desu or des

Don’t you think that human beings are fundamentally the same whenever and wherever we were born? Take food, for example. Everywhere carbohydrates such as rice, bread or pasta are staple foods and people drink alcoholic beverages such as sake, wine or whisky. Raw materials are different depending on what you can produce there, but this has been continuing since ancient times.

When it comes to languages, it is possible to translate most words or sentences to every language. I can say that all human beings want to express almost the same thing, can’t I? We speak about the same things in different languages just as we make similar things from different ingredients and consume them. It is simply that different languages have different pronunciations as well as letters.

I think Japanese phonemes written with 46 hiragana are relatively simple. They are sometimes written in the roman alphabet in the textbook to help non-Japanese read them. However, actually I often see this confuses my students. This way of writing Japanese words in the alphabet started when James Curtis Hepburn made a Japanese-English dictionary in 1867. He used this way called “Hepburn Romanization” for Japanese words in this dictionary.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romanization_of_Japanese
There is another type of Romanization which the Japanese government established based on Hepburn Romanization.

I can roughly say 90% of students ask me one question at the first lesson.

です is not “desu”. You pronounce it as “des”, don’t you? Why do you write “desu”?
The answer is that both “desu” and “des” are ですin hiragana.
And, according to the above-mentioned Hepburn Romanization, is “su”. Therefore, you see “sushi” or “desu” in Japanese textbooks. Indeed, for “sushi” pronounced by non-Japanese and for” desu” are different phonemes, but the textbooks don’t take it into consideration. The writing style which Japanese are familiar with is more important than the phonetic way in which non-Japanese pronounce easily.
Moreover, most Japanese may not realize that for “sushi” andfor” des” have  a different sound.

It may be better to know that “Japanese are insensitive to pronunciations”.
In English you pronounce “a” in various ways. For example,

l  Apple [æpl]
l  Art [a:rt]
l  Apartment [əpa:rtmənt]
l  April [eipril]

But, has only one pronunciation. Almost all the hiragana have only one sound (*1), so it is difficult for Japanese to recognize that “a” has several phonemes. Even when we understand this, it is also hard for us to distinguish different phonemes or pronounce them. I think this is one of the reasons why Japanese are not good at pronouncing foreign languages.

I often see Non-Japanese, who are more sensitive to pronunciations than Japanese, write Japanese words with the roman alphabet in their own way. They try to write them as close as possible to what they hear. Even so, I think that is fine when considering   pronunciation. In textbooks Japanese phonemes are written in alphabets only for people who don’t know Japanese at all, and they sound similar, but, are not completely the same. Therefore, you need to listen to Japanese carefully and acquire the pronunciation.

But, it is maybe better to write in hiragana or alphabets with Hepburn Romanization when you learn how to conjugate verbs and adjectives.

Alphabetic writings such as Hepburn Romanization are used for our passport names, station names, or street signs. And they are used when we type in Japanese on a computer. We type “ni ho n” for 「にほん(日本)」, “to u kyo u” for 「とうきょう(東京)」.

*1)I row (I, ki, shi, chi) and U row (u, ku, su, tsu) :  The vowels are sometimes weaker when they are paired with K (ka, ki, ku, ke ko), S, T, H or P.

l  すき (like): suki ski
l  ふかい (deep): fukai fkai
l  あさくさ (Asakusa): asakusa asaksa

The vowels that follow K, S, T, H or P are weaker when they are at the end of the words.

l  ~ます (the end part of a verb in distal style): masu mas
l  かく (write): kaku kak
l  まつ (wait): matsu mats

When “u” is placed after O, “u” is pronounced as “o”. Long “o”.

l  とうきょう(Tokyo): toukyou tokyo
l  おとうさん(father): otousan otosan

When “I” is placed after E, “i” is pronounced as “e”. Long “e”.

l  えいが(movie): eiga ega
l  けいたい(mobile phone): keitai ketai

16 件のコメント:

  1. Wow! I was just googling "desu or des", and then I've found this post! :3

    it is really helpful, and sure I'm going to read all the posts :D

    And oh by the way I've just finished beginners level in learning Japanese!

    & Arigatou Minako Okamoto sensei.

  2. Minako Okamoto2011年6月29日 8:05

    Jio san, konnichiwa. comment arigato.
    Are you studying Japanese in England? There are many learning tools even though you are not in Japan. Good luck & gambatte!
    If you have questions, please ask me in this blog.

