I'm aware that the so-called 'f' in ふ isn't pronounced with the English labiodental fricative [f], but rather the bilabial fricative [ɸ]. I'd like to know if Japanese speakers also use the bilabial fricative to pronounce は, ひ, へ and ほ. The reason I ask is because in romaji, I see these written as 'ha', 'hi', 'fu', 'he', 'ho', and wondered if ふ was a special exception in terms of how it is pronounced.

  • 1
    No. は へ ほ are pronounced more or less as you would expect, and ひ is palatalised. – Zhen Lin Jul 14 '14 at 21:48
  • Hi @snailboat, I thought you wrote IPA in forward slashes, not square brackets. – Lou Jul 14 '14 at 21:49
  • 3
    @LeoKing Most commonly, phonemic notation goes in forward slashes, phonetic notation goes in square brackets. – user1478 Jul 14 '14 at 21:50
  • 1
    ...We've had this conversation before, haven't we? – Lou Jul 14 '14 at 21:51

It is most definitely an exception. The actual phonetic realisation of that series goes like this:

は [ha]

ひ [çi]

ふ [ɸɯ~hɯ]

へ [he]

ほ [ho]

In Middle Japanese they all were pronounced with [ɸ], which you can see in European transcriptions of names from the 1500s and 1600s - the Portuguese wrote e.g. <Faxecura> for a name that in Modern Japanese would be transcribed <Hasekura>. In Old Japanese and earlier this sound was [p], and it still is [p] in most of the Ryuukyuus, e.g. in Miyako /pztu/ 'person' (cognate with Modern Japanese /hito/).

The ɸ>h sound change hasn't quite finished for many speakers, and so /h/ for them remains [ɸ] before /ɯ/. This probably has to do with the particular details of how Japanese /ɯ/ is articulated - it's ultimately neither rounded nor unrounded, but 'compressed': unlike a canonical [ɯ] your lips are pulled together, but they're not pushed out like with [u]. (I'm writing the Japanese version as <ɯ> anyway because there's no good transcription of the 'compressed' version.) [ɸ] is retained because your lips are doing mostly the same thing that they're doing with the 'compressed' [ɯ].

For other speakers, the ɸ>h sound change is complete, and ふ is [hɯ].

  • 1
    "For other speakers, the ɸ>h sound change is complete". You mean for certain dialects? I haven't noticed this in standard Japanese, and FWIW, it's not mentioned here: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_phonology – dainichi Jul 16 '14 at 1:45
  • I'm not sure exactly how it works out in regards to regional variation and so on; all I know is that I most definitely have heard both [ɸɯ] and [hɯ], and consistently one or the other from a given speaker. (I suppose this counts as 'original research', though I assumed it would be mentioned somewhere.) – Sjiveru Jul 16 '14 at 8:17

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.