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Learning pitch accent

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RE: Learning pitch accent

Postby lemonaid » Mon 01.14.2008 10:28 pm

afroanxi wrote:
actually, the part of learning where to put the stress correctly is not that needed, cuz i lived in Japan and they don't have stresses at all...the words are understood from the context, like You gave an example: 二本 and 日本... it's just a matter of time and you will learn to understand... besides there are many different dialects.
the thing is that there are no stresses and pitch accents.
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You deny that there's accentuation in Japanese? Interesting...

How would you pronounce these in the standard Tokyo dialect?

雨 (あめ) 飴 (あめ)

What about these?

橋 (はし) 箸 (はし)

I could give you quite a few more but it just seems redundant.
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RE: Learning pitch accent

Postby Dehitay » Mon 01.14.2008 11:19 pm

chikara wrote:
Dehitay wrote:
...... My being tone deaf didn't really make things any easier either.

Are you really tone deaf or do you simply think you are tone deaf because you have difficulty picking the difference between tones in certain circumstances, for example when listening to native Japanese speakers?

The bloke who taught me to play blues harmonica used to say "if you can recognise your mother's voice over the telephone you are not tone deaf".

It is possible to train your ear to more easily recognise different tones/pitch.


I guess my tone deafness is probly due to laziness. Ironically, I can't recognize my own mother's voice from those that sound like her. However, her personality will give it away for me. I don't really use my ears often so I can easily understand how this happened
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RE: Learning pitch accent

Postby Harisenbon » Mon 01.14.2008 11:24 pm

Mike Cash wrote:
Yet for all that, I have never been able to pick up on the pitch thing, much less actively learn it myself. To this day, I just can't hear it. And if someone does a side-by-side example for me, if I strain I can pick it up. But as for remembering which is which....I can't.


I'm exactly the same way. When I started learning Japanese I (incorrectly) assumed that the pitch differences only existed for a small amount of words like はし and くも and whatnot.

Now that I have 10 years of bad habits under my belt, I'm trying to learn to correct my pitches, but in normal conversation it's almost impossible for me to pick out the pitches without someone slowing down and saying "this is what I'm saying, and this is what you're saying."

Pitch is important, and if you can start studying it as soon as possible.
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RE: Learning pitch accent

Postby skrhgh3b » Tue 01.15.2008 3:26 am

The original post warmed my heart. Outside of densely academic papers written by linguists, there's little published in English on Japanese pitch accent. What I would recommend is a workbook called Japanese Pronunciation Guide for English Speakers by Y. Fujito, et al published by Bojinsha. There's only one edition published in the late 70s, so I guess it's pretty rare, but I found a secondhand copy on amazon.com for under 10 bucks. On the one hand, it sometimes makes pitch accent patterns a little needlessly complex, but on the other hand, it's the only workbook published in English on the subject I've ever seen. There's plenty of books published in Japanese for students of Japanese, but if you're a beginner, then they're probably beyond you. Also, the NHK Nihongo Hatsuon Akusento Jiten has really good appendices. If you're unsure of how conjugations or particles affect the pitch accent of a word (and they do), it's all there in the back of the dictionary.

But that's on the word level. On the sentence level, one of the best hints I can give you is this: within a phrase, after the first accented word, all following accented words loose their accent. For example, the pitch-accent of ありがとう is low-high-low-low-low and ございます is low-high-high-high-low, but when you put them together and say "ありがとうございます" it becomes low-high-low-low-low-low-low-low-low-low. Moreover, the pitch-accent of どうも is high-low-low, so when you say "どうもありがとうございます," it becomes high-low-low-low and so on (^_^;)

Also, if you're serious about improving your pronunciation - or overcoming an atrociously foreign-sounding accent, anyway - I recommend familiarizing yourself with Japanese phonology. If you don't have any background in linguistics, it might be a little dense, but it's well worth reading up on. Most sounds in Japanese are approximated in English, but very few of them are actually the same. You also might not be aware of how these sounds change. Hint: If you're pronouncing "ん" with the tip of your tongue touching the gum ridge 100% of the time, you're doing it wrong.
Last edited by skrhgh3b on Tue 01.15.2008 4:18 am, edited 1 time in total.
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RE: Learning pitch accent

Postby furrykef » Tue 01.15.2008 3:28 am

I know that the accent of individual words can be looked up at dictionary.goo.ne.jp


How can I do that?


Type the word (in kana or kanji) into the box, make sure the 国語 option is selected, and then hit enter. There will be a small box to the right with results. The reading of each word will be given with a small number after it. That number is where the accent falls, with 0 meaning no accent, 1 meaning accent on the first mora, 2 on the second, and so on. For instance, 大学 has an accent of 0, and コンビューター has an accent of 3.

