Shinji Takasugi wrote:Maikeru wrote:In English, it is very quickly noticed whenever someone missuses a stress accent (like saying: kun-ti-NYU for "continue"). Is it so easily to distiguish tones in Japanese? I haven't payed much attention to accents while I have been learning Japanese, and it is still hard to understand a lot of the spoken Japanese I hear (except songs where accent, it seems, is ignored).
Japanese pitch accents are also very noticeable to Japanese speakers, but it's not a big problem because they know some dialects have different accents. According to 早田輝洋 (HAYATA Teruhiro) 's book 「音調のタイポロジー」 (Typology of Accents and Tones), Japanese dialects have the following four types:
1. 東京式 (Tôkyô type): Only the accent fall is important. A word with n syllables can have n + 1 kinds of accent. Standard Japanese has Tôkyô accent.
2. 京阪式 (Keihan type): Both the accent fall and the first syllable's pitch are important. The accent fall position is commonly different from Tôkyô accent. A word with n syllables can have 2n + 1 kinds of accent.
3. 西南九州式 (Southwest Kyûshû type): A word doesn't have an accent fall. Instead, a word has a tone—either rising or falling.
4. 一型式 (Single type): A word doesn't have an accent. Common in north Kantô.
You might be confused with pitch accents and tones. The difference between them is that position is important in accents (both stress accents and pitch accents) while type is important in tones.
North Kantô dialects have no accents, and people there have a difficulty in learning pitch accents of Standard Japanese.
Foreigners' Japanese may sound strange, not because of wrong accents but because of different syllable length. Remember Japanese syllables are metronomic.
The several dialects of the Japanese language have a pitch accent, though the position of the accent for a given word varies among them. As for instance, standard (Kantō) Japanese for "now" is I-ma, but the Kansai dialect has i-MA instead.
The accent rules in standard Japanese (hyōjungo) are presented here as an example:
1. If the accent is on the first syllable, then the pitch starts high and drops suddenly at the second syllable, then goes down more slowly. Nevertheless, Japanese speakers hear the first syllable as special.
2. If the accent is on a syllable other than the first or the last, then the pitch rises gradually until the syllable after the accented syllable, and there goes down suddenly. A native speaker will hear the accented vowel as higher than the rest, even though the maximum pitch is actually in the next syllable.
3. If the word doesn't have an accent, the pitch rises continuously from a low at the start of the word to a high at its end, just like French. About 80% of all Japanese words belong to this class, and the Japanese describe their sound as "flat" (heibon) or "accentless".
The foregoing description is based in speech analysis. Traditionally, however, accent is taught to Japanese-as-a-second-language learners using the "two-pitch-level theory". According to it, all Japanese syllables are either high or low in pitch, rather like the two levels of Navajo or the three levels of Yoruba. The two-pitch-level theory claims that the rules are:
1. If the accent is on the first syllable, then the first syllable is high-pitched and the others are low: H-L, H-L-L, etc.
2. If the accent is on a syllable other than the first, then the first syllable is low, the following syllables are high up to and including the accented one, and the rest of the syllables are low: L-H, L-H-L, L-H-H-L, L-H-H, etc.
3. If the word doesn't have an accent, the first syllable is low and everything else is high (and this spreads to grammatical particles, usually unaccented, that may attach at the end of the word).
To illustrate the difference, a word such as o-mo-shi-RO-i, which has the accent in the fourth, is pronounced with a gradually rising pitch from the beginning until the middle of the fifth syllable, then the pitch drops suddenly. But, according to the two-level theory, this word should be pronounced with a flat tone in each syllable: low-pitched o, high-pitched mo-shi-ro, and low-pitched i. This description is inexact but is good enough to be useful in class, when you are spelling out words one kana at a time: o - MO - SHI - RO - i. However, the Japanese never pronounce in this way outside class, even when reciting classical poetry.
In poetry, o-mo-shi-ro-i would be pronounced in five beats (morae), with the tone very gradually rising during the first four, then dropping suddenly at the i. Outside poetry, though, the last two morae of omoshiroi get slurred into a diphthong, rhyming with "boy" and pronounced with a descending tone.
Some linguists have yet another view of accent. In this view, a word either has an "accent kernel" or it does not. If it does, the pitch drops on the mora after the accented one; if it does not, the pitch remains (more or less) constant throughout the length of the word. The initial rise in the pitch of the word is not due to lexical accent, but rather to phrasal accent: if the first word in a phrase does not have accent on the first mora, then it is pronounced with a low pitch, and the following mora is pronounced with a high pitch. Each "accent kernel" triggers another drop in pitch, and this accounts for the gradual drop in pitch throughout a phrase.
Accent is sometimes taught to non-Japanese learners of Japanese. However, it varies significantly from dialect to dialect within Japan, and the wrong accent does not unduly interfere with comprehension.