From my experience of teaching Japanese, there are many people who don’t know the Japanese word for Japan and those who know the word often think Japan is “Nippon”. In my daily life, I use only “Nihon”. “Nihongo o hanasu” (speak Japanese), “Nihon ni sundeiru” (live in Japan), “Nihonshu o nomu” (drink Japanese sake) etc. I rarely use Nippon. However, Nippon is often used, in particular, for names of companies, schools or other organizations. According to that article, in 2009 the cabinet decided that they would not choose one of them as an official standard because Nihon and Nippon are both commonly used.
An example for “Nippon” that I can think of is “Gambare Nippon!”, which I would say when I cheer for my favorite national soccer team. The article also says that “Nippon” is often used in sports and this relates to the impression of the words. “Nihon” gives a soft impression and “Nippon” gives a strong one.
Do you see this difference? “ho” is soft. On the other hand, you make a sound of “po” with a little strength, don’t you? I think this difference comes from the tradition of making onomatopoeia, which is one of the characteristics of the Japanese language.
Our impression of the “ha” line syllables (ha, hi, hu, he and ho) is a soft and weakening feeling. Also, the “pa” line syllables (pa, pi, pu, pe and po) have a light and popping feeling. Let’s have a look at the examples in “Nihongo gitaigo jiten” (*1).
Herahera： 1. Describes smiling frivolously or ambiguously. 2. Describes frivolous speech and behavior.
This is not smiling happily, but smiling foolishly even though you don’t have a reason to laugh. Can you imagine a person who is not being serious and smiles awkwardly while other people are being serious?
Perapera: 1. Describes chattering away frivolously. Glibly. 2. Describes speaking a foreign language fluently.
Just as fluency in speaking a foreign language is described with “perapera”, this word has the feeling that you are speeding up the tempo of an action.
As you see, each line of syllables has their own characteristics of sounds. Isn’t it especially easy to get the characteristics of the ka, sa, ga and za lines? The ka line gives a light and hard impression and sa line gives a crisp, refreshing one. On the other hand,[〝] makes the ga and za lines sound rough and unpleasant.
Also, I think that these types of sound impressions are globally shared to some extent. It is not something only Japanese can feel. For instance, the English word “pop” gives the same impression as the pa line I mentioned before and means “make a short, sharp explosive sound or cause to burst with such a sound”. Moreover, “crisp” (kurisupu) has ku and su, so it has a light sound, the same as “karikari” and “sakusaku”. They describe crisp texture when you bite food.
Do you know any other examples like these in your language?
*1 “Nihongo gitaigo jiten”, Taro Gomi, Kodansha, 2004