Do be aware of how pitch accent works, though. An accent of 0 and an accent on the last syllable are pronounced the same way, but if the word is followed by a particle, then the particle is pronounced high if the accent was 0, and low if it was not.

ThePacster wrote:
The only thing I can think of that may be related to pitch is:

きる - kiru which means to cut, emphasis on the ki coming down to a softer ru

きる - kiru which means to wear something (like a shirt above the waist), emphasis on the ru.

Completely out of context, depending on how you say this it means two different things. In context, it will make more sense, but would appear odd if the emphasis is in the wrong spot.

Is that what you guys are talking about?


Yep, that's exactly what we're talking about. I'm dismayed to learn that the accents of the plain forms of verbs can be so variable... I looked up various verbs like "taberu", "manabu", "kiku", "kaku", and so on to see if there's a pattern. So far I don't think there is one.

- Kef
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RE: Learning pitch accent

Postby skrhgh3b » Tue 01.15.2008 3:36 am

furrykef wrote:
Yep, that's exactly what we're talking about. I'm dismayed to learn that the accents of the plain forms of verbs can be so variable... I looked up various verbs like "taberu", "manabu", "kiku", "kaku", and so on to see if there's a pattern. So far I don't think there is one.


Yeah, they're not as easy as so-called い-adjectives, but what can you do? There are regular patterns, but there's a handful of them. If you buy an accent dictionary like the NHK日本語発音アクセント辞典, you'll find tables for the accent patterns of verbs, adjectives, particles, and what not. Although to be fair, there really is only one accent pattern: a pitch fall from a relatively high pitch to a relatively low pitch. The trick of it is knowing which mora receives the accent and under what conditions that accent might change.
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RE: Learning pitch accent

Postby skrhgh3b » Tue 01.15.2008 3:55 am

Mike Cash wrote:
Yet for all that, I have never been able to pick up on the pitch thing, much less actively learn it myself. To this day, I just can't hear it. And if someone does a side-by-side example for me, if I strain I can pick it up. But as for remembering which is which....I can't.


When I first became aware of pitch accent in the Japanese language - when I was about a third year Japanese language student at the college level - I couldn't hear it either. And to make things worse, there was little explanation to be found beyond the all too familiar examples of aME-Ame and haSHI-HAshi, and the thing is, it's a little more complex than about 20% of the lexicon spoken in isolation. But because it was so mysterious at first, it became something of an obsession of mine that even eclipsed my fascination with kanji, and I can at least assure you, the more you familiarize yourself with the phenomenon, the better you'll become at actually hearing it. Hearing the difference between two pitches - one relatively high and one relatively low - isn't difficult. Anyone can do it. The thing that makes it so hard is that your English-speaking brain listens for stress accent and not pitch accent.
I'll give you an example. I had a phonetics professor who was a native Dutch speaker, and when he pronounced a Dutch un-aspirated "t" and a Dutch "d," I couldn't hear the difference to save my life. The only difference is in voicing, and you would think the difference between a voiceless consonant and a voiced consonant would be night and day, right? But he explained that, as a native English speaker, I didn't listen to voicing to distinguish the two sounds - I listened for aspiration (i.e. the puff of air that follows the "p," "t," and "k" sounds at the beginning of words). So, in the absence of the clue that aspiration provides, my brain was thrown for a loop. But once you know what to listen for - in that case voicing - you can hear it. It just takes some effort at first to overcome strong habits.
Last edited by skrhgh3b on Tue 01.15.2008 3:58 am, edited 1 time in total.
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RE: Learning pitch accent

Postby furrykef » Tue 01.15.2008 4:24 am

skrhgh3b wrote:
If you buy an accent dictionary like the NHK日本語発音アクセント辞典, you'll find tables for the accent patterns of verbs, adjectives, particles, and what not.


Yeah, I have it, actually. I just can't really read it yet, except for the main dictionary entries. I think maybe I ought to, uh, "acquire" a PDF version as well so I could more easily do some computer-assisted translation of the supplemental material.

Although to be fair, there really is only one accent pattern: a pitch fall from a relatively high pitch to a relatively low pitch. The trick of it is knowing which mora receives the accent and under what conditions that accent might change.


Yeah, I'm aware of that... I never really bought into this high/low stuff. I prefer to see it as a series of downsteps. Of course, it's easy to translate high/low into a downstep anyway, so that's no big deal.

