I remember reading that there's a historical process called 連声【れんじょう】 which explains words like 天皇:

  天皇    てう = てんのう
  云々    うん = うんぬん
  銀杏    ぎん = ぎんな

Does this ever happen in modern Japanese?

For example, does anyone ever pronounce 南欧 like なんのう rather than なんおう? Or would that be very strange?

  • It's a dead process now. Instead we get things like ふんいき → ふいんき... – Zhen Lin Nov 25 '13 at 8:42
  • 2
    No native speakers would pronounce 南欧 as なんのう. It will not even be understood, I promise. However, if a girl is named 花音 to be read かのん instead of かおん, would that be considered 連声? How about あたしんち for あたしのうち or ピンナップ instead of ピンアップ? Unlike the person above, I am wanting to say that it happens in modern Japanese but hesitating for a lack of knowledge regarding the range of what 連声 technically refers to. – l'électeur Nov 25 '13 at 11:12

This is a really interesting question! According to wiki, 連声 is the term for Japanese sandhi (a blanket term for any phonological process that occurs across morpheme boundaries). I note this, because the examples in the question all exhibit nasal gemination (doubling of an "n"-sound), which is a (more commonly studied) subset of Japanese sandhi.

To address the second part first, I think current Japanese phonology would only allow 南欧 to surface as /nãɴ.oː/. What happens is, the /a/ gets nasalized cuz of the /n/ and becomes /ã/, and then the adjacent /n/ gets pushed back to a uvular /ɴ/ (the "n" that occurs near the back of the throat). Although /ɴ/ could theoretically geminate, modern Japanese does not allow /ɴ/ to begin a syllable, and would subsequently block the replacement of a second /ɴ/ with /n/. So that's some phonological motivation behind why 南欧 would not be pronounced as なんのう nowadays. (I lack the data to substantiate this intuition, but I feel like certain speakers might geminate the nasal anyway, but it would remain unperceived by native speakers.)

Having said that, the wiki page for 連声 gives modern examples, including

~であったら → ~ったら
私の家(うち) → わたし
これは参った → こりゃ参った

But these are all examples of vowel deletion (or vowel reduction), rather than that of nasal gemination (still all sandhi though). On the other hand, we also have segment insertion:

そういう事 → そううこと

Where palatalization occurs to break up that long vowel cluster (/soːiu/ → /soːjiu/).

From Wiki's article on Japanese phonology, another common strategy to break up long vowel clusters is to shift the pitch and pauses, such as in 東欧を覆う(とうおうをおおう), which I suspect is a prominent feature of a scholarly paper I don't have access to.

All in all, I would say that sandhi is very much alive and well in modern Japanese phonology, although perhaps not in the restricted sense of nasal gemination.

  • How about 東欧王を覆おう? lool – ithisa Nov 26 '13 at 6:19
  • @user54609 Oh man. I don't even know at that point. lol. I know that I tend to labialize, so that words like 女王 end up sounding like /dʒoː.ʷoː/. Never got any complaints from native speakers, but I never got to do any sonogram analysis of 'em either, so I have no idea how faithful I'm being to the language. =/ – Seralt Nov 26 '13 at 6:54
  • /dʒ/ English speaker spotted XD – ithisa Nov 26 '13 at 6:55
  • I'm not a native speaker, but I pronounce things like that by inserting very short glottal stops, or things like light /ɣ/ sounds. – ithisa Nov 26 '13 at 6:57

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