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I've just started using Mango's On-the-Go (meaning "audio-only version") Japanese course. (It's free from my library. They also have Pimsleur, though their only copy is in use right now.)

I think I've heard the speakers sometimes pronounce ほ as /xo/ rather than /ho/. Is that a thing? Is it a regional thing? Or am I maybe just mishearing?

(I also hear ん pronounced as /n/ or /m/ sometimes at the ends of utterances when it should be /ɴ/, which confuses me as well… though maybe I should write this as a separate question.)

  • While I'm here - Does it make sense to start Pimsleur once I'm done with Mango? Is one better than the other? Should I switch once the Pimsleur course becomes available? – Akiva Weinberger Apr 15 '18 at 6:32
  • They are an allophone in Japanese. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allophone – user4092 Apr 16 '18 at 0:55
  • Source? Because Wikipedia doesn't seem to list /xo/ as an allophone of /ho/ on its Japanese phonology page. – Akiva Weinberger Apr 16 '18 at 0:56
  • It's of course not standard but it sounds kind of ほ to me. – user4092 Apr 16 '18 at 7:04
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there are many regional differences in pronunciation, but without actually hearing what you're hearing, I'm not sure anyone can answer the first part of your question well.

The second part of your question is easy though. ん IS pronounced differently at the end of different words... unfortunately I'm not familiar with phonetic notation, so your descriptions of the sounds doesn't help me hear what you're hearing, but ん can sound like an "n", an "m" or a slightly devoiced "ng" sound depending on the word, or even its position inside the word, and sometimes also depending on the word's placement in the sentence.

in short, as far as ん goes, your ears are not deceiving you.

as for ほ, are you sure it's ほ and not を or some other "o" sound ending syllable? I wish I understood what /xo/ sounded like, so I could be more helpful there.

  • /x/ doesn't really exist in English, but you find it in Spanish (eg "jalapeño"). I know that ん changes depending on the position within a word, but I thought that it could only have one sound at the end of an utterance. – Akiva Weinberger Apr 15 '18 at 13:20
  • I see, so you are saying that you sometimes hear ほ with a sort of gutteral sound like at the start of jalapeño? – ericfromabeno Apr 15 '18 at 13:33
  • I'll tell you what I told my friends, who swore they heard me pronounce "ra ri ru re ro" with a "d" sound... if you're trying to speak, but you're in doubt about the "right" way, just pronounce the syllable with the straightest version of its romanicized notation. The actual Japanese sound may vary regionally, or contain sounds your mouth hasn't been trained to make yet, but as long as you don't mix up the a i u e o sound and use the wrong one, people will understand you. – ericfromabeno Apr 15 '18 at 13:39
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    Well, I do hear the ら row pronounced with a /d/-ish sound, especially at the start of an utterance or after ん. I think the deal is that, normally you flap or tap the tongue against the roof of the mouth, but you can't really do that if the tongue is already at the roof of the mouth (like with the start of an utterance). – Akiva Weinberger Apr 15 '18 at 14:43
  • I agree, and I understood what my friends meant. Tongue position for ra ri ru re ro makes accidental "d" sounds possible. That's why I said if you're wondering what sound "should be made here", just go with a "simple" sound based on the romanized writing form. It won't be perfect but it won't suffer from confusion about what it's "supposed" to sound like. Rather than worry about "when to make ん sound like n, m, or ng, just pronounce it like "n" every time. eventually, you will learn which words sound more natural with "m" or slight "ng" sound, by experience. Until then, ん is n, and ほ is ho. – ericfromabeno Apr 15 '18 at 15:38
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I somehow think you're complicating sounds fruitlessly. It is much simpler to understand what consonants commonly sound like, when learning your kana. Once you've mastered your Kana, you'll know what sounds are possible in Japanese, when spoken normally. Other alternative approximate pronunciations happen more or less on a per-speaker basis, though a few are regional variants, but should be understood to be equivalent to the "basic" sounds you would have learned. The only part where I could understand confusion is in sounds where two kana sound similar to each other, such as だ and ら.

/xo/ and /ho/ for ほ are definitely an allophone. This "difference" in pronunciation is sometimes present due to particular speech and stress patterns that are unique to a speaker, but both are understood more or less the same. /ho/ is probably the more common sound to hear.

As for ん, this sound is neither an /n/ or /m/ consonant sound -- it is a nasal sound made with a closed mouth or upper tongue position. For that reason, depending on which way the mouth is closing after the previous sound, it can come to sound closer to /n/ or closer to /m/. This also varies by speaker.

Bouncing off what I've been reading in some of the comments, as far as the ら line consonant sounds and flapping/tapping your tongue against the roof of the mouth, it's not impossible to do when it's word-initial. I also speak Spanish and while it's true that Spanish doesn't have that sound at the beginning of a word, opting instead for the rolled "rr" sound, it is entirely possible to tap/flap your tongue at the start of the word. You just need to preempt it by opening your jaw a little more, and avoid making a vowel sound before. If you really have a really rough time with getting it right, consider using a very short clipped "u" sound until you become comfortable with the motion. The words ロシア or らいねん are good practice ones for this.

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    "But both are understood more or less the same." I don't care if they're both understood; I care if Japanese people actually speak that way so that I can mimic the pronunciation and accent. – Akiva Weinberger Sep 17 '18 at 23:13
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    @AkivaWeinberger Why not try listening to some audio sources in Japanese? That might have the answer you're looking for. And as for how Japanese people speak -- Standard is standard for a reason. If you want to sound like a Japanese person from a specific place, you'll have to learn that dialect as well as standard Japanese. Japanese is not a complicated language in terms of sound. – psosuna Sep 17 '18 at 23:19

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