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"Voiced" and "Non-Voiced"?

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"Voiced" and "Non-Voiced"?

Postby CerpinTaxt » Sat 08.29.2009 4:22 pm

This is something that has been bugging me for a long time. When reading unfamiliar kanji compounds, for the most part, I'm able to accurately guess the readings but then there comes words like 笑い話 and 笑顔. At first sight I had thought they read as わらいはなし and えかお but that turned out to be wrong. This didn't bug me at first but then I came across other words that didn't seem to follow this reading trend at all (the はー>ば, かー>が trend) such as 水玉.

I think the correct term for it is called "voiced" versus "non-voiced"? Or something along those lines. I've just been learning the exceptions as I come to them but recently they seem to be more numerous. Is there anything behind these reading conventions? I don't think there is a simple formula or method to figure out when the reading changes, but I'm hoping there is some reasoning behind this. I'll probably just keep learning by exceptions but I'm interested in why there is a change in reading.
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Re: "Voiced" and "Non-Voiced"?

Postby furrykef » Sat 08.29.2009 5:07 pm

This pattern of voicing is called rendaku. There is some research into when it does and doesn't occur, but more often than not, you'll just have to either memorize it or guess. In fact, it's impossible to get it right all the time. For instance, the name 中田 can be read either "Nakata" or "Nakada"! (And, yep, only one of the two readings will be correct for a particular person.)

Probably the most useful rule that can be learned is Lyman's Law. Lyman's Law states that, if the second part of the word (the one that would be affected by rendaku) has a voiced obstruent, then rendaku cannot occur. I'm not 100% sure on this, but I think, in the case of Japanese, all characters (and only these characters) that have dakuten (the ゛ mark) are voiced obstruents.

For example:
神々 = kami + kami. "M" is not a voiced obstruent, so "kamigami" is possible, and the word is in fact read this way.
水玉 = mizu + tama. Again, "m" is not a voiced obstruent, so "mizudama" is possible -- but the word just isn't read that way for some reason.
山火事 = yama + kaji. "J" is a voiced obstruent, so it must be "yamakaji", not "yamagaji".

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Re: "Voiced" and "Non-Voiced"?

Postby CerpinTaxt » Sun 08.30.2009 5:18 pm

Thanks for that! Definitely going to take a look at that wiki article. I knew there had to be something like this. At least now I can attempt to guess more accurately. And I guess rote memorization is the only way to go, oh well. Hopefully it doesn't cause me too much trouble later on.
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