced in high pitch.

  3. The first syllable of a verb, adjective or adverb may be lengthened, to produce some exaggerated or dramatic effects.

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