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moaning about my Japanese textbook - helen-louise
moaning about my Japanese textbook
I would like someone to translate my Japanese book into English, please.

From "Let's Learn Hiragana" by Yasuko Kosaka Mitamura, p32: "The pronunciation of the Japanese [r] deserves careful attention because it produces a sound not found in English. It might be considered a cross between [r] and [l]. This sound is articulated by saying [r] while lightly touching the ridge behind the upper teeth once with the tip of the tongue, producing a flap [r]. This constrasts with curling the tip of the tongue back to produce the retroflex English [r]."

Er. WTF? I already knew that the Japanese (and Korean) "r" is somewhere between English "r" and "l", but I can't make any sense out of the last two sentences in that paragraph at all. I don't think it would have killed them to have simply included some photographs or diagrams here :/

The book is also going on about unvoiced, voiced and semivoiced consonants. Now, I get that the unvoiced consonants are the regular hiragana, the voiced ones have a " after which changes the meaning (e.g. hi --> bi), and the semivoiced have a circle after (hi --> pi) - but I have no idea why they're called "unvoiced", "voiced" or "semivoiced"! It's just assumed that you understand those terms - which would be great, if this wasn't a teach yourself Japanese-type book. And I have a feeling even were I to look up all the terms in Wikipedia or wherever, I still wouldn't understand, as I understand all the words in "saying [r] while lightly touching the ridge behind the upper teeth once with the tip of the tongue", but still have no actual clue what it means.

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annaoj From: annaoj Date: 19th February 2007 21:13 (UTC) (Link)
Huh. It looks like that book was written by a linguist, who assumed that the readers would have a certain amount of familiarity both with articulatory descriptions (the [r]-[l] paragraph) and descriptions of glottal voicing characteristics (voiced, unvoiced, semivoiced). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Articulatory_phonetics might have some helpful subpages, such as retroflex (which has an illustration) and flaps/tap. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phonation has some information about voicing.
baratron From: baratron Date: 20th February 2007 17:06 (UTC) (Link)
Yep! Just a page later in the book he started going on about euphonic changes. It's doing my head in, because a book called "Let's Learn Hiragana (a self-study guide)" should, imo, involve a slightly different level of assumed knowledge than "Teach Yourself Hiragana (for professional linguists)". It's making me feel like an idiot because I don't know this stuff.

I looked at Wikipedia but could make little sense out of it. I know from looking at science stuff there that Wikipedia in general tends to assume that you already have a fair bit of knowledge on the subject - it's not a good place to get a beginner's overview. Doesn't help that the first page you linked to has been very poorly edited. Currently, it says:

In order to understand how sounds are made, experimental procedures are often adopted. For example, investigators measure how the tongue makes contact with the roof of the mouth in normal speech production by using a technique called electropalatography (or EPG). In order to collect EPG data, the speaker is fitted with a special prosthetic palate, which contains a number of electrodes. The way in which the electrodes are "contacted" by the tongue during speech provides phoneticians important information, such as how much of the palate is contacted in different speech sounds, or which regions of the palate are contacted, or what the duration of the contact is.

An interesting example of this is Japanese. It is derived from several different languages, however it did at one point in time have its own group of phonetics. “Hiragana” and “Katakana” being the original characters – then later the Chinese language and its “Kanji”(a type of writing system originally based off of visual pictures and objects). The influence of kanji is obvious in some cases - a good example being the symbol for "tree" which looks a miniature tree. “Forest” looks a lot like “Tree” in that it is 3 “trees” grouped together.

I am, uh, not actually convinced that hiragana and katakana have much to do with electropalatography :/
trinker From: trinker Date: 20th February 2007 21:58 (UTC) (Link)

If that's what the wikipedia article says about hiragana and katakana, I may just have to go rattle some trees and learn to edit their pages, because this is patent *nonsense*. Hiragana and katakana are derived from kanji.
From: hattifattener Date: 19th February 2007 21:18 (UTC) (Link)
When you say [r] in English, the root of your tongue is lifted a bit, but the tip is curled back down behind your bottom front teeth. When you pronounce [l], the tip of your tongue is at the top of your mouth. Try saying "lurl lurl lurl" to yourself and pay attention to how you move your tongue. The tip moves one way, the base moves another way. I don't know Japanese, but I think what you want to do is say [r] while holding the tip of your tongue more like you would for [l].

