So, I figured I’d