I noticed that in anime and other Japanese shows, people often pronounce 「ない」 as 「ねい」. For example, instead of saying 「使わない」, the person will say 「使わねい」, but the translation is the same.

I have many questions about this.

  • Is there any nuanced difference in meaning between 〜ない and 〜ねい?
  • Is it a colloquialism? Is it from a specific region or used mostly by one gender?
  • When written, is it spelled 〜ねい or 〜ねえ? And do people often use it in writing, or only in speech?
  • I've also noticed that 「すごい」 sometimes gets pronounced 「すげい」. Is this the same phenomenon? Are there other non-ない examples?
  • Does this transformation have a name? I'd like to read more about it but I don't know what to search.

2 Answers 2

  1. I see it most often spelled out as ねー as in 使わねー etc.
  2. For me it has a rough, slightly negative, rude connotation (e.g. used by ruffians and ヤンキー, or the older generation that speak their opinions freely). It is also more prevalent in males than females.
  3. I've seen ねー、ねえ、ねぇ but not ねい.
  4. Can be used in the positive to show emphasis (also used by above) e.g. やりてぇー、食べてーetc etc.
  5. If there is a name, I don't know it..
  • I understand you, but I think that when you say yankee most people will think of this: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yankee
    – dabisu
    Commented Dec 2, 2016 at 21:18
  • 1
    @dabisu Haha thanks, I mean ヤンキー in the Japanese sense ;) ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/…
    – ishikun
    Commented Dec 2, 2016 at 23:06
  • @dabisu リンク張り付けました! ありがとうございます~
    – ishikun
    Commented Dec 2, 2016 at 23:07
  • I don't understand 4. Could you elaborate? Commented Dec 31, 2016 at 0:03
  • You can use the same long vowel sound in verbs and other words to express the positive やりたい→やりてー, のぼりたい→のぼりてー
    – ishikun
    Commented Jan 1, 2017 at 4:00

Re: the name of this kind of transformation, in English, this might be called "monophthongization", or more generally as "vowel shift". It's not uncommon in human languages in general. It happened in ancient Japanese, producing the /e/ sound in modern 目{め} as a probable result of fusion of ancient /ma/ + nominalization particle /i/: /mai//me/. It happened in Korean, such as where the modern vowel sound [에]{/e̞/} apparently evolved from a fusion of [어]{/ʌ̹/} and [이]{/i/}. It's happened in various places in the evolution of Indo-European languages, such as modern Dutch "[heel]{/ɦeːl/}" from earlier Proto-Germanic "[hailaz]{/ˈxɑi̯.lɑz/}", or modern southern American English "[I]{/aː/}" from the "[I]{/aɪ/}" of most other varieties.

  • 1
    It looks a lot like French, where /a/+/i/ = /e/.
    – Right leg
    Commented Dec 16, 2016 at 17:18

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