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It's a matter of pitch accent. In a manner somewhat similar to Chinese, Japanese actually has 2 tones that establish its inflectional patterns. They aren't widely taught to foreigners because the patterns vary amongst regions (e.g. Osaka and Tokyo are near-opposite), but one purpose that they do serve is to distinguish between homophones. According to the ...


In terms of etymology, みずうみ is indeed derived from two words, but it's now a single word—much like how English housewife is a single word, even though it's clearly derived from house + wife. This doesn't really matter for how you pronounce two /u/ vowels in a row, though. You just hold the sound for an extra beat ("mora"), like it's a long vowel: ...

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