In English and most languages I understand, the natural way to tell your phone to call someone (when using Bluetooth for example) is: Call .

I was told that in Japanese, it is more natural to say the contact name first.

-- Is there a way to mimic in Japanese a similar format, in which the command prefixes the contact name? I understand it might be less natural, but would it be natural enough ?

-- Is there already a "standard" that people expect based on how different devices already work in Japan? Are people expecting to interact with "machines" in different language than with other humans?

  • 1
    I am not exactly sure about the intention of this question, but if what is intended is something like what Louis answers (which is a good answer), then that means that you do not even know the difference in basic word order between English and Japanese, and this question would turn out to be inappropriate to be asked here for the reason that it is too basic and is asking for something that can be easily studied elsewhere. If, on the other hand, you are asking about computer interface, then this is clearly off topic.
    – user458
    Commented Oct 6, 2011 at 7:11
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    I think that the question is asking what the best verbal user interface is for Japanese-speaking people. I agree with sawa that you seem to lack basic knowledge about the difference between Japanese and English grammars. Although I do not know if this deems the question to be inappropriate here, I am afraid that it is unlikely that you can design a verbal interface based on the natural language without knowing the language. Commented Oct 6, 2011 at 12:37

4 Answers 4


I'm guessing from your question that what you are aspiring to do is create a way for a Japanese user to make an audio command to their phone to initiate a call in a way that a computer can parse it.

If I understand speech recognition issues, unlike the usual smartphone graphic interface where one can start by selecting the contact name and then choosing an action, like "email" or "phone", a voice command system usually needs to start with the general and work toward the specific.

In a normal environment which may have competing sounds and other people talking, it's way harder for a computer to listen for countless possible names as a starting point. Instead, you want to have a limited set of commands like "phone" or "email", which can prompt action. Thus, in English, "call Larry," where "call" initiates the phone's attentive listening.

Japanese always (insofar as you can make a claim like "always") ends sentences with the verb. In Japanese, one says, for example, 「太郎{たろう}に電話{でんわ}をかける」 (Taro/to/phone/I call). If I'm right about your technical challenge, this is not what you want.

To answer your second specific question first, no, there is no currently accepted, or expected, manner of talking to machines. So, on the upside, you have free reign to define your own standards.

The most direct and simple solution would be to say something like 電話{でんわ}, followed by the name. It's equivelent in English to saying "Phone. Name." But that's clunky and no fun.

If the whole goal of your project is naturalness itself, I think you could do this 「電話{でんわ}を太郎{たろう}に掛{か}けなさい」. It means "By phone/Taro/call". The 電話{でんわ}で could function as the prompt for the machine to listen, as "call" does in English.

If you wanted to initiate other commands besides calling, you could do similar things like 「メールで太郎{たろう}に連絡{れんらく}しなさい」("By email/Taro/contact").

The key is to use , "by", as identifying the vehicle for the action before you give the name.

The なさい at the end makes the sentence a firm command, which I think is appropriate given that this is a machine and they have to suck it up as our servents until they inevitably become our sentient overlords.

Hope that helps.

  • Although function-oriented programming languages may fit what you describe (namely, similarity with SVO languaes), that does not fit object-oriented programming languages. In the latter types of languages, you first have the object, and specify what to do with it (similarity with SOV languages). In fact, reverse polish notation, which is effective with respect to stacking of the operands, resembles SOV rather than SVO.
    – user458
    Commented Oct 6, 2011 at 7:07
  • @sawa: I rewrote my answer to be more clear about what I mean about how speech recognition software parses speech.
    – Questioner
    Commented Oct 6, 2011 at 13:04
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    I see. But 電話で太郎を掛けなさい and メールで太郎を連絡しなさい are ungrammatical. 電話を太郎に掛けなさい, 電話で太郎に連絡しなさい, or メールで太郎に連絡しなさい are grammatical.
    – user458
    Commented Oct 6, 2011 at 14:50
  • @sawa: Oh, thanks! Yeah, I mess up my particles a lot. I'll correct my answer accordingly.
    – Questioner
    Commented Oct 6, 2011 at 15:17

It's interesting to note than in a lot of English-language phone user interfaces (non-verbal interfaces at least), you first find the person in your contact list and then specify that you want to call them. In this case, it doesn't reflect that natural order of the English language.

Although, this doesn't completely answer the question, imagine using a verbal phone interface in English. With this interface, you must first state the person's name before saying that you want to call them. Is this natural? Not really. Is this natural enough to use? Probably. Given the choice would I use an interface that allows me to say the command first? Certainly.

  • Did you use as reference the way you use speech in a phone? you don't look for a person first, you just say "call Bob" or "call Bob on mobile". I wondered what is the best JP experience and possibly, current "market" way as I am sure this is an option on all phones in JP.
    – csmba
    Commented Oct 5, 2011 at 19:23

My phone says has just a "button" that says 発信. It really looks like a generic "call", doesn't it? (If you click it, then you get to choose between "電話", "Eメール作成" and others).

No need to explicitely say who to call, since, well, you're looking at their profile already… I guess the user interface is made to fit the language :)


I wouldn't call it a standard, but I would assume there has been time spent thinking about it in the case of iPhones. Apple, with their current voice control (which by the way, in iOS5 is going to be named Siri and doesn't seemed to be localized to Japan: シリ) uses SVO for English users, SOV for Japanese, and so on. The seems logical to me.

So in English you CALL YAMAMOTO.

In Japanese you YAMAMOTOに電話をかける or even YAMAMOTO、かける

It doesn't work the other way around in English or Japanese.

I think Apple also answers your first question; in both word orders YAMAMOTO alone is understood. Which could still be grammatical if you look at it from the context and what users want to do, and that of your machine's language and vocabulary (commands, names from address book, song titles, etc.).

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