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As in "Wu Tang" or something similar. Would it be something like ウゥ? I know that "wool" is written as ウール, but 1) the "woo" sound is pronounced slightly differently than "wu", and 2) ウール doesn't give you the "pushed" sound of the 'w'.

And not just at the beginning of a word. Specifically, I was watching this video of a guy who goes by the name of "Swoozie", visiting Tokyo. How would he (or others) write that name?

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Uhh, downvote hatred? –  istrasci Dec 13 '12 at 23:04
If I wanted to distinguish /wu/ from /u/, I wouldn't use kana. Also, related: japanese.stackexchange.com/questions/643/… –  snailboat Dec 13 '12 at 23:10
I've seen ヲゥ before. –  Zhen Lin Dec 13 '12 at 23:28
There is no standard way in Japanese to describe the vowel /u/ or the combination /wu/ used in English, because neither sound exists in Japanese. In loanwords, the former is usually transcribed as ウ and the latter ウー, as you know. I am not sure what your question is. –  Tsuyoshi Ito Dec 13 '12 at 23:39

2 Answers 2

up vote 4 down vote accepted




As per Mr.Ito, "In loanwords, the former is usually transcribed as ウ and the latter ウー, as you know. "

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OK, but what about the name "Swoozie" like I asked, where the sound is in the middle of the word? Following that rule, it would be スージー, which sounds more like the female name "Suzie". It doesn't give the "push" of the 'w'. Maybe スゥージー? –  istrasci Dec 13 '12 at 23:54
maybe スウージー. swoon is スウーン i think. u can prob find Swoosie Kurtz (actress name) in kana somewhere, she was in a few big movies. –  yadokari Dec 14 '12 at 0:02
@istrasci Lets assume that you could devise some kana sequence to spell "wu". Since the sound [wu] does not exist in Japanese, how would you expect Japanese speakers to be able to pronounce that kana sequence? –  Dono Dec 14 '12 at 0:03
@Dono, I guess you're right in principle, but it's kind of a gray area. Japanese has ヴ (although I believe it's never mandatory to use it), but I wouldn't consider /v/ to be part of native Japanese phonetic inventory. –  dainichi Dec 14 '12 at 0:35
@istrasci Swoozie Kurtz doesn't have her own Japanese wikipedia page, but I managed to find her name on the page for Liar Liar. It's transcribed スウージー・カーツ. –  Ataraxia Dec 14 '12 at 2:47

Dono has a point in his comment where he mentions that even if there were a way to transcribe it, the sound [wu] does not exist in Japanese.

Let me first explain why it doesn't exist.

The Japanese phoneme /w/ as in /wa/,/wi/,/we/ and /wo/ (transcribed as ワ,ウィ,ウェ and ウォ) is not the same as the phoneme /w/ in English. /w/ in Japanese is the approximant (which is more or less like a non-syllabic vowel) corresponding to the vowel /u/, which in Japanese is pronounced with relaxed lips, whereas /w/ in English is pronounced with rounded lips. /wu/ is possible in English, since when going from the /w/ to the /u/, the lips lose some of the rounding. However, in Japanese, /wu/ doesn't make sense, since /w/ and /u/ are pronounced in the same way. Hence /wu/ = /u/ -> ウ.

Many non-native Japanese speakers are unaware of this lack of rounding on the Japanese /w/ (and maybe /u/ as well), just as many native Japanese speakers are unaware of the rounding in English.

Back to Dono's point. Japanese does have a way to transcribe /v/, namely with ヴ, although I would argue that /v/ doesn't exist in Japanese (or at least, it's usually realized the same way /b/ is). I think one reason that /v/ has a transcription whereas (English) /w/ doesn't could be that the concept of your upper teeth touching your lower lip is fairly easy to understand, even if that sound is not in your phonetic inventory. But the whole thing about rounding, that's a bit more complicated. Also, Japanese /w/ works as a good approximation of English /w/ except for the specific case of /wu/.

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are you saying that ヴ is pronounced the same as ブ? –  ogicu8abruok Dec 14 '12 at 2:02
@ogicu8abruok, well, it depends. I guess it is an indication that it should be pronounced as /v/, but most people don't (or can't). Actually, in most cases people would write ブ, not ヴ. クリスマスイブ is more common than クリスマスイヴ (my intuition, plus Google hits, for what that's worth), and pronouncing it /-ibu/ is much more common than pronouncing it /-ivu/ (I would take the latter either as snobbery or an attempt to explicitly show how it's written). –  dainichi Dec 14 '12 at 3:31
Actually, I think the realisation of ヴ, if distinct from ブ, will be closer to [βɯ] than [vɯ]. –  Zhen Lin Dec 14 '12 at 10:04
watch this from 7:30 to 10:30 if you want to hear a million examples of words with v... youtube.com/… –  ogicu8abruok Dec 14 '12 at 15:57
@ZhenLin, well [β] is already an allophone of /b/ in Japanese, so that just confirms my theory that /v/ doesn't exist (for all) in Japanese. That it is supposed to represent a labiodental voiced fricative, is confirmed here: ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E3%83%B4 "有声唇歯摩擦音" –  dainichi Dec 17 '12 at 0:46

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