Of course, knowing where those downsteps come is still a HUGE PAIN.

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RE: Learning pitch accent

Postby Oracle » Tue 01.15.2008 5:48 am

I've got that same dictionary and have used it on occasion for reference, but 'studying' an accent isn't a great way to actually develop one yourself. Probably the best thing is to just be aware that pitch exists, and is important (and not just when talking about chopsticks/edges/bridges etc) then listen very carefully to speech from native speakers constantly to develop your 'ear' for Japanese. Recording yourself speaking and comparing with a native speaker reading a passage is a good way to measure how close/far you are from a natural accent.
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RE: Learning pitch accent

Postby arbalest71 » Tue 01.15.2008 6:24 am

Oracle wrote:
pitch is important. Here's a simple everyday sort of sentence to add to HarukoMeshi's examples:

くるまでまっている

It means different things depending on where the pitch rises/falls:
車で待っている (I'll wait in the car) or 来るまで待っている (I'll wait until you/they arrive).


This seems like a good example... I hadn't thought about it, but I hear very different things when I read these two. If I were asked offhand I would say the distinction was one of time or volume, but you're right- I am confusing them with pitch.

OTOH, I'm not sure that it makes sense to study this (unlike Chinese, where pitch is uber-important). In fact, a lot of what makes for an obvious Japanese accent in English, it seems to me, is a failure to appreciate where the tone should rise and where it should fall- I suspect that there is only a partial cure for most of us, but that cure is probably carefully mimicking speakers of the target language.

As for tone deafness- it is not so much whether or not you can recognize your mother's voice as it is whether you can tell if it is your mother or your father speaking. Tone deafness is a fairly rare medical disorder. 99% of the time what people mean by tone-deaf is an untrained ear. If you aren't absolutely sure you are tone-deaf, you aren't tone-deaf. You just haven't learned to relate pitches to each other. If it mattered to you, you could learn.
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RE: Learning pitch accent

Postby furrykef » Tue 01.15.2008 6:25 am

I agree that listening is important for learning what pitch accent sounds like (and doesn't sound like), but I don't think I agree that it's necessary for learning the pitch patterns of given words/phrases. It can be hard to learn that from osmosis, especially if your verbal input is limited, as mine very probably will be.

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RE: Learning pitch accent

Postby arbalest71 » Tue 01.15.2008 6:56 am

furrykef wrote:
I agree that listening is important for learning what pitch accent sounds like (and doesn't sound like), but I don't think I agree that it's necessary for learning the pitch patterns of given words/phrases. It can be hard to learn that from osmosis, especially if your verbal input is limited, as mine very probably will be.

- Kef


English has stress patterns too- would you suggest that a foreign learner of English spend time memorizing them for each word they learned? I'd say it would be useful for problem words if they had a native speaker willing to point them out, but otherwise... part of the problem is that these patterns don't exist in isolation- the surrounding words modify the stresses, so no set of rules will make you sound really good...

Anyway, if there is one thing it is really easy to arrange for it is input. If you aren't getting enough input go buy some DVDs, or download some dramas from a site I can't link to from here ;). The hard part is getting feedback on your output. I may be conditioned by the fact that I did spend a fair bit of time learning to transcribe music, at one point, but... I do think that learning a language generally involves learning to really hear it, and that doing so will at least help with this. Of course nothing is as useful as someone who will mercilessly correct your speech, but that's hard to arrange for. You're not going to completely lose the accent anyway... I think it's kind of silly to talk about "sounding like a native speaker" unless you have $50-100k set aside for a good professional speech coach, and a few years in which to benefit from those lessons.
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RE: Learning pitch accent

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Tue 01.15.2008 8:54 am

[quote]English has stress patterns too- would you suggest that a foreign learner of English spend time memorizing them for each word they learned?[quote]

Of course!
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RE: Learning pitch accent

Postby arbalest71 » Tue 01.15.2008 10:07 am

Yudan Taiteki wrote:
English has stress patterns too- would you suggest that a foreign learner of English spend time memorizing them for each word they learned?

Of course!


Really? I'm not saying that they shouldn't _learn_ them... but I'm a bit dubious about the idea of drilling that sort of thing. I'm not sure if you are joking or are just prone to exclamation marks ;). I'd let your ear guide you except in problem areas- actually, I've come to think that even for Chinese that might be a viable course.
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RE: Learning pitch accent

Postby yukamina » Tue 01.15.2008 2:52 pm

I also suggest getting lots of audio input(radio, drama, anime, news, whatever). I think getting an ear for the language will help a lot, even if you aren't listening closely for the pitches.
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