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I was wondering if someone could help me clear up some confusion

Sometimes when I hear people speaking Japanese in videos, I hear them swap the k/g consonants, as well as the d/t consonants.. Like よろしく sounds like exactly what it looks like alone, but adding おねがいします makes the く sound like ご.. I get that the u turns silent but I don't get the consonant switching.

The same goes for なかった where it sounds more like ながっだ in the audio provided here https://elon.io/learn-japanese-hepburn/lexicon/26888/anata-wa-heta-ja-nakatta-desu.

Is this something to do with phonetics and is there a specific spot where the tongue touches when Japanese people pronounce these two to make them sound very similar? I know t/d make use of the back of the top of your teeth.

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    If you'd like to see what Aeon talks about for yourself in detail, there's a free phonetics program called Praat with plenty of tutorials on YouTube and elsewhere. You can download the clip from the site above and examine the /k/ and /t/ (measure their VOTs) and see for yourself that they truly are unvoiced, almost unaspirated [k] and [t], and you can compare those to sounds you hear differently in other clips. Ultimately though, there's no way around it: you've got to practice listening to fix your perception, and you don't actually need to understand this stuff.
    – user1478
    Jan 30, 2020 at 21:05
  • Alright, so I get that the aspiration is swapped now, however, why is this only true for some times where as other times it's not? Also I'm kind of lost in the site you provided.
    – Blue
    Jan 30, 2020 at 21:24

1 Answer 1

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If your native language is English, you may find that although the contrast between the pairs /t d/, /p b/, and /k g/ is nominally one of voicing, in practice it is frequently one of aspiration. The Japanese pairs are more of a true voiced and voiceless set, with /p t k/ having less aspiration, thus sounding somewhat like /b d g/ to English speakers. (On a related note, as a child I was confused that words such as 'spin', 'star', and 'scare' were not spelt 'sbin', 'sdar', and 'sgare'.)

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  • Yeah that's the thing, sometimes I hear them say a very clear k like in おかえり, so it's been bothering me since it's just inconsistent.
    – Blue
    Jan 30, 2020 at 19:49
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    Yep, this is the answer, and that's why modern phonologists tend to prefer the terms fortis and lenis for the distinction between English /k/ and /g/. It may be better not to refer to the English consonants as voiced and unvoiced since the former may sometimes be unvoiced and the latter voiced; despite this they retain their other distinguishing characteristics in those phonetic contexts.
    – user1478
    Jan 30, 2020 at 20:38
  • As a native Japanese speaker, "little" pronunced by a native AmE speaker often sounds like リドゥル to my ears. So this is the reason?
    – naruto
    Jan 30, 2020 at 23:17
  • @naruto Americans pronounce both /t/ and /d/ in certain environments, such as between vowels, as an alveolar flap [ɾ]. It sounds even to native English speakers like /d/. I'm a slight bit surprised you don't hear it as some sort of ラ行 sound, but then again the Japanese and American flaps are actually a bit different in articulation.
    – Angelos
    Jan 31, 2020 at 0:30
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    @AeonAkechi Yes I hear ラ行 too and that was confusing at first ("little" sounds like リトゥル → リドゥル → リルゥㇽ as they speak faster, "get away" sounds like ゲッタウェイ → ゲダウェイ → ゲラウェ).
    – naruto
    Jan 31, 2020 at 0:38

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