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I was watching some anime today, and I heard "y" sounds in places I didn't expect.

Here's a sound clip (MP3) and my transcription:

私の世界へようこそ。 今やこの世界をコントロールできる唯一の人間だ。

There are two "y" sounds I didn't expect. I'm not sure whether they're related.

  1. 世界へ sounds like "sekai ye" rather than "sekai e".
  2. 世界を sounds like "sekai yo" rather than "sekai (w)o".

Can anyone explain these "y" sounds to me? Are they standard? Common?

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In cases 1 and 2, you have two vowels in succession: /ie/ and /io/.

Assuming that

  1. Your articulatory organs cannot jump from one discrete state to another.
  2. You do not generally stop/weaken your breath between words/morae (of course once in a while you have to stop to breathe in)

you will hear the mouth/tongue moving from i->e and i->o, which is what makes it sound like "ye" and "yo".

For the same reason, I would say that you can't really tell if it's おみやげ or おみあげ, unless you know, or you ask somebody to articulate clearly, thereby probably breaking assumption 2 above.

  • Accurate answer, but it could be made easier to understand. I think the problem simply comes from the fact that an English speaker would expect to find a glottal stop before a word starting with e and o (which, phonetically, is not wo, but o), but since there is no glottal stop in Japanese, and since particles effectively form part of the word they are attached to, this run-in of sounds confused him. – alexandrec Nov 21 '12 at 17:21
  • @alexandrec: To be honest, I find your answer harder to understand - not least because I wouldn't expect to find a glottal stop before words starting with e and o in English. I'm not sure I know of a dialect that reliably does that, and it mostly comes down to how careful the speaker is. – Billy Nov 21 '12 at 20:05
  • @alexandrec, glottal stop does occur in Japanese (see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_phonology#Glottal_stop_insertion) but as you wrote, (usually) not between particles and what they attach to. – dainichi Nov 22 '12 at 0:09
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As it turns out 今や is actually a set phrase and can mean "presently, currently." As opposed to 今, I believe it is used more for past contrast.

For the "y" sounds you hear during dialogue, I'd like to believe it's more of a case of individual distinction in how they speak or possibly a case of slurring(?).

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