Tuesday 11 September 2012

1902 ʒapɔnɛ

Having dug out the 1902 volume of Le Maître Phonétique for yesterday’s blog, I was glancing through it when I came across the following phonetic specimen of Japanese, which I thought might be of interest to those of my readers who know or speak that language.

Strangely, the introduction to the specimen is written in phonetically transcribed French, but the notes accompanying the transcribed passage are in phonetically transcribed English.

I hope I am not insulting everyone’s intelligence if I translate the introduction into English for you. It reads as follows.

The following text comprises part of the materials collected by our colleague E. R. Edwards, which he is using in the preparation of his great and impatiently awaited work, A Study of Spoken Japanese. It was written from the dictation of another of our colleagues, Dr Yasugi [jɑsɯŋi]. who is at the moment in Russia, and whom we had the pleasure of seeing in the m.f. office three months ago. This is probably the first time that a reasonably lengthy Japanese text has been published in a form accessible to Europeans.

Here is a larger version of the actual specimen. Click to enlarge further.

I am in no position to comment on the text itself nor on the accompanying notes, though I did notice a few points.

  • In the first line, I believe that the ŋ in o-musùmeŋo would probably be g in today’s Japanese, and similarly in seŋɑre in the third line.
  • I suspect that wɑtɑkʃì in line 3 and again in line 7 ought to be wɑtɑʃi, with no k.
  • Is the square-bracket-like mark in line 1 and again in line 4 intended? (If it was meant as a pitch-accent mark, that was not a sign approved by the IPA at that time, and is not explained in the notes.)

In connection with fuːfu (line 3) a note overleaf reads

(f) in dʒæpənijz iz ə vərɑiəti əv bɑileibiəl frikətiv; it iz prədjuwst bɑi drɑiviŋ ði ɛːə əɡeinst ðə tijθ ən bouθ lips witʃ ə niəli bʌt nɔt kwɑit klouzd ənd ə slɑitli drɔːn ɑut ət ðə kɔːnəˑz. it iz, striktli spijkiŋ, ə lip-ən-tijθ-mɔdifɑid (h).

Nowadays we might write it narrowly as [ɸ], or phonemically as /h/.


  1. I think watakushi is an alternative form of watashi so the k could be there.

    1. Thanks -- but anonymous or pseudonymous comments on this blog are no longer allowed, and may be deleted.

    2. Sorry, my fault.
      - Promise L Chin

  2. wɑtɑkʃì is fine as it is. It is the most formal form of the word referring to oneself. Here phonological /u/ is devoiced and dropped after k. The form without k is a less formal form which is probably most widely used. Other forms: ɑtɑkʃì, ɑtɑʃì, ɑtɑì, wɑʃì, wɑì; all obtained by dropping sounds from the most formal form.

  3. I also noticed that the commas below i and u should mean devoicing (did it do so at the time?).

    I wonder what is meant by the small circle in ŋ̊. It seems to be an ad hoc way to represent moraic nasal. In line 6, ɡomeŋ̊ should be ɡomeẽ (because it is prevocalic) and in the very last, ŋ̊ should be ɴ.

    It is true that ŋ is becoming less common in Japanese, but it is far from being obsolete. And in the same phonetic context, ɣ may be more often used than ɡ.

    And the square-bracket-like symbol you mention cannot mean pitch accent. There would be many other places where it should be inserted if it did. Grave accents above some of the i's and u's again cannot mean anything, for the same reason.

  4. What struck me particularly about the English was the word “often”, which looked like a transcription of “orphan” to me. It reminded me of an old recording of the Queen’s I had heard once; I suspect that this pronunciation is also rare nowadays.

    1. From The Pirates of Penzance:

      Major-General: I ask you, have you ever known what it is to be an orphan?
      Pirate King: Often!
      Major-General: Yes, orphan. Have you ever known what it is to be one?
      fʊl neɪm ɒn prəʊfaɪl

  5. In your translation of the French intro, you quote the transcription of "Yasugi" as "[jɑsɯŋi]"; but the text actually says "[jɑsuŋi]".

  6. aɪ doʊnt spik dʒæpəˈniz, bət maɪ ˈpɛrənts lɪvd ɪn dʒəˈpæn – ɪn ˈsɛndaɪ – fɚ ˈsɛvrəl jɪrz ɪn ði ˈɜ˞li ˈfɪftiz. maɪ ˈfɑðɚ toʊld mi ðæt ˈjuzɪŋ [ŋ] nɑnɪˈnɪʃəli wəz ə kɛrəktəˈrɪstɪk əv ˈsɛndaɪ ˈdaɪəlɛkt, hwaɪl ˈtoʊkioʊ ˈdaɪəlɛkt juzd [ɡ]. bət ðæt wəz ˈsɪksti jɪrz əɡoʊ naʊ; ˈmeɪbi ˈivən ˈsɛndaɪ ˈdaɪlɛkt həz ɡɔn ˈoʊvɚ tu [ɡ] (ɔr [ɣ] æz ˌtɑkəˈhikoʊ sɛd) baɪ naʊ.

    1. Thank you for highlighting the point about fu:fu. This "variety of bi-labial fricative" is often transferred into English, for the /f/ phoneme, by Japanese NNSpeakers. It often sounds to me as if they are "blowing" the consonant rather than using a labio-dental method of articulation.

  7. We all wanna know how to write a reflection paper. I found this https://samedaypaper.org/blog/reflection-paper guide!

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