The distinction between voiced and unvoiced sounds is the distinction between the "th" in "this" vs. the "th" in "thin". Or "z" vs. "s", or "g" vs. "k", or "b" vs. "p". For a voiced sound, you're using the muscles in your throat to produce an actual tone, which is shaped by your mouth and lips into the sound you're making. For an unvoiced sound, you're not making a sound in your throat, you're just shaping the hiss of flowing air.
baratron From: baratron Date: 20th February 2007 16:46 (UTC) (Link)
Try saying "lurl lurl lurl" to yourself and pay attention to how you move your tongue. The tip moves one way, the base moves another way.

Ah. Well. Um. That's part of my problem. The base of my tongue doesn't move at all when I say that. The tip flicks forward to touch my front teeth during the l part of lurl and goes backwards a bit (like, maybe 1cm) during the r. At no time does it go anywhere near my bottom teeth.

This is probably why I can't say words like the place where beer is made or the noise a lion makes. (Richard finds my pronunciation of "brewery" absolutely adorable, but I will avoid saying the word to anyone else.)
From: hattifattener Date: 20th February 2007 18:27 (UTC) (Link)
Hm. Yeah. I can see how that makes it hard to follow the usual description. Unfortunately it's been a while since I saw you in person and I can't remember your accent in much detail. Otherwise I'm sure I could come up with some additional well-meaning but useless advice.

Maybe you should start by figuring out how to produce other peoples' [r] sound and then you can interpolate the Japanese sound from there. :) Or maybe you could try to put together a homebrew electropalatography setup? That sounds like a fun project... well, except for the bit with the electrodes in your mouth ... which is pretty much the whole project ... okay, never mind.
the_maenad From: the_maenad Date: 19th February 2007 22:20 (UTC) (Link)
I refer you to Jerome K. Jerome's "Three Men on the Bummel", chapter 12:

I also think pronunciation of a foreign tongue could be better
taught than by demanding from the pupil those internal acrobatic
feats that are generally impossible and always useless. This is
the sort of instruction one receives:

"Press your tonsils against the underside of your larynx. Then
with the convex part of the septum curved upwards so as almost--but
not quite--to touch the uvula, try with the tip of your tongue to
reach your thyroid. Take a deep breath, and compress your glottis.
Now, without opening your lips, say 'Garoo.'"

And when you have done it they are not satisfied.
meirion From: meirion Date: 20th February 2007 08:54 (UTC) (Link)
it makes perfect sense to me, but i'm afraid i can't think of any way to make it clearer :-/ what specifically doesn't make sense? "the ridge"? (if so feel for the ribbed bit of your palate just behind your upper front teeth).

baratron From: baratron Date: 20th February 2007 16:53 (UTC) (Link)
I have a fat, flabby tongue that doesn't move that way. The only difference between my "rur" and "lur" sounds is whether my tongue is touching my teeth or not. If I try to say "rur" with my tongue touching my teeth, it either comes out identical to "lur" or a meaningless rler sound that bears no relation to any language I'm familiar with.

I'm wondering whether my usual "rur" pronounced almost as "wuh" is good enough for this r/l hybrid, because it's pretty much the only r sound I can make.
trinker From: trinker Date: 20th February 2007 22:05 (UTC) (Link)
Probably not.

In English, most of the sounds that involve "r" don't rhyme with words that involve "w". In Japanese, they certainly do. You're better off using an 'l'.
trinker From: trinker Date: 20th February 2007 22:03 (UTC) (Link)
I'm sorry I'm nowhere in reasonable distance from you to help you with this, as it's one of my favorite parts of tutoring Japanese.

btw, the "semi-voiced" thing annoys me. As far as I remember, those are actually plosives, not "semi-voiced". (Googlesearch seems to verify that this is a silly Japanese concept, and not proper linguistic theory.)

The Korean 'r' is *not* the Japanese 'r'. And the Japanese 'r' moves around in the mouth. It's not held, it's very fast, just a tap that moves from front to back (or back to front) while holding the tongue mostly flat, touching the ridge of the palate with a point about 1 cm or so behind the tip of the tongue.
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