A rather trivial question perhaps, but why is netsuke conventionally pronounced "netski"? Amittedly LPD allows a three-syllable variant, but I can't see why a vowel that is present in Japanese should be completely elided (even in careful speech) in English.
If you’re not sure what a netsuke (根付) is, there’s a helpful Wikipedia article here.
The LPD entry for netsuke reads
ˈnet ski -skeɪ; ˈnets ʊk i, -eɪ — Jp [ne ˌtsɯ̥ ke]My decision to prioritize ˈnet ski was based on what I have heard antiques experts say on television. I see that CEPD prioritizes the -skeɪ variant, but its authors and I agree that the most common pronunciation in English has only two syllables. So why? I told Harry
The vowel is not "present" in the phonetic sense in Japanese, even though it may be there phonologically. High vowels in Jp are normally elided between voiceless consonants.His reaction was
So this would be a case of the English spelling being a transcription of the Japanese orthography/phonology while the pronunciation reflects a surprisingly sophisticated awareness of the pronunciation (though the elision isn't mentioned in LPD's transcription of the Japanese)? -- a situation which strikes me as unusual. After all we don't write "a certain je ne sais quoi" but make a point of saying "je n' sais quoi". (Not a great example perhaps but you see what I mean.)
I wonder if the snobbery surrounding antiques helps to enforce this counter-intuitive pronunciation as a shibboleth, as with aristocratic names like Cholmondeley and Althorp and so on? I just find it odd.
It’s not clear how we should best transcribe these Japanese vowels. Which is best, ne ˌtsɯ ke, ne ˌtsɯ̥ ke, or ne ts ke? There’s a certain amount of regional and gender variation, but as I understand it the first represents a theoretical pronunciation that you might get if you asked a Japanese speaker to say the word very slowly and carefully, indicating the identity of each mora in turn. The second is still slow and careful. The third is the ordinary pronunciation.
Where an i or an ɯ is devoiced/elided in this way it may still leave a trace in the form of a secondary articulation on the preceding consonant, making /ki/ [kʲ] and /ku/ [kɯ]. There’s a nice minimal pair illustrating this point, but I can’t remember what it is — no doubt someone will tell us.
This Wikipedia account describes the devoicing, but does not allow for complete elision.
But in the simple question これはなんですか kore wa nan desu ka ‘what’s this?’ the last two words are typically pronounced not desɯka, not desɯ̥ka, but (to my ear at least) just deska.
Anyhow, Harry, the antiques dealers have clearly based their English pronunciation on the Japanese spoken form, not on the written romaji.
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