Specifically when transcribing foreign words into katakana, it is often implied that half of a letter is dropped in pronunciation.

Take for example メルボルン, the Japanese import of the Australian city name Melbourne. The rōmaji for this is Meruborun. However, it is pronounced Merborn. Therefore, the latter half of ru is intuitively dropped in both of its instances within the word.

Is there a symbol which denotes that only the first half of the preceding character should be used? Or is the conversion between orthoëpy and lexicon usually intuitive?

  • 6
    "However, it is pronounced Merborn" ← by who? メルボルン is always pronounced by Japanese speakers as me-ru-bo-ru-n, character-by-character, as a five-mora word. Nothing is omitted, although English speakers may feel some unnecessary sounds are inserted in the Japanese version of Melbourne. – naruto Aug 25 '16 at 4:00
  • Oh, okay. So Japanese speakers would say things like "Vegemaito"? – Mad Banners Aug 25 '16 at 4:45
  • 2
    They would say something roughly like "bejimaito" (ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/…). he justo smairudo ando gebu me a bejimaito sandowichu – virmaior Aug 25 '16 at 5:01
  • 1
    @MadBanners ヴ exists in part for marking foreign words that contain v. Not all speakers pronounce them differently. en.wiktionary.org/wiki/%E3%83%B4 , detail.chiebukuro.yahoo.co.jp/qa/question_detail/q1099654090 , ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E3%83%B4 – virmaior Aug 25 '16 at 10:14
  • 1
    @MadBanners: I left Japan in 2005, so I'm less familiar with trends among younger speakers, but in my admittedly dated experience, the only Japanese speakers I knew who could pronounce the English ⟨ v ⟩ sound were those with extensive experience living in English-speaking areas. And even then, they'd (usually) pronounce it as //b// when speaking Japanese. Might be a bit like English speakers who pronounce "Paris" as //pa.ʁi// instead of //ˈpɛɹ.ɪs// -- it might come off as pretentious in the wrong social context. – Eiríkr Útlendi May 8 at 16:29

Loanwords are pronounced exactly the way they are transcribed. Depending on the circumstances of the transcription (which are often unknown), the transcription is based on a mix of actual pronunciation, its alphabet representation and the weather.

If "Melbourne" becomes メルボルン, then it will be pronounced exactly like //meruboruɴ//, no matter whether it's far from or close to the original pronunciation. (It could also have been メルボーン.)

The insertion of the extra vowels follows some loose rules: the default is u. However since t+u becomes [[tsu]], after t you usually use o instead of u, as in アート āto "art". However this may be broken if tsu is perceived to be a similarly good fit, e.g. ピーナツ pīnatsu "peanut" or "peanuts". Sometimes the choice is also just taken to be the same as the vowel that follows it: for example in a syllable with two consonants and the vowel i, the default u that would be "inserted" after the first consonant may also become i, to avoid the contrast –u–i, as in キリスト kirisuto "Christ".

There have been efforts to include phonemes from other languages, such as //va vi vu ve vo//, transcribed as ヴァ ヴィ ヴ ヴェ ヴォ, but by many still pronounced [[ba bi bu be bo]]. (For example, ヴィオラ vs. ビオラ. Also see Do Japanese actually pronounce the "v" sound?)

The introduction of スィ ([[si]] rather than [[ɕi]]) or ディ ([[di]] rather than [[dʑi]]) has been successful. For example, older sources use エジンバラ Ejinbara for Edinburgh, but エディンバラ Edinbara now seems to be standard and most people do pronounce ディ as [[di]].

Having to introduce extra vowels into loanwords, like Meruborun can lead to curious effects when actually pronounced. For example プロ from "pro(fessional)" has pitch accent プロ【HL】, which sounds like the first vowel in puro (which shouldn't be there) is stressed.

So, unlike in English (or French), in Japanese everything that is written is pronounced — sometimes even with a pitch accent that sounds like vowels which weren't present in the original word are stressed.

| improve this answer | |
  • Great answer @Earthliŋ. As for the pronunciation of your username, well played :) – Mad Banners Aug 25 '16 at 9:19

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.