  3. Minaki Okamoto Sensei,

    I've just found your article on the net by chance, and it really helped me a lot in understanding some important aspects of Japanese pronunciation. It really helped me a lot.

    Thank you very much for your effort. ^_^

    1. Salma san, comment arigato.
      I also realized that し is "sh" phonetically. It is not "shi".

      If you have any other questions, please ask me.

  4. Hi

    I have trouble telling the difference between "ae" & "ai" (e.g. "Kae" & "Kai").

    Any suggestions?

  5. Van san, comment arigato gozaimas.

    Pay attention to a shape of your mouth. When you say "a-e", it doesn't change. A location of your tongue changes, though.
    But whe you say "i", you should widen your mouth horizontally. So, a shape of your mouth changes from a circle (a) to a horizontal line (i)without closing your mouth.

    wakarimashita ka?

  6. Hai, wakarimashita.

    arigato gozaimashita.

  7. I don't speak japanese, but was wondering why the yakuza in my favorite JP movies never pronounced "desu".This pretty much summed it up. I kinda figured I could blame it on some white guy trying to transliterate a language for the first time. He did a pretty good job considering.

    Also, what's up with "yosh," "dozo," "sumimasen," and (sorry) "kuso!" ?

    These are the most common words I pick up on in JP pop culture movies/anime/video games.

    I think it's funny that I learn culture the way most of the world learns my American culture...and I'm kind of sorry that Hollywoood is America's liason to the rest of the world. Please don't judge us by our worst example.

    1. Hello Jesse, You do like Japanese pop culture! Would you like to know how we use yosh or dozo or how we pronounce them?
      Hollywood has both good and bad examples. So does JP pop culture.

    2. Yes.

      They always seem to say dozo when inviting someone to sit down, enter a house, or maybe have a drink.

      Yosh seems to be the equivalent of "OK" or "alright."

      Nanda and nani confuse me. Sometimes they seem to mean "what" and at others "why."

      Right now I'm going through the Gokusen TV series and just saw The Taste of Tea, Stein's Gate, and a bunch of Kurosawa and Takeishi Kitano movies. I'm turning into a wapanese...but I prefer wakuza. I'm also fumbling through Ryu Ga Gotoku 5 which is currently (and confusingly for me) only in Japanese.

    3. Jesse san, konnichiwa.
      Your understanding is alomost right. "Dozo" is like "go ahead". "Yoshi" is liket "good" or "all right". Actually "yoshi" comes from "yoi/ii" which is an adjective meaning "good".

      "Nani" and "nan" are "what". "Nan da" is a casual form of "nan des ka" which means "What is it?".
      "Nani?" is the same as "What?" It can be said in a normal tone or a strong tone by both men and women. But, only men says "nan da?" in an angry tone of voice.

      "Why" is "nande", not "nanda". Listen to the difference carefully. "Doshite" and "naze" also mean "why".

  8. Awesome. Thank you for clearing that up.

    Now on to the next of the many things that baffle me in Japanese movies...

    Those sometimes hyphenated suffixes used in referring to each other. I can see that -san is some kind of formal asexual equivalent to Mr. or Mrs., and -chan seems to be what they call their children.

    What about -kun? Or -sama? And is it me or do they like to make up nicknames by combining their given and surnames?

    1. Yes, you are right. san is some kind of formal asexual equivalent to Mr. or Mrs.
      sama is a polite form of san, so its good example is a business client.
      chan is usually attached to a girl's name. Age doesn't matter. Many frineds call me Mina-chan since my first name is Minako.
      kun is used wiht a boy's name. I refer to my male friends from school as "-kun", but I don't do this to male adults whom I met at work.
      We make up nicknames by combining our given and surnames or by using either of them.

  9. Also want to add that the JP way of expressing participation in a conversation or listening is much better than the Western way.

    In the US to convince someone that you're listening to them you have to periodically interject nonsense phrases like "Oh ya?" or "Yes, I see".

    In JP, and many other Asian cultures I've noticed, you can get by with this "Mmmm" noise that doesn't even require you to open your mouth. And if it's a yakuza movie you make an authoritative grunting noise that sounds something between clearing your throat and primordial growling. Yakuza movies rock _(._.)_

  10. Thank you for this post!! You explained everything wonderfully!

    1. Roberto san, Thank you for the nice words! I've often forgotten what I wrote. It's good to remind me of my own thoughts!