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IPA transcription of kana づ please: I think it will be [dzɯ].

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This description is written from Toukyou-area Japanese / 標準語; it applies through most of the rest of Kantou and most of Kansai and Chuugoku as well (with the major exception of the Unpaku dialect around the former Izumo province).

The consonant will be [z] or [dz] depending on speaker and context. ず varies similarly, and there is no way to distinguish between the two.

The vowel has no agreed-upon IPA transcription. It's not [ɯ] because it does involve bringing your lips together, but it's not [u] because it doesn't involve pushing your lips outwards or pulling the corners of your mouth together. Some (I don't remember who) have described it as a 'compressed' vowel rather than a rounded vowel; you bring your lips together but not as much as with [u], and without rounding them at all (the corners remain basically in place).

I have heard it vary, though, anywhere from really quite similar to [u] (especially in more choral singing; I wonder if this is European influence) to something that's as far forwards as [ʉ]. Mostly it seems to be in the middle, though, conforming fairly well to the above description.

Elsewhere in Japan:

Part of southern Shikoku (Kouchi, for example) preserves the original [d] in free variation with [dz], contrasting with the [z] in ず. Kagoshima and eastern Kyuushuu contrast just [dz] with ず's [z].

In Touhoku/Hokkaidou and some parts of the Unpaku area, づ・ず have further merged together with ぢ・じ thanks to /i/ and /u/ merging into [ɨ] (I think, Japanese sources mostly transcribe it unhelpfully as 'ï') after /t d s/ (and maybe /n/?). This has removed the trigger for the /s z/ → [ɕ ʑ] change, and all four kana vary in pronunciation between [zɨ] and [dzɨ]. Other parts of the Unpaku area have shuffled around /i/ and /u/ rather than merging them and mostly leave づ as [du] (probably not with actual [u] but the Japanese version described above).

Narata in Yamanashi prefecture apparently pronounces づ with [ɖ], oddly enough; the whole yotsugana series (じ・ぢ・ず・づ) is the rather remarkable [ði ɖʐi ðu ɖu] (with the same caveat about 'u').

  • Thanks for your answer, which has many thoughtful comments. 1st, I would take issue with your romanisation–but let's put that aside. 2nd, I did not intend the standard Japanese /u/ to be represented by a w. If you look harder, you will see that is the IPA convention for standard Japanese u. I fully realise that, further southwest you go, the more rounded the u souond becomes. But that was not my question, Which was concerned only with the IPA representation of standard Japanese u. – J A F Hopkins Mar 24 '16 at 0:04
  • Sorry, that last 'u' should have been づ. JAFH – J A F Hopkins Mar 24 '16 at 0:41
  • Just to try again, altho there may be a problem with this font: /ɯ/. If you look very closely, you may see that this is not a w. – J A F Hopkins Mar 24 '16 at 1:00
  • @JAFHopkins I think I'm mildly confused by w/ɯ maybe getting mixed up(?) and am not fully sure what you're trying to say, sorry! – Sjiveru Mar 24 '16 at 23:18
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The same as ず, can be /dzu/, /dʒu/ or /ʒu/.

Source: https://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/づ (Cited by @istrasci)

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    Just to be nitpicky, in Japanese there are no /ʃ/ /ʒ/ sounds, only /ɕ/ and /ʑ/ sounds. They sound very similar, especially to a native english speaker, however there is a different in where the sounds are articulated. – user11589 Mar 22 '16 at 18:04
  • Thanks for the comment. I'm not an English speaker of familiar with the IPA, but I know for a fact (not just from Wikipedia) that ず and づ sound the same in modern Japanese. – Alejandro Cremades Rocamora Mar 22 '16 at 23:39
  • Many thanks for your comments. Perhaps a little too nitpicky, as in my Japanese wife's pronunciation (and she has a degree from a leading university) I don't see any difference: the SH sound seems to be /ʃ/, for all intents and purposes. She also agrees that my pronunciation of the sound is identical to her own, and I am using /ʃ/. Let's not be misled by Japanese phoneticians' agenda that Japanese is a 'unique' language... It's just a HUMAN language. BTW, it is impossible to be a 'native speaker' of any particular language. JAFH (PhD, linguistics, Jôchi/Sophia U.) – J A F Hopkins Mar 24 '16 at 0:55
  • That's reassuring. I hadn't really looked into it the IPA way and it's great to be aware when there's a controversy. By the way Mr Hopkins, I live in Fukuoka and walk past 上智福岡中高 around once a week. Those kids sure are polite! – Alejandro Cremades Rocamora Mar 24 '16 at 1:03
  • I am 100% certain that Japanese uses [ɕ] and not [ʃ]. I hear the difference quite clearly, and many of my native-English-speaking friends mishear [ɕ] as /s/ when I pronounce Japanese for them (not as /ʃ/, as one would expect if Japanese used [ʃ]). No linguist I know of uses 'ʃ' for Japanese except out of convenience or unfamiliarity. – Sjiveru Mar 25 '16 at 0:12

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