Thursday, 28 April 2011

netsuke

Harry Campbell asked
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/ [] 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.
_ _ _

More public holidays. Next posting: 3 May

18 comments:

  1. I am a Japanese.
    1.
    "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."
    I agree to the description above.

    2.
    "But in the simple question kore wa desu ka ‘what’s this?’ the last two words are typically pronounced not desɯ̥ka but (to my ear at least) just deska."
    Here, "nan" is missing in "kore wa nan desu ka."
    As for the actual pronunciation, I also agree to your description. "deska" will be used in the ordinary speed by NHK announcers.

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  2. Thanks, tadmrt. On your second point, I think you must have accessed my posting while it was still not finished, before I had entered the "nan". Is it OK now?
    One of the oddities of Blogger is that the timestamp on a posting shows when I start entering stuff, not when I finish it.

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  3. Masaki Taniguchi has kindly reminded me of the minimal pair I alluded to: kishi (shore) vs. kushi (comb).

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  4. "One of the oddities of Blogger is that the timestamp on a posting shows when I start entering stuff, not when I finish it."
    Now, I know I was responding before you finished it.
    Well, this is a piece of information not on phonetics but on netsuke or Japanese culture.
    You see, the British Museum has a wonderful corner of Japanese art where I saw real shocking ukiyoe printings which you can never see in Japan. I do not say what kind. (Last
    month I happened to see it. So, I am not sure whether they are still displayed there or not.)

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  5. Here in Massachusetts, I'm familiar with Daisuke Matsuzaka, a pitcher for the Boston Red Sox. Everyone here pronounces his name /ˈdaɪskeɪ/. Some people even managed to make a play on words by spelling his name "Dice-K", indicating that he throws strikes ("K" being baseball notation for a strike).

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  6. mallamb asks me to post this on his behalf:
    High vowels in Jp are normally elided between voiceless consonants.
    And even finally after one voiceless consonant.
    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
    And finally too they may still leave a trace in the form of a secondary articulation on the preceding consonant.

    There’s an especially nice minimal pair illustrating this too, again with /k/, involving the English loanword 'strike', which is disambiguated as
    • stoˈraikʲ as in 'general strike' (to use your LPD conventions, zeˌnesto or zeˈnesto, an abbreviation of the portmanteau word zeˌnerarustoˈraikʲ, with zene for general as in zeˌnekon for 'general contractor' and sˌto or sˈto for strike, which is a free form meaning the same as stoˈraikʲ – Wonderful, isn't it?)
    • stoˈraik(sup)ɯ(/sup) as in baseball or tenpin bowling.

    As you know, this applies to all the voiceless consonants involved, like the s in stoˈraikʲ, sˌto, sˈto, stoˈraik(sup)ɯ(/sup) above, which really doesn’t merit the superscript, let alone a devoiced vowel, in standard Japanese. A minimal pair for that is sˈki (Rom. suki), liking, love, spade (as allegedly in sukiyaki) ~ ɕˈki (Rom. siki etc), ceremony, conductor, the four seasons etc, all depending on the kanji.

    What a coincidence that Lazar mentions "Dice-K" for Daisuke with this elision, indicating that he throws strikes, and that this crucial K is baseball notation for a strike. I hope he or someone else steeped in this culture can explain why!

    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
    Hazardous, considering that antiques experts say prɒvəˈnɒŋks for ˈprɒvɪnəns, but you do give the desirable ˈnetskeɪ second, and you are so right to leave out the ʊ, and to deny all knowledge of the neˈtsuːki etc that antiques experts are also perfectly capable of saying.

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  7. My apologies, I misspoke (wrote?). "K" isn't actually an abbreviation for a strike, but rather for a strikeout (which would typically involve three strikes). I'm not sure of its origin, but perhaps Wiki could shed some light ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strikeout#Rules ).

