I was wondering if anybody had any references (preferably freely available) or insights that explain 標準語 (or should I say 関東語) sentence-level pitch accent.

I already have a dictionary which describes pitch accents on individual words, but there seem to be cases where the rules change when the words are used in sentences.

To illustrate with some examples:

  • "日が" (as in "日が昇る") has no drop in pitch, but in "あの日↓は", I hear a drop after "日".
  • After "あの", the pitch usually continues where it left off, but in certain combinations, like "あの↓人", I hear a drop after "あの".
  • For non-single-mora words that usually have a drop between the last mora and a following particle, like "橋" ("橋↓が"), "の" seems to be an exception ("橋の上" with no drop). However, "次" seems to be an exception to this exception. I hear a drop in "次↓の".

(I could be wrong about some of these, if so please correct me.)

I hear good things about the NHK pitch accent dictionary, but does it describe pitch accent at this level as well?

I'd be thankful for any information that can bring insight on this.

  • 1
    >'there seem to be cases where the rules change when the words are used in sentences.'→ Exactly, and that's quite complicated I think. >'I could be wrong about some of these'→ No you're not wrong. Ahhh what an interesting question, I've been always wondering if there are any books or dictionaries on 'sentence-level' pitch accent (but usually no native speakers care about that).
    – user1016
    Jan 26, 2012 at 8:18
  • @chocolate Thanks for showing interest! I was actually pretty certain that this question would be totally ignored :P
    – dainichi
    Jan 26, 2012 at 8:38
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    How are directional arrows typed?
    – Flaw
    Jan 26, 2012 at 9:12
  • @Flaw san, あ、私はいつも「やじるし」って打って、「変換」します・・・。「きごう」にも後ろの方に入ってますね。
    – user1016
    Jan 26, 2012 at 9:14
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    @Flaw san, Yes I think you're right... Just type 'やじるし(or きごう) + the space key' and scroll down, and you'll find '→ ← ↓ ↑' etc. Btw have you tried 'かおもじ/はーと/さんかくetc. + the space key'?
    – user1016
    Jan 26, 2012 at 14:55

1 Answer 1


Yes, accents change when words are combined/conjugated/etc. I'm not sure if there are any truly sentence-level phenomena, but there is definitely more going on than just "words have the same accent all the time". The NHK dictionary does include a fair bit of information about these rules.

To take your examples -- here are some answers I got from consulting the dictionary quickly. (Linguists, please forgive my half-assed terminology and use of the dreaded LH representation.)

1) This is actually more complicated than it looks! The 日 and 昇る in 日が昇る are both unaccented, and the の after an unaccented noun does not cause a drop, so the whole phrase has no accent. However, the 日 in あの日は (assuming you mean "that day" and not "that sun" IS accented. They are not actually homophones if you take pitch into account. あの is unaccented, and は coming after an accented mora = no accent, so あの日は = LHHL.

2) あの is unaccented as you say, but in combination with certain nouns, the whole phrase takes on an accent. I don't know how to account for this, but the NHK dictionary gives あの人 its own entry, with two possible patterns: LHLL or LHHH(drop) -- so maybe it is partly lexicalized, or at least the result of some rule obscure enough to justify including the result as its own dictionary entry.

3) When の is combined with a two-syllable word with a drop after it (like 橋 as you say), the drop generally "disappears" and the result becomes unaccented. So 橋 is LH(drop) but 橋の is LHH(no drop). Why 次の should work differently is a mystery. (The dictionary lists 次の間 as an independent item with either LHLL or LHHH(no drop), so clearly it is a known phenomenon.) -- Although, it should be noted that の working this way is kind of an exception in the case of noun + particle, which usually doesn't change the accent on the noun.

The problem with the information in the NHK dictionary (I mean the general "rules" rather than the entries for individual words) is that although there is a lot of it, it is for reference rather than pedagogical purposes -- and it's not even indexed very well. So it's not easy to learn from it if what you're after is a general survey of how Japanese accent works. I imagine it works much better if you're using the book as a reference while taking a course on how to speak NHK-style.

  • Thank you very much for the elaborate answer. So 次の and あの人 are special cases, and 日 has different pitch as day and sun. That sounds reasonable. However, I think I've heard other cases where この/あの changes things. For example, in 国が there's no drop, while in この国↓が I feel it's more natural to have a drop after 国. Unless 国 is another special case, I feel there might be some other principle in play. Either way, I'm thinking maybe I should buy the NHK pronunciation dictionary after all. I'll wait and see if people come up with other suggestions.
    – dainichi
    Jan 26, 2012 at 13:20
  • I agree with what you've both said -- 日 has different pitch whether it's day or sun, and あの人 is lexicalized. As for the の problem, Matt seems to imply that the levelling only occurs when the accent is on the last mora, so perhaps accent in that position is more vulnerable; however, I have to agree with you that something else seems to be in play. I only have my electronic NHK dictionary on hand, I'll have to check the paper version at home to see if the の or この entries point to any kind of rule.
    – alexandrec
    Jan 26, 2012 at 15:06
  • Just thought I'd add something about "sentence-level" pitch -- I don't think there's such a thing. Pitch works at the level of phrases, so within the noun phrase, or the verb phrase, for instance, as pitch changes when two words come together, gobi change the pitch of accented verbs or adjectives, etc.
    – alexandrec
    Jan 26, 2012 at 15:29
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    After looking at the Shinmeikai, it appears that non-single-mora nouns with accent on the last mora (like 山) become flat before の. However, this only applies to single-morpheme nouns, as compound nouns made up of two words are not affected by の. Numbers also seem unaffected. Note that on the contrary, an accentless verb will go down just before (泣くのLHL).
    – alexandrec
    Jan 27, 2012 at 0:02
  • Thanks for the updates, @alexandrec! Yeah, there are a lot of exceptions and interactions -- I haven't mastered them myself. (Even the NHK dictionary includes much more information on the の issue than I put in my answer, though nothing that seemed directly relevant to dainichi's questions.) (Dainichi, I have no explanation for 国 vs この国が either. I would recommend at least comparing the NHK dictionary to the Shinmeikai one before buying one -- looks like alexandrec decided that SMK fits his needs better, and I like it more too.)
    – Matt
    Jan 27, 2012 at 1:19

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