Posted by: Jason | February 3, 2013

Unvoiced Sounds

This is something that has come up a few times this week in class, so I thought I’d put some thoughts about it here. It is a bit obvious to say, but, there are some very big differences in how we say words in Japanese and how we say words in English. But, just what are those differences?

One of the biggest differences is in the end of words. In Japanese, almost all words end in a vowel sound. This makes sense when you look at Japanese writing. All Japanese characters end in a vowel sound. However, English isn’t like that. In fact, very few words in English end in vowel sounds. Some do, particularly words that end in “y” like “happy” or “lucky”. But, even if you look at the words I’ve written here, most of them do not end in a vowel sound.

Which is a problem, I find, for many Japanese speakers. Many of my students want to add an “oh” or “uh” sound to the end of words, for example. So, “cat” becomes “Ca toh” and “dog” becomes “do guh”. The thing is, in English, both “cat” and “dog” have only one syllable. There are no vowel sounds on the end of those words. And, to make things even more interesting, these sounds at the end of words are often unvoiced.

Unvoiced means a sound that you begin to make but do not finish. So, instead of saying “do guh”, you say, “do'” and the final “g” on the word is choked off. You close your throat to make the “g” sound, but don’t finish, just relax your throat instead. Same with the word “cat”. Your tongue goes to the top of your mouth to make the final “t” sound, but, instead of saying it, release and end the word.

What that means is many words start to sound very much the same. “Cat” and “Cap” are almost the same when you do not pronounce the final sound. You have to understand the rest of the sentence in order to know what is being said. If I say, “My ca’ is sick and I had to take her to the vet.” I’m not speaking about the thing I wear on my head. I’m talking about my pet.

Or my “pe'”

Unvoiced sounds at the end of words are usually /t/d/p/k/b/ and /g/.

Try to hear it when you listen to movies.

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