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五十音 [gojzu: on] litteraly "50-sounder" (hiragana nickname)
五十 [gojzu:] 50
音 [on] sound

My question is about counters in Japanese language.

At the dictionary it is said, that 音 is counter for sounds.

Well, ,,, that means, that to build "50 sounds" I have to use [number] + [counter] + の [no] + [noun] and therefore build something like:

五十音の音 [gojzu: on no on] 50 sounds

With my heart I feel something wrong here, but do no know the rule to apply.
Do I have right to use the following pattern (without counter)?

五十の音 [gojzu: no on] 50 sounds

If this is 100% ok, is there a rule that counter can be omitted if the counter and the noun, which is counted -- are the same word?


Here was a question about 目 and 第. I was recommended to publish it as standalone one and do not mix flys and apples in one dish.

  • You keep writing [jz]. Does your dictionary (or whatever you’re learning from) contain that typo as well? – snailboat Jun 7 at 20:29
  • @snailboat I'm a Russian native and in Russian letters we write [godzu:] and we do not have letter [j] (e.g. [dzei]), in English they write [goju:] I guess, but if Russian eye sees [goju:] it would read it [goyu:] because influence of German language. Therefore I use [jzu:] for じゅう to remember, that this is not [yu:]. That's not a typo. That's a weired or freaky way to keep my old brain not going crazy as I'm learning Japanese. – Tchibi-kun Jun 7 at 21:24
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    FWIW, the [[bracket]] and //slash// notations are used in the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). Your text uses these (as well as using the ː colon-like marker for lengthened sounds), which suggests to readers that you're using the IPA, where [[j]] refers to the palatal glide sound often spelled as ⟨ y ⟩ in English and ⟨ j ⟩ in German. Meanwhile, I've often seen the [[d͡ʑ]] combination used as the IPA for the initial consonant in Japanese morae such as じ. – Eiríkr Útlendi Jun 7 at 21:46
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First of all, 音 in 五十音 is not a counter. It's true that modern Japanese (as well as modern Chinese) requires grammatical counter, but Classical Chinese, which makes up a great amount of Japanese vocabulary, does not. That means characters follow a number in most of established words are not used as counter. 十戒 "Ten Commandments" but you can't count them with 戒. 二輪車 is "two-wheel vehicle" but you can't count tyres with 輪 (輪 is a counter, but for flowers: 二輪の花 "two (blooms of) flowers"). So 五十音 is literally "fifty sounds" as in English, but it's a fixed phrase today that only means a specific alphabetical order of kana (there are also others e.g. iroha), and its repertoire.

And 音 is indeed a counter for "sound", but as you know, sound itself is indefinite mass like water. What this counter can count is actually "musical unit" like notes in a score or syllables in a poem. N 音の音 hardly makes sense, and if we ever have to count "sounds", like in phonological discussion, we just use 個 or -つ.

日本語では二つの音は違う The two sounds are different in Japanese.
この十個の吸着音を発音してください Please pronounce these ten click sounds.

If one cannot find a suitable counter, you can dispense with it in some situation, in this sense 五十の音 is a valid Japanese for "fifty sounds" (generally). However, as above, 五十音の音 have little sense besides the meaning "a sound in the kana chart".

  • [sound itself is uncountable like water] I do not agree with that. You can not count water, but you can count sounds. You can not count noise. You can not ask: how many noises you've heard. Only: have you heard the noise? But you can ask how many sounds have you heard? Answer: I've heard 50 sounds. Anyway, thanks for tip to use universal [ko] as counter in case of ambiguity. – Tchibi-kun Jul 9 at 9:56
  • @Tchibi-kun You can't use 個 in that context! Only 50の音, I guess (or general つ under 10). I wasn't clear enough that by "uncountable" I mean "undelimitable". What you mean is "indistinguishable". In Japanese mindset, a counter represents a certain "shape", so what doesn't have a set boundary can't have a counter. – broccoli forest Jul 9 at 10:09
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    Found that 音 can be counter only for syllables and musical notes. tofugu.com/japanese/japanese-counters-list Sound is uncountable in Japanese, because sound (as well as noise) does not have a boundary. Broccoli, thank you. – Tchibi-kun Jul 9 at 10:40
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五十音 is indeed a special case because it has specific meaning. 五十音の音 (godzu:on no oto) would mean the sounds of those syllables, so you would need to use 五十の音 (godzu: no oto) to mean fifty sounds. For any other numbers you can just use the counter without confusion.

  • If 五十の音 [godzu: no oto] 50 sounds, does it mean, that I can use this pattern for any other numbers, for example, is it ok to say 五の音 [go no oto] 5 sounds or 十の音 [dzu: no oto] 10 sounds? Or it is illegal and I MUST use counter to form the official pattern, such as 五音の音 [go-oto no oto] 5 sounds and 十音の音 [dzu:-oto no oto] 10 sounds? Is there general rule such as: you can skip counter if it self-understanding, but you NEVER can skip の? – Tchibi-kun Jun 8 at 17:14
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    Using the counter (五音 [go on]) is probably more natural in more cases, but it's not like it would be illegal to use の (五の音 [go no oto]) -- it just might be hard to understand without proper context if there is another word with the same pronunciation. Also note that 音 (and many other counters) use on-yomi reading when used as a counter ([on]), and kun-yomi when used as a separate word ([oto]). – vlumi Jun 9 at 2:40
  • o, my god! Thank you for pointing out about kun/on-yomi Only now I noticed, that I have a huge mistake here: 十音の音 [dzu:-oto no oto] 10 sounds - it is not [dzu:oto]!!! it must be [dzu:on] because of dzu: is chinese 10, but not japanese 10 which is [to:]. Thank you, it is so usefull info! – Tchibi-kun Jun 9 at 10:38

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