Wrong pronunciations are not always wrongCorrect pronunciations are important. This is not unique to Japanese. In any language, we need to know correct pronunciations to avoid possible misunderstandings. In this blog post, however, I will focus on wrong pronunciations of Japanese words. Sometimes, they, rather than correct ones, help us a lot to convey what we have in our minds and to avoid misunderstandings. Perhaps this sounds weird to Japanese learners. But this is how Japanese native speakers use pronunciations.
- What can be wrong?
- Definitions of correct and wrong pronunciations
- When can wrong pronunciations be correct?
- Example: “shichiji” vs “nanaji”
- Other examples
What can be wrong?Before checking wrong pronunciations, first we need to know what can be wrong.
Japanese has the three different types of characters, namely Hiragana, Katakana, and Kanji. The first two are well known as phonograms. This means that their pronunciations coincide with what they look like. Theoretically, therefore, there is no wrong pronunciation. Some characters used as particles (like “he” and “wo“) are pronounced irregularly, but even these exceptions are widely considered correct.
Contrary to this, pronunciations of Kanji characters can be confusing even to Japanese native speakers. It’s not easy to know their pronunciations from their appearances, as they are ideograms, not phonograms. So, there can be wrong pronunciations. Depending on the situation and context, however, even these wrong pronunciations can work correctly. In the rest part of this blog post, I will focus on this point.
Definitions of correct and wrong pronunciationsAs I explained above, there can be wrong pronunciations of Kanji characters. But I haven’t explained their definition. So, here, I will explain the definitions of correct and wrong pronunciations.
Correct pronunciations: pronunciations Japanese native speakers use regularly.
There is room for discussion, I think. Some may say “pronunciations found in Japanese dictionaries are correct”. Yes. Dictionaries tell us what is correct. In this blog post, however, I’m sticking to my definition. I’m saying that pronunciations not defined as correct in the dictionary can be correct depending on the situation and context. So, it doesn’t make much sense to be on the same page as dictionaries.
On the other hand, wrong pronunciations can be defined as follows:
Wrong pronunciations: pronunciations Japanese native speakers don’t use regularly.
Japanese native speakers know that wrong pronunciations can be correct depending on the situation and context. So, they would agree that “regularity” is the key to distinguishing right and wrong.
When can wrong pronunciations be correct?I’ve defined correct and wrong pronunciations. As I explained, wrong ones can be correct depending on the situation and context. Here, I will explain these situation and context.
Needless to say, wrong pronunciations are wrong in most cases. They are not used in usual conversations and never taught in school. Yet, this does not mean that Japanese native speakers never use them. I’m not saying that even Japanese native speakers can’t pronounce kanji characters correctly, but that they use wrong pronunciations intentionally to convey their thoughts and feelings correctly. Then, the question naturally arises: when do Japanese native speakers use wrong pronunciations?
Japanese native speakers use wrong pronunciations when they think that correct ones don’t work well to convey their thoughts and feelings. In the Japanese language, there are a lot of words which sound similar, but mean different things. Sometimes, therefore, misunderstandings are inevitable. The cause is the similarity among pronunciations especially correct ones. So, when we use words which have similar pronunciations, we need to consider using wrong ones to convey our thoughts and feelings.
To understand this point more clearly, please take a look at the example below.
Example: “shichiji” vs “nanaji”One of the most typical examples is “nanaji”. Let me explain it through the two sentences below.
“Ichiji” and “shichiji” sound very similar, but mean ‘one o’clock’ and ‘seven o’clock’ respectively. To avoid a possible misunderstanding between these two words, Japanese native speakers often use the wrong pronunciation of “shichiji”. “Nanaji” is it.
This wrong pronunciation never sounds like “ichiji”, so helps us a lot to understand the meaning correctly.
In most cases, “七時” should be pronounced “shichiji”. It is the correct pronunciation. To avoid the misunderstanding, however, the wrong pronunciation is better and much more valuable. This is just one example, but sufficient to show how Japanese wrong pronunciations are important. Depending on the situation and context, we need to pick wrong ones for better communications.
Other examplesBelow are other typical examples. The upper pronunciations are correct; the lower ones are wrong.
- 四日 (yokka) and 八日 (youka) meaning 4th day and 8th day respectively
- 五日 (itsuka) and いつか (itsuka) : 5th day and someday
- 一月 (ichigatsu) and 七月 (shichigatsu) : January and July
- 四月 (shigatsu) and 七月 (shichigatsu) : April and July
- 七月 (shichigatsu) and 八月 (hachigatsu) : July and August
- 四日 (yon’nichi) and 八日 (hachinichi)
- 五日 (gonichi) and いつか (itsuka)
- 一月 (ichigatsu) and 七月 (nanagatsu)
- 四月 (yongatsu) and 七月 (nanagatsu)
- 七月 (nanagatsu) and 八月 (hachigatsu)
SummaryMastering correct pronunciations is not alway easy for learners, so mastering wrong pronunciation as well can be even more challenging. Still, I recommend learning wrong pronunciations. They are helpful even on the phone, where we cannot use any body language. We should use them effectively as Japanese native speakers do. Wrong pronunciations are not always wrong. On contrary, they are necessary to convey our thoughts and feelings correctly.
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