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  8. I'm afraid I miswrote too, Lazar. I don't deserve John's heroic editing. Blogspot won't accept sup tags in comments, and I guess he can't override that, but when I put them into round brackets instead of chevrons, which at least makes clear what is intended, and it still wouldn't accept the post, I tried all sorts of rejiggings, which may or may not entitle me to a fool's pardon for the following garbles:

    …"an abbreviation of the portmanteau word z…" should read "a portmanteau word abbreviated from the loan compound z…"

    …"which really doesn’t merit the superscript, let alone a devoiced vowel, in standard Japanese" makes kᵚ (eureka!) look like the antecedent of the "which". I intended the s to be, and should have written "This s really doesn’t merit the superscript, let alone a devoiced vowel, in standard Japanese."

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  9. When a Japanese word with a final "e" gets into English, it seems to be pronounced as "ei"or "i",
    e.g., sake(=rice wine), Kobe beef, Dais-K, because English has no word ending with a final "e".
    On the other hand, in the NHK-type Japanese, "keikoutou"(=fluorescent light)if written in the Japanese hirakana or katakana is actually pronounced "keekootoo"[ke:ko:to:](in the long vowels) So, the Japanized English words such as
    date, cake, safe are all pronounced with long [e:] in the common Japanese. (In the western Kyushu Island, the older people used to use [ei]. But in my observation, the younger people seem to use [ei] less and less.)
    (I did not use the phonetic fonts here.Sorry.)

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  10. But there are still possible pairs like meˈirɯ (be depressed) ~ ˈmeːrɯ (email) , ˈdeiri (goings and comings) ~ ˈdeːri(ː) (a daily), aren't there? And marginally ˈkarei (plaice) ~ kaˌreː (curry). And you can still get ei in the conjugation of verbs in –ku and –gu: ˈseita (blocked, hurried, coughed) ~ ˈseːta(ː) (sweater) and ɸᵚˈseida (fended off) ~ ɸᵚˌseːda (it's unjust, irregular etc).

    And even in Kyushu, older people didn't use [ei] for [eː] in borrowings like you quote, did they? Or anyone anywhere in native Japanese words like oˈneːsan (elder sister)?

    As you say, English (in its RP incarnation) has no native words ending with final [e], but it does have foreign borrowings like 'café' with é for this final /eɪ/, and you see this used for Japanese borrowings too: saké, karaoké etc, to mark them for this pronunciation.

    Thus OED has 'netsuké' under 'netsuke', and actually has the spelling 'saké' as the entry heading.

    BTW when I was commenting on John's reference to a secondary articulation on the preceding consonant where an i or an ɯ is devoiced/elided, I said above of elision after s, "This s really doesn’t merit the superscript, let alone a devoiced vowel, in standard Japanese." I adduced the minimal pair sˈki ~ ɕˈki, with elision of ɯ and i respectively. It would have been worth pointing out that the same applies to /t/, since it has the allophone [ts] before ɯ and [tɕ] before i. A minimal pair for that is

    tsˈki (Rom. tuki etc), (moon) ~ tɕˈki (Rom. tiki etc), acquaintance etc.

    And these voiceless consonants can do this before geminates too:

    tsˌtta (hooked, caught, hung etc) ~ tɕˌtta (scattered)

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  11. I wasn't practising what I preached about the superscript, was I? I could have written "ɸˈseida (fended off) ~ ɸˌseːda (it's unjust, irregular etc)" without the superscript ɯ for this allophone of /h/. The corresponding allophone before i is [ç]. Minimal pairs for these are

    ɸˈkɯ (to blow etc) ~ çˌkɯ (to pull etc)
    ɸˌkki (recovery, restoration etc) ~ çˌkki (notes)

    These are true minimal pairs in spite of the different accent marking. In standard Japanese there is no difference in pitch accent in these pairs in isolation. What is being marked is contextually determined lexico-morphophonological variance.

    I'm not used to using these LPD conventions, and have now spotted another "miswrite": sˌto or sˈto for strike, which should be ˈsto or sˈto. This looks like a reductio ad absurdum, and right enough in standard Japanese both finish up as /sto. But NHK announcers (and phoneticians) know the difference, and are quite capable of making it.

    Do you agree that it's not a functioning distinction in such cases in standard Japanese, tadmrt?

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  12. I wrote a long comment and tried to post it, but it faded out!! Now, no enegy left to write the long one. I now go to bed!

