ContentsWhat is correct? And what is not?
Definition for correct and wrong pronunciation
When wrong pronunciation is not wrong?
Example to show how wrong pronunciation works
Any other way?
What is correct? And what is not?Before checking Japanese wrong pronunciation, we need to take a look at the other side. In other words, first we should know what is correct, and then what is not.
In Japanese, there are three different character types, namely Hiragana, Katakana and Kanji. The first two are well known for phonograms, so their pronunciation, in principal, coincides with what they look like. This fact would be very helpful for Japanese leaners, especially beginners. Most probably these two types are easy to learn. Basically only one pronunciation corresponds to each character. So theoretically there is no wrong pronunciation.
Contrary to this, pronunciation of Kanji would be very confusing even to Japanese native speakers. It’s not easy to assume their pronunciation from their look because Kanji characters are ideograms. Due to this feature, there could be wrong pronunciation for Kanji characters. So in this post, I focus on Kanji pronunciation. Then, let’s move towards the main part. What is correct? What is not?
Definition for correct and wrong pronunciationIn this paragraph, let me define Japanese correct pronunciation, and also wrong pronunciation. My definition for correct pronunciation is:
pronunciation widely accepted by Japanese native speakers is correct
Definitely there is a room for discussion for this definition. Some may say “pronunciation found in Japanese dictionaries is correct”. Yes, pronunciation shown in dictinoaries is correct, for sure. However, this does not mean that pronunciation listed there is always understandable for Japanese native speakers. For better or worse, our languages have been changing slowly but gradually. It could happen that pronunciation listed on Japanese dictionaries is out of dated and not widely used by native speakers. Therefore, please allow me to define correct pronuncation as mentioned above.
On the other hand, wrong pronunciation could be defined as follows:
pronunciation not widely accepted by Japanese native speakers is wrong
Nevertheless, as the title of this post says, “wrong pronunciation is not always wrong“, so sometimes pronunciation not widely accepted by Japanese native speakers could be correct.
When wrong pronunciation is not wrong?Needless to say, wrong pronunciation is wrong, not used in daily conversation and never taught in school. However, this does not mean that Japanese people never use it. I’m not saying that even Japanese people cannot pronounce Kanji characters correctly, but saying that Japanese people sometimes use wrong pronunciation intentionally. So naturally the next question comes to mind.
When Japanese people use wrong pronunciation? They use it intentionally when they want to avoid any misunderstanding in conversation. I know people usually want to avoid it. Yet, in Japanese, there a lot of words which have a similar pronunciation or even completely the same one but mean different, so sometimes misunderstanding is inevitable. This kind of misundetstanding happens thanks to similarity of pronunication. Then, what should we do? If pronunciation causes a problem, we have to think about a way to change pronunciation so that it cannot cause a problem. So far, I haven’t shown you any example. For your better understanding, let me take examples in the next paragraph.
Example to show how wrong pronunciation worksLet’s take a look at an example below.
一時に来てください (ichiji ni kite kudasai) : Please come at one o’clock.
Unfortunately this is very similar to the next one.
七時に来てください (shichiji ni kite kudasai) : Please come at seven o’clock.
The pronunciations above, ichiji and shichiji, are very similar, so misunderstanding could occur. In general, time is very important. Nobody wants to be behind schedule or perhaps ahead of schedule unnecessarily. However, if you mishear the time and misunderstand it, you cannot be punctual. To avoid misunderstanding between ichiji and shichiji, a wrong pronunciation of the kanji, 七, would be helpful. If pronunced wrongly:
七時に来てください (nana ji ni kite kudasai)
Now two pronunciations are very different and we can understand which means which clearly. Certainly, a pronunciation of the kanji, 七時, is wrong. It should not be nanaji, but shichiji. However, now, it is much more valuable than the correct one. This is only one example, but sufficient to show how Japanese people use wrong pronunciation intentionally. Depending on the situation, one wrong pronunciation is worth a lot of correct pronunciations.
Other examplesI strongly believe other examples would be required for better understanding. First, please take a look at misunderstandable pairs below.
- 四日 (yokka) and 八日 (yōka) 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 (shiatsu) 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)