Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Long Vowels

In Japanese, long vowels, or "long sounds," chouon 長音, refer to vowels pronounced for twice as long than normal. See also: mora. The opposite are short vowels, or "short sounds," tan'on 短音.

For example, ko こ has a short vowel, while kou こう, koo こー, and koo こぉ have long vowels.

Orthography

The way long vowels are represented in Japanese is a bit complicated.

In katakana words, the ー prolonged sound mark, also called chouonpu 長音符, "long sound mark," is used.
  • koohii
    コーヒー
    Coffee.
  • keeki
    ケーキ
    Cake.

Otherwise, a, i, u, e, あいうえ are used.
  • okaasan
    おかーさん
    おかさん
    お母さん
    Mother.
  • oniisan
    おにーさん
    おにさん
    お兄さん
    Brother.
  • fuufu
    ふーふ

    夫婦
    Husband and wife.
  • oneesan
    おねーさん
    おねさん
    お姉さん
    Sister.

長音化

Some syllables in Japanese are spelled as diphthongs, composed of two different vowels, ~ei and ~ou, but are pronounced in practice as just one long sound, ~ee and ~oo. For example:
  • sensei
    せんせ
    せんせー
    先生
    Teacher.
  • otousan
    おとさん
    おとーさん
    お父さん
    Father.

Even though in the dictionary the words have ~ei and ~ou, in practice people generally don't pronounce the ~i and ~u separately, they just make the ~e and ~o sound longer than normal.

This process is called chouonka 長音化, literally "long sound-fication."

In such cases, deliberately spelling the word with a prolonged sound mark implies that the character speaks noticeably different from normal. In a very relaxed, or drunk way, or speaking like a little child, that kind of stuff.

短母音化

In some cases, a long vowel is pronounced instead as a short vowel. A phenomenon termed tanboinka 短母音化, "short vowel-fication." This means that a long syllable, which should take two mora to pronounce, takes instead only one mora to pronounce.

Since this change in pronunciation may be impossible to perceive in words spelled with kanji, when it happens the words may be unusually spelled with hiragana, or maybe even spelled with katakana, instead.

For example:
  • hontou
    ほんとう
    ほんとー
    本当
    Really.
    • Four mora: ho-n-to-u.
  • honto
    ホント
    (same meaning.)
    • Three mora: ho-n-to.
  • gakkou
    がっこう
    がっこー
    学校
    School.
    • Four mora: ga-k-ko-u.
  • gakko
    ガッコ
    (same meaning.)
    • Three mora: ga-k-ko.

One example of usage:
  • gakko ikitakunai
    ガッコ行きたくない
    [I] don't want to go to school.

Mimetic Words

Some onomatopoeia and mimetic words feature the prolonged sound mark despite being spelled with hiragana. For example:
  • shiin
    しーん
    *silence*
  • nyaa
    にゃー
    Meow.

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