Last night’s antihypnagogic moment again involved BBC R4’s Book of the Week, currently Chasing the Sun by Richard Cohen, read by Allan Corduner. It involved an account of climbing Mount Fuji to see the dawn from the summit on the longest day of the year.
At one point the narrator passed through what he called a ˈtɔːriaɪ.
The intended word was undoubtedly torii, meaning the gateway at the entrance to a Shinto shrine. But why would the narrator think that this Japanese word ought to be pronounced as if it were a Latin second-declension nominative plural, like radii?
In Japanese torii is written 鳥居 (or in hiragana とりい) and pronounced toˌɾii. (The secondary stress mark shows that this is an ‘accentless’ word, characterized when said in isolation therefore by a non-distinctive step-up of pitch on the ɾi.) In LPD I give the usual anglicization, which is ˈtɔːriiː, though arguably ˈtɒriː would be a more consistent reflection of the Japanese pronunciation.
Mind you, if England had been in regular contact with Japan since the middle ages, and if English had borrowed the word torii seven or eight hundred years ago, I can see that we might well now pronounce it ˈtɔːriaɪ. But that’s not what happened.
There is a phonemic length distinction in Japanese vowels, short vs. long. Most are short, but the second vowel in torii is long, as shown by the romanization with ii.
In the usual Hepburn romanization of Japanese, while the long versions of a e o u are written ā ē ō ū, the long i is written ii rather than the logical ī. The reason for this is not clear to me. (In practice, the macron is often omitted anyhow, so that Tōkyō comes out as Tokyo, etc. Also, some people use oh for ō when romanizing their names.)
The Japanese pitch accent is something that characterizes the mora rather than the syllable. Arguably, therefore, the ‘long’ vowels are better analysed as bimoraic rather than as long, because there might be an accent on the first part, or on the second part, or on neither. This is reflected in the kana syllabaries, where they are written as a sequence of two characters. So there are three characters in とりい to-ri-i. In IPA we write ii ee aa oo uu.
A nice minimal pair for monomoraic i vs. bimoraic ii is oˌdʑisaɴ ojisan ‘uncle’ vs. oˈdʑiisaɴ ojiisan ‘grandfather’. (Because of the accent difference, it’s actually only a near-minimal pair, in Tokyo pronunciation at least.)