Recently, I've been using Siri in Japanese to set cooking timers. I've noticed she pronounced the「フ」in「十五分」clearly as /hu/, not /fu/.

From Wikipedia:

Old Japanese does not have /h/, but rather /ɸ/ (preserved in modern fu, /ɸɯ/), which has been reconstructed to an earlier /*p/.

Also from Wikipedia:

It represents the phoneme /hu͍/, although for phonological reasons, the actual pronunciation is [ɸu͍].

The sound sample in the Wikipedia article does sound more like /fu/.

While I understand it's basically the same phoneme for the Japanese, I do hear the difference. Hence the question.

Is the Siri's variant acceptable?

  • 1
    Our (very old) Japanese teacher is from 四国 and she pronounces ふ as [hɯ] quite clearly.
    – ithisa
    Jan 6 '14 at 20:03
  • 1
    Is it acceptable? It is the norm! There is no F sound in Japanese, period, which is why Japanese kids struggle so much trying to learn to produce the F sound when they start studying English. I was no exception myself. Jan 6 '14 at 23:59
  • @TokyoNagoya but I can hear Japanese people read variants of f such as ファイル, フィルム easily Mar 26 '14 at 15:30
  • 1
    – user1478
    Mar 26 '14 at 15:38
  • Thanks, @snailboat! The article mentions: «Saito Yoshio (2003, cited in Watanabe 2009) states that [ɸ] always appears when followed by a voiceless vowel [ɯ̥] mentioning examples such as as [ɸɯ̥kɯ] (/huku/ “clothes”), and is therefore significant when examining the pronunciation of /hu/.» I should try making Siri say "ふく".
    – katspaugh
    Mar 26 '14 at 16:17

Well, I can again only speculate, but if they say it did not have /h/ but had /ɸ/ and nowadays it have /h/, it have probably evolved from that /ɸ/. When I played with my mouth and tried to say /hɯ/, with stiff lips as the Japanese /ɯ/ is to be pronounced, than I get a sound which resembles rather /ɸɯ/. So, maybe it is ok to try to say /hɯ/, you say /ɸɯ/ anyway, if you are a living human being, just Siri isn't ;-)

But that's just my speculations.

  • This is actually quite correct. Also, try to pronounce [si] with the very sharp Japanese /i/ and you get [ɕi] naturally. Even the weird [tsɯ] for /tɯ/ is reasonable; try pronouncing [tɯ] with the correct Japanese /ɯ/ and your tongue naturally articulates a very weak [s] sound as you release the [t]!
    – ithisa
    Jan 6 '14 at 22:17
  • Yeah, I did that as well. Same for ち.
    – herby
    Jan 6 '14 at 22:22
  • I would say that ち naturally comes out as [tçi] though; i.e. t+ひ. Very close to the actual pronunciation anyways.
    – ithisa
    Jan 6 '14 at 23:28

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