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Pimsleur's pronunciation of 円

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Pimsleur's pronunciation of 円

Postby Snowflake » Wed 08.25.2010 2:29 pm

While using Pimsleur, I've noticed that it often sounds as if the speakers are pronouncing 円 as "yen" when it is preceded by 千. It's difficult for me to describe (as opposed to saying it aloud). It's not a distinct " 'Y'en" sound. It sounds more like a half-swallowed "ngy", as if you said "ongyion" for the word "onion". At the back of the throat. Sengyen.

There was a whole discussion about the pronunciation of 円 in 2007 (here's the link: Pronounciation of 円 (en) Yen) along with a bit of history on it. My questions are: if the "ngy" sound is "old-style" pronunciation, will I sound odd if I say it that way today? What is the more prevalent pronunciation among native speakers today? Is it situational? In other words, is it only pronounced "ngy" when preceded by something that ends in ん and at most other times it's pronounced "enn"?

Sorry for so many questions. Even after re-reading the old thread, I still wasn't quite clear.
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Re: Pimsleur's pronunciation of 円

Postby furrykef » Thu 08.26.2010 6:26 am

The software Human Japanese has the "sen'yen" pronunciation too. I think the pronunciation is actually closest to Spanish ñ (French/Italian 'gn', Portuguese 'nh'), so I'll call it "señen". :)

One thing you do have to be careful about, no matter what you do, is to try to distinguish せんえん from せんねん. Saying the former as the latter is probably one of the most common marks of a gaijin. (And, of course, both are different from せねん, but that's easy enough to handle.)

What puzzles me is the pronunciation used by the people who do most of the voice clips on smart.fm. They don't pronounce sen'en as either "sen en" or "señen", instead it sounds very much like "seeen" (example -- click the speaker icon on the right sidebar). No matter how much I try, cannot hear any difference. You'd think a consonant between vowels -- the same vowel, even -- would be distinguishable as a consonant! 店員 also sounds like "teein" rather than "ten in" or "teñin" (example).

My questions are: if the "ngy" sound is "old-style" pronunciation, will I sound odd if I say it that way today?

I don't think it's an "old-style" pronunciation. I think you're referring to this line from the old thread:

keatonatron, in the old thread wrote:In old Japanese, えん was written and pronounced "yen". [...] Because of this, some Japanese people do say "yen," because that was the correct pronunciation a long time ago.


I'm pretty sure this is referring to the pronunciation of えん in isolation, without a preceding ん ('cause it was originally ゑん). I'm not 100% certain, but I would guess that the señen phenomenon is completely different and occurs whether or not the え was originally ゑ -- i.e., んえ always becomes ñe.

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Last edited by furrykef on Thu 08.26.2010 7:00 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Pimsleur's pronunciation of 円

Postby Snowflake » Thu 08.26.2010 10:26 am

I think I understand. Thank you for the explanation, furrykef! I like the comparison to the Spanish "n" (I'm not sure how to type it properly). It's reassuring to know I wasn't hearing it improperly. I'm really enjoying Pimsleur but every now and then, I run into pronunciation variations that just baffle me.

furrykef wrote:One thing you do have to be careful about, no matter what you do, is to try to distinguish せんえん from せんねん...


Oh my goodness, I hadn't even thought abut that!!! :shock: Thanks for the heads up!

With regard to the smart.fm clips, I agree with you. I listened to the examples several times over, cranking the volume up more and more each time. I don't hear an "n" sound, either.
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Re: Pimsleur's pronunciation of 円

Postby micahcowan » Thu 08.26.2010 2:01 pm

Here's how I think about the pronunciation of ん. Keep in mind that I am not a native Japanese speaker; however, this matches closely to what I've observed, and what I'm reading on this thread.

First, note that ん isn't really properly "n". You already know that it can become an "m" sound before "b-" or "p-", but really, I think it stands for "any nasal sound at all (defaulting to n, but only when it's convenient), held for a full syllable's length".

Often times, I don't think the tongue even touches down: it makes a movement toward the roof ("n") or back ("ng") of the mouth, but never actually reaches there before moving on to the next syllable. I think that's what you're hearing as "seeen", though I think often it'll sound more like "seyen", or even "seyyen" (with a sort of "y" for a full syllable). This seems to happen often before a vowel (such as "e"). I do it a lot in the word 万円 (まんえん), which sounds a bit like "mayen", except that it really has a totally different sound than if you actually tried to say the word "ma ye n" (or English "Mayan"). Because, the ん also often affects the vowel that comes before it, nasalizing it at the end as your tongue starts to approach an "ng", but backs off before actually reaching it. Sounds a bit French.

Think of the word 日本 (I'll use the にっぽん pronunciation for this example). Think of how the word would sound if you dropped the ん (this could happen if the word occurred by itself, but maybe not so often as part of a sentence) - it still sounds different from if you just said にっぽ - in にっぽ(ん), the final "o" is nasal, whereas in にっぽ it's a fuller, clearer sound.

It's mostly a matter of convenience. The combination んえ is ambiguous, and sound just like んね (万年 まんねん?) if you actually touched firmly for an "n" sound. So a different nasal sound (or even a "swallowed" nasal sound) stands in. I think I sometimes hear a similar thing before an "r" sound, since a tongue flip can be difficult starting from a roof-touching position (or maybe it's just what I do because I find it hard) - but I also do often hear a firm "n" before "r". When this happens, the "r" sounds a lot more like a "d" to my ear, which makes it tough to decipher spoken words if you're not already familiar with them.

Hope that helps; remember again I'm not native, so take it with a pinch (or more) of salt, and listen closely to Japanese natives pronouncing the syllable. See if you can catch examples of what I'm talking about (and counter-examples that expose my bullsh*t - if you find the latter, please post them here :) )
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