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  13. tadmrt, if you haven’t been following this blog for long I had better warn you that comments often suffer that fate on it. You can see evidence of my own tribulations in my above attempts to post. Most of us keep copies and try again. I hope you do.

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  14. mallamb, thanks for the advice. I should not directly write a comment here. I would like to come back when I have enough energy.

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  15. “mallamb said...
    But there are still possible pairs like meˈirɯ (be depressed) ~ ˈmeːrɯ (email) , ˈdeiri (goings and comings) ~ ˈdeːri(ː) (a daily), aren't there? And marginally ˈkarei (plaice) ~ kaˌreː (curry). And you can still get ei in the conjugation of verbs in –ku and –gu: ˈseita (blocked, hurried, coughed) ~ ˈseːta(ː) (sweater) and ɸᵚˈseida (fended off) ~ ɸᵚˌseːda (it's unjust, irregular etc).“

    The examples, meˈirɯ (be depressed) and ˈdeiri (goings and comings), do not belong
    to the “e” elongation group, because if you write them in kanjis(Chinese characters),
    me and iru, de and iri are written separately and not morphologically simple.(Please have a look at the explanations in the three published Japanese accent dictionaries.)

    But ˈkarei (plaice) is written in one character and it could be a nice counterexample. However, the descriptions in the three accent dictionaries are not the same constant one. So, I guess there could be some unstable expressions, for which if you could find any characterization separating them from the more constant “e” elongated examples, I would be happier.(I am not sure whether any one already analyzed them and presented beautiful answers or not. If anyone are well-informed on this, please take this over.)

    By the way, I have never heard ˈseita (blocked, hurried, coughed). Is it dialectal or archaic?

    As for the devoicing of high vowels[i,u], I would rather refrain from expressing my opinion here, because there have been a lot of discussions in the past.

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  16. tadmrt said...
    The examples, meˈirɯ (be depressed) and ˈdeiri (goings and comings), do not belong to the “e” elongation group, because if you write them in kanjis(Chinese characters), me and iru, de and iri are written separately and not morphologically simple.

    Indeed they do not belong to the “e” elongation group, because they have /ei/ [ei] instead of /ee/ [eː]. And of course if you write them in kanji me and iru, de and iri are written separately (though saying that might give the impression that spacing is used between morphological elements in Japanese, which of course it isn’t, or even between words). And they are of course morphological compounds, though the first elements are in fact morphologically simple.

    But the fact that they have /ei/ [ei] instead of /ee/ [eː] is a purely phonological matter, and there are no juncture phenomena, any more than there are in ˈseita and ɸˈseida, which are of course also morphologically complex, and in cases like those you would have to say that the /ei/ is an integral part of an allomorph of a single root morpheme. Orthography, especially the vagaries of kanji, is supposed to be out of the reckoning in phonology.

    I did say ˈkarei (plaice) is marginal, precisely because it is monomorphemic, and not even guaranteed to be pronounced with [ei]. And with kanji, even a monomorphemic word is not guaranteed to be written with one character! I suspect neither of us feels equal to the task of finding a characterization separating them from the more constant “e” elongated examples.

    As for beautiful answers, are you going by Einstein's alleged criterion that "this cannot be true, as it is not beautiful"? The opposition /ee/ ~ /ei/ is no more unbeautiful or much more marginal than the opposition /oo/ ~ /ou in ˈsoː (so, thus) ~ ˈsou (accompany, run parallel) (or soˌo ~ soˌu) etc.

    By the way, I have never heard ˈseita (blocked, hurried, coughed). Is it dialectal or archaic?

    Well‎‎ I think咳いた for "coughed" is a bit dialectal as opposed to 咳きが出た etc., though you do hear it with a standard accent, but is something like ダムなどで水の流れを塞いた/堰いた or 気が急いた so unthinkable for the other two? I admit I thought I would have been safer with急いて as in 気が急いて, but I was trying to find a minimal pair, however unconvincing –requiring an Edokko shortening of the final vowel in セーター, for a start, and 制定 did not recommend itself as a likely candidate for that shortening!

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