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After a few years away from study, I was re-reading JSL (Japanese: The Spoken Language) Part 1, Introduction, Pronunciation, and for several consonants, call them X, it suggests pronouncing "Xy" and "X before i" similarly.

For example, it suggests that "ky" and "k before i" should be pronounced like the "c" in "cute." This is in direct contrast to "k before a, u, e, o", which it suggests should be pronounced like the "c" as in "coot".

This is very odd to me. Is this to suggest that "き" should be pronounced something like "kyi" in English? I've never heard this, but it wouldn't be the first time there was some subtlety I wasn't hearing correctly at first.

It suggests this for "k", "g", "n", "h", "p", "b", and "m". I've never heard it for any of these.

Is there something obvious that I'm missing?

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    I think the book is talking about palatalization of the consonants before /i/. Of those you listed, this phenomenon is most obvious in /h/. It sounds like the /h/ in "human".
    – aguijonazo
    Sep 7, 2023 at 17:02
  • Thank you @aguijonazo - your comment is similar to the accepted answer; both are helpful.
    – michael
    Sep 10, 2023 at 14:14

1 Answer 1

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This doesn't refer to pronouncing a separate consonant sound between the "k" and "i" sound.

Rather, it refers to a modified pronunciation of the consonant itself. This is something that many people will do to some extent automatically (for example, English speakers do not use exactly the same consonant sound in "coot" and "keep"), so I think it's a bit questionable how useful it is to make explicit mention of it.

We can call this modification "palatalization" and it can be represented in the International Phonetic Alphabet with a small superscript ʲ, which is used as a diacritic to represent a modified pronunciation of the preceding consonant symbol.

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