In a recent Japanese movie, the leading actor is acting as Uncle Vanya on a stage, saying 「おまえはぼくの人生を踏みにった」, in which the 「」sounds to me very similar to 「し」.

I wonder how this sounds to a native speaker and what's happening here:

audio clip


Recently I heard two more cases, where the 「」 in 「人生」 sounds to me very similar to 「し」. I wonder if all the three cases can be uniformly explained:

case 1, case 2

  • 2
    Personally as a native speaker of the language, the じ in the audio clip is not so much a genuine variation in spoken Japanese as some speech impediment or an instance of bad acting. To my years not only onset of the syllable but also the vowel sounds weirdly weak.
    – Pteromys
    Commented Feb 10, 2022 at 17:19
  • 4
    I would say the last one is certainly し. She puts too much breath on it. As for Utada, that’s how she sings. She sings, and speaks, in a very breathy fashion. Compared to those, the first one is clearly じ to a native ear.
    – aguijonazo
    Commented Mar 10, 2022 at 4:51

2 Answers 2


Your ears are picking up on a difference, but strictly speaking it is less about the degree of voicing and more about the degree of sibilance.

I found another sample of a more run-of-the-mill ふみにじった and have created a audio file comparing it with your sample:

Comparison Audio

Using this audio, I generated a spectrogram with Audacity and manually labeled it here:

Spectrogram comparing two samples showing that the questioner's sample has more sibilance on the し

From this we can see that your sample is indeed different, in that it has much louder sibilance: the higher frequencies normally associated with し, generated by air moving quickly between a tight passage between your tongue and roof of your mouth.

But, it has nearly equivalent amounts of voicing: the lower frequencies generated from your vocal chords vibrating.

(One note is that the voicing in yours does seem to end a tiny bit earlier in preparation for the っ, which also likely contributes to what you are hearing.)

Either way, the presence of voicing throughout the majority of the consonant is enough for it to sound like じ as opposed to し to a native speaker in this context.

  • 3
    Very interesting! It would be nice to also see how シ would look like in the spectrogram. I am also wondering whether this kind of subtle differences could be created/exaggerated due to the recording itself (microphone, postprocessing, etc...)
    – a20
    Commented Feb 10, 2022 at 17:28
  • 3
    Very helpful answer! I wonder if you could also add spectrograms for し for comparison, preferably one that slightly sounds like じ, just to show what it looks like with an unvoiced consonant. To be honest I am also struggling a bit with the voiced alveolo-palatal fricative. I am much more comfortable with the affricate. The only other language that I have some knowledge of in which the voiced alveolo-palatal fricative occurs is Korean, but I don't think I've had trouble making it out in Korean words.
    – Eddie Kal
    Commented Feb 10, 2022 at 17:32
  • 3
    @a20 Woah, I was composing a comment saying the same thing... jinx
    – Eddie Kal
    Commented Feb 10, 2022 at 17:33

I'm a native Japanese speaker, and it sounds like じ to me. It does sound slightly "weaker" or "less explosive" than the first じ (in 人生) if I listen to them carefully, but the second じ (in 踏みにじった) is voiced enough.

If you heard a clear difference, it may be because じ is pronounced differently depending on its position in a word (i.e., allophone). じ is typically pronounced as [d͡ʑi] at the beginning of a word, and [ʑi] in the middle of a word. As a native Japanese speaker, [d͡ʑi] and [ʑi] sound almost identical to me, but these sound clearly different from unvoiced し ([ɕi]).

Related (the last one is your question):

  • Does this distinction in how ジ is pronounced have some regional variation? To me, they sound completely different (although still distinct from シ) and I often hear it in movies, on TV, in music. However, I cannot recall having heard it in real life in Fukuoka, which is where I spent most of my time in Japan. There it seems everyone says it like in 人生 regardless of it's position in words (or at least, the distinction is small enough that I do not notice it). From wiki I found this: "京阪の発音では文頭が/zi/で文中は/zi/か/ʣi/。" ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E3%81%98
    – a20
    Commented Feb 10, 2022 at 9:07
  • @a20 My ears simply cannot tell the difference. I'm sure you know more about this than me :)
    – naruto
    Commented Feb 10, 2022 at 9:48

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