I've chosen the name a bit at random, but for reason I don't understand I have trouble hearing the initial r-sound on several of my male Japanese students' names. Two examples chosen someone at random: 隆介 and 綾

They say りゅうせすけ and りょう but I hear ゆうすけ and よう

I'm a native English speaker of American English but also had experience hearing German as a child in Germany. Is there some linguistic issue going on here or do I just need to get my ears checked?

I saw this question: Utterance initial [ɾ] which explains some of the mouth position for the sound. But, it doesn't answer what I'm asking.

  • Related: japanese.stackexchange.com/a/12818/1478
    – user1478
    May 19 '14 at 16:47
  • @snailboat -- maybe, but I'm not hearing an L sound either. I'm hearing nearly no sound where the ラ行 sound should be.
    – virmaior
    May 19 '14 at 23:12
  • 1
    Well, the link wasn't meant to imply that you'd be hearing an L sound. Rather, that in initial position you're hearing a non-tap allophone whose characteristics differ from the usual intervocalic /r/.
    – user1478
    May 19 '14 at 23:14
  • @snailboat okay that definitely makes sense of it.
    – virmaior
    May 19 '14 at 23:40
  • 1
    I'm afraid I don't know him well enough to be imaging the inside of his mouth(teehee). But I could try asking for a speech sample.
    – Val
    May 22 '14 at 3:18

For the ラ行, you are curling the tip of your tongue touching the alveolar ridge (between 5 and 4 in the picture). There is a large gaping whole in the middle of your mouth and the slightest build-up of pressure will "break the seal", which means that the airflow is very small, whence the initial r is hardly audible.

If you're pronouncing りゅう in the middle of a word, you can use the existing airflow through the mouth to slam your tongue onto the alveolar ridge to produce a more audible r.

(Please excuse the informal explanation, but I'm lacking vocabulary to make this a more concise explanation.)

alveolar ridge

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