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I've wondered this for a while now but never thought to ask it until now. With regards to the い sound in Japanese, I understand that it's pronounced like a sort of shorter version of the e sound in "eat" or "free". Despite this, in words where there's an い sound somewhere in the word, and then another at the end, I pronounce the first like the i sound in "pit", and then the following as previously mentioned.

To give an example, I pronounce しち as "shih-chee", rather than "shee-chee", and something like き as just "kee". I don't know anything about phonetic symbols unfortunately, so this is as close as I can get it.

My question is, is this normal, or should I be pronouncing the sound more consistently with the "ea" or "ee" sound in English?

Edit: After posting this I kept thinking of discrepancies in my pronunciation of the sound, like not being decided on how to pronounce words like 気分 (either "kee-bun" or "ki-bun" ), how I'd pronounce elongated い sounds as the "ee" sound, regardless of where it is in the word, or how I pronounce 人 as "hee-toh", despite the sound not being at the end.

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You can't rely on your native language's sound inventory when you're learning another language. One of the difficult parts of learning a new language is learning which production targets and which automatic alterations of sounds don't carry over from your native language. When you're learning Japanese, you're best off doing everything you can to forget how you're used to making sounds in English, and learn how Japanese does them from the ground up.

[i], the sound you're referring to as 'ee', is the only one of these two sounds that Japanese uses. Most dialects of English actually pronounce this somewhat differently from how Japanese does - mine, for example, has it change somewhat over the course of its pronunciation in a way Japanese doesn't. Some conservative varieties of English (I think a lot of Scotland, I know Glasgow does it this way) have something closer to Japanese's [i] - it remains uniform the whole way through.

[ɪ], the sound in English 'pit', doesn't occur anywhere in Japanese, and Japanese speakers have a very hard time learning to say it (many or most never do). You shouldn't use [ɪ] at all in Japanese.

Some Japanese words have [i̥], which is the same as [i] but almost 'whispered' - your vocal cords aren't doing anything during the vowel. [i̥] happens mostly between other sounds like /p t k s/ where your vocal cords aren't doing anything. To an English speaker's ears, it might sound a bit like [ɪ], but it likely sounds more like the total absence of a vowel.

  • It's a lot more clear to me now, thanks a lot. I've been studying Japanese for a while now but never thought about how I pronounce い differently in various cases, so it's good to finally have a bit more of an understanding of it. – Genzou Sep 7 '18 at 20:20

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