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I taught myself hiragana and katakana and I am starting to learn some grammar, and vocabulary in context for the grammar.Just some phrases, loose words and maybe some very simple sentences with those words. I have a problem with pitch (accents/stress?). Various resources in the internet say Japanese words don't have stress like in English. I find that hard to believe, whenever a listen to a Japanese word I always feel an stress in one of the syllables so what I am doing is treating them like English words and memorizing in which syllable the stress falls but I am worried if this is advisable and correct, because if I continue to learn words like this and I am wrong , it will be difficult to change my pronunciation later. The first time you hear the words it sticks in you mind.

People say that Japanese words instead have low/ high pitch, which is a concept I don't fully understand, it looks to me that high pitch it is like stressing (rising your voice) in more than one syllable. I don't see why pitch is not the same as stress/ accent. So if a Japanese word is high-pitched in only one syllable, to express it in more familiar terms, would that be the same as saying that the word has an stress in that syllable ?

For example the work neko (https://takoboto.jp/?q=neko)

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has high pitch in the first syllable and low pitch in the second one. So for me is pronunced /néko/.

while the word inu https://takoboto.jp/?q=inu

enter image description here

is the other way around, so the pronunciation is /inú/.

I find difficult to believe that the words don't have stress, I clearly hear them like this.

Other examples of I what hear are koori /koóri/, kiku /kikú/, kemushi /kemúshi/, suika /suíka/.

Is what I am doing correct? What is your advice?

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    FWIW, I was always taught not to focus on pitch, and it's served me well for over 25 years. On another note, asking for advice on how to study is considered off-topic here.
    – istrasci
    Jan 17 at 17:54
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    "I find difficult to believe that the words don't have stress, I clearly hear them like this." Your brain is accustomed to hearing stress in every word, so it takes input and fits it to what it expects. It takes training to overcome what you've heard your entire life. Linguists can analyze the sounds and show it's not stressed.
    – Leebo
    Jan 18 at 0:21

1 Answer 1

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If you're a native speaker of English or a language in which accent is expressed by stressing one syllable over another, you may hear the change of pitch as a change in stress. Where you perceive the stress for the words you listed is exactly where the pitch changes from low to high (all your examples are heiban, how do you perceive words which do not conform to heiban: aki, denki, yukiguni,otoko?)

But practically speaking, no syllable receives more stress than another. (In a given situation, this "stressing" of a particular syllable may be audible, but it's not an inherent part of the word. A speaker may merely be emphasizing something deliberately.)

You can think of pitch accent a bit like singing each syllable on a particular note. However, the change in pitch is not as great as the change in pitch between, for example, two adjacent keys on a piano. It's a more subtle pitch.

If you take sometime to listen to a great deal of Japanese, you'll begin to catch on to how the same word is generally pronounced using the same variation in pitch.

If you are self-teaching, I think this will be a lot harder to initially grasp. However, the more you immerse yourself in the spoken language and you intentionally listen for the change in pitch, you'll begin to catch on. Don't start by trying to hear how it is different from a stress accent; you'll just defeat yourself in the process because you most likely will be convinced you're hearing something which isn't actually there.

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  • Thanks for your answer, but I am not sure what to do then everytime I find and listen to a new word. For isntance I found neko and for me it is /néko/. But you are saying it is neither /néko/ nor /nekó/ but just /neko/. ? This last word I wouldn't know how to pronounce. I have to put the stress somewhere. I am not a very musical person, I don't know what it means to sing in one tone or another. I can only compare it with raising and lowering your voice. I am native speaker of Spanish by the way. Jan 17 at 18:04
  • As mentioned by @istrasci, many folks get by without getting in deep to the nuances of pitch accent. However, I assure you, it is possible to pronounce each syllable of a word with equal stress. Why not try /nékó/ if you feel you must accent something, initially accent everything. But listen and listen a lot and just try to mimic what you hear. Find a native speaker you can converse with and who can guide you in person. Again, self teaching here will be immensely difficult since this is not something you're accustomed to in either Spanish or English.
    – A.Ellett
    Jan 17 at 18:24
  • @some_math_guy A minor clarification: AFAIK “neko” (猫) could indeed be written as /né.kò/ in the IPA, but that’s because IPA uses those accents to mean “high tone” and “low tone” (respectively) rather than “stress” :-) Jan 23 at 16:12
  • @JoshuaGrosso I think some_math_guy means where he hears the stress. That's the reason I wrote it as /nékó/ to suggest an equal stress. I was not trying in indicate pitch accent. Unfortunately, I think this is very hard to self-teach; I feel you really need to work with a native speaker to grasp what is happening here (particularly for someone unfamiliar with what pitch accent actually sounds like).
    – A.Ellett
    Jan 23 at 17:05
  • @some_math_guy I am also a Spanish native speaker and hear stressed parts everywhere in Japanese. Some of the comments here make it sound like grasping pitch in Japanese is some obscure ability very difficult to acquire which I assure you, it isn't. My advice? forget about the technical terminology and treat ねこ as a llana and いぬ as a aguda and you are good to go. Who cares if we should call that pitch, stress or whatever. We are not linguists and our goal is to learn how to use the language, not to theorize about it.
    – jarmanso7
    Feb 16 at 22:02

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