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How important is one’s pitch when speaking Japanese?

I know that the system to avoid confusion between homophones (regardless of if that was its original purpose) is pitch. The primary standardised Japanese pitch I heard is the Tokyo dialect's form (correct me if I'm wrong). My question is if you can be understood without pitch, and how will it reflect your pronunciation and fluidity. There are many different dialects of Japanese, are they mutually intelligible on the front of pitch? If I don't include the standard pitch of the Tokyo dialect (or the local dialect), will I confuse people, not sound native, or will it be acceptable. If it's acceptable than will it be more like an acceptable mistake or completely fine? If it is absolutely necessary (or of any necessity at all) I suppose I'll put in the extra time needed to learn pitch.

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    You will definitely sound foreign with incorrect pitch accent (though I'd say it's a fairly small set of words which you need to get right to sound pretty much native w.r.t. pitch accent). You will not confuse people with incorrect pitch accent (people from Osaka do just fine in Tokyo despite highly different pitch accent). I defer a real answer to someone who knows more about this than me, though. Commented Feb 1, 2013 at 5:55
  • I was taught that Japanese doesn't have pitch. Just pronounce each "letter" the same as you say them. Maybe this was just to keep it easy for beginners, but I've always stuck to it, and have been told by many Japanese people that my accent and pronunciation is superb. My point is, I wouldn't worry about it too much. My $0.02.
    – istrasci
    Commented Feb 1, 2013 at 15:10
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    Japanese does has pitch and it's very important. It doesn't have stress like English does. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_pitch_accent
    – ithisa
    Commented Feb 1, 2013 at 15:30
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    I rolled back the edit which removed the “Possible Duplicate” link inserted by the system. Here is the OP’s comment in that revision: “This isn't a duplicate of 'How important is one’s pitch when speaking Japanese?'. The main difference is that question asks of the importance, whereas my question was if I would be seen as foreign, queer, or not fluid or avid.” Commented Feb 3, 2013 at 3:23

1 Answer 1


Japanese is mostly understandable to native speakers with incorrect pitch. There are a few words like "shiro", 城 or 白, which can be confused depending on context. If you are worried about pitch accent, there are dictionaries of pronunciation such as the NHK published one, "日本語発音アクセント辞典". This is intended for native speakers who want to speak like TV announcers.

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