LINGUIST List 5.932

Mon 29 Aug 1994

Sum: Japanese 'r'

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  1. , Japanese 'r' summary

Message 1: Japanese 'r' summary

Date: Mon, 29 Aug 1994 13:56:31 Japanese 'r' summary
From: <>
Subject: Japanese 'r' summary

A couple of weeks ago I asked about the phonetics of Japanese 'r'. I got a
swag of mail, which is summarised quite briefly below.

The phonetics of Japanese 'r'
There is general agreement (though not total agreement) that Japanese 'r'
is a voiced alveolar lateral flap. Some people see a flap (as opposed to a
tap) being the basic variant, others go for some kind of tap. (Since not
everyone distinguishes between the two, it is not always clear what the
labels denote, but some respondents specifically made a distinction.) If
the flap is non-lateral, it may be slightly post-alveolar. However, there
is some allophonic variation, so that initial and intervocalic /r/s may not
be phonetically identical. The voiced alveolar tap may be the intervocalic

The following quotations from my respondents illustrate something of the
variability of the sound, though several others comment on the variable
nature of the phonetics of /r/.
"Some dialects, however, do allow the trill /r/: Japanese gangsters called
yakuza show off their dignity by intensifying their /r/ sound with trill."
"I believe that those who roll the "r"--a characteristic of "cocky" speech
especially affected by tough-guy-minor-hoodlum (chimpira) types might be
the source of reports of retroflex "r.""
"As for variation, there are two "standard" allophones: a trill and a
lateral stop ("l"). The former is primarily found in "tough guy" speech;
the latter, in singing."
"Japanese /r/ is very complex, and exhibits gegraphical and social
variation. There are plain, garden-variety taps and flaps, LATERAL flaps,
l's (in initial position, in some dialects) at least."

Some of these references came from more than one person. I haven't checked
them all out, so I can't give missing details or comment on helpfulness at
this stage.
Ladefoged, Peter (1971) Preliminaries To Linguistic Phonetics. University
of Chicago Press. (pp. 51-2).
Ladefoged, Peter (1993) A Course In Phonetics. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
(p. 171)
Lindau, Mona "Kinds of /r/s" (not exact title) Lg., late '80s
Okada, Hideo 1991. Japanese. Journal of the IPA 21, 94-6.
Price, P. J. (1981). A cross-linguistic study of flaps in Japanese and in
American English. (Doctoral dissertaion, U. of Pennsylvania). Dissertation
Abstracts International, 42, 1128.
Rogers, Henry (1991) Theoretical And Practical Phonetics. Copp Clark
Pitman. (p. 228)
Scott, Charles T. (1966) Preliminaries To English Teaching, Tokyo: The
English Language Education Council, p.101.
Uldall. E.T. (1974) Some remarks on the Japanese variphone r and the
concept of free variation. In 'World Papers in Phonetics: Feschrift for Dr.
Onishi's Kiju. Phonetic Society of Japan.
Vance, Timothy (1986 or 1987) An Introduction to Japanese Phonology State
University of New York Press pp27-28.
Yasushi Amanema, Kazuo Ootsubo and Osamu Mizutani 1978 "Nihongo onseigaku"
[Japanese phonetics] Kuroshio Publishers

Thanks to all those who responded:
Bart Mathias mathiasuhunix.uhcc.Hawaii.Edu
Blaine Erikson ericksonuhunix.uhcc.Hawaii.Edu
Bruce Connell
Charles T Scott
Debra Hardison
Don Churma
Geoff Nathan GA3662SIUCVMB.SIU.EDU
George Halliday
Linda Shockey
Lori Altmann
Mihoko Kubota
Wolfgang Lipp
Department of Linguistics, Victoria University, PO Box 600, Wellington, New
Ph: +64 4 472 1000 x 8800 Fax: +64 4 471 2070
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