I have been studying pitch accent for a few months now, primarily from the NHK Accent Dictionary. My Japanese is not terribly strong, so it took me a while to muddle through the explanations and figure out all the appendices - counters, compound nouns, auxiliaries, etc. - but I got there in the end. However, there is one thing that is just completely stumping me: honorifics, as in 〜さん, ~さま, 〜ちゃん, 〜君, etc.

I searched the internet multiple times, unsuccessfully. I have searched through every location in the book and I can't find anything. The only other thing that I can't see detailed in the book is case particles, but I understand how they work. I ended up putting several names+honorific into the Suzuki-kun Prosody Tutor and observing that they seem to work as particles. After discovering that, I did manage to find this:

'For instance, the very important endings ~さん, ~ちゃん, and ~さま behave like most particles. The pitch does not change. If the name is 頭高型, it still is with them. With 君, there is typically no change, but if the name is 平板型, the resulting phrase may become 尾高型. Lastly, titles tend to be accented, but they don't have to be when the surname is accented.' (https://www.imabi.net/pitch.htm)

However, there's no source and no corroboration from anywhere else. Can anybody confirm this or possibly point me in the direction of official sources?

  • I...I can't think of any personal name that exhibits such alteration with くん. Sep 20, 2019 at 10:05

1 Answer 1


I have just checked the matter in my Handbook of Japanese Phonetics and Phonology, Chapter 11 ‘The Phonology of Japanese Accent’ (as it describes, say, the prosody of [氏]{し} or [家]{け} suffixes, it would perhaps be and interesting read to you as well). It refers to the following two primary sources:

  1. The MIT dissertation by William J. Poser, 1984: The phonetics and phonology of tone and intonation in Japanese. It is not available officially, but, luckily, Mr. Poser has provided the complete text on his Academia.edu page! Unfortunately, it has nothing to say exactly on the matter under question.

  2. Timothy J. Vance 1987 book, An introduction to Japanese phonology. It is probably accessible somewhere... except Amazon purchase by an unreasonable price... and might contain the solution.

However, S. E. Martin with his A reference grammar of Japanese has probably answers to everything, and, sure enough, now it does. Right on page 1056!

The most general title for people is さん, a shortening of the formal version さま; there are also hypocoristic (endearing) versions ちゃん and ちゃま. Though often written with a hyphen, as if attached as a suffix, this title - variously translated as 'Mr, Miss, Mrs, Ms,...' <...> -has no affect on the accent of the word with which it forms a phrase (emphasis mine); thus it is a syntactic reduction (with obligatorily dropped juncture) and is best treated as a separate word, a "reduced title": [さとうさん]{HLLLL}/[さま]{LL}, [やまださん]{LHHHH}/さま{HH}, [ハルポマルクスさん]{LHHHLLLLL}/[さま]{LL} 'Mr Harpo Marx', [よしこちゃん]{HLLLLL}/[ちゃま]{LLL} 'little Miss Yoshiko', [けんちゃん]{HLLLL}/[ちゃま]{LLL} 'our Ken'.... <...> The title san can be followed by the collectivizer たち (§2.7): [やまださんたち]{LHHHHHL} (also [やまださんたち]{LHHHLLL}?)...

Here conversion to SE-accepted accent notation is mine.

Furthermore, the classic by Eleanor Harz Jorden, et al., Japanese: The spoken language (1987) spenda a lot of time on accent and might cover it. Vol. 1, page 26, its introduction as -Sañ (accentless) points at the same.

TL/DR: assume that -さん and its relatives do not alter the accent of word (if existed, retains at the same place, if was absent, also absent). It MAY be accented due to further affixation (such as with たち) and (possibly) there are exceptions.

  • It's [やまださんたち]{LHHHHLL}, no..?
    – chocolate
    Sep 20, 2019 at 12:48
  • 2
    @Chocolate 東京だとそこにアクセントがつくことはないような……(僕は普通 やまださんたち{LHHHLLL}/やまださんたちが{LHHHHHLL} です) Sep 20, 2019 at 13:37
  • Perhaps, but I am yet to hear any mention that moraic elements can actually be stressed. Sep 20, 2019 at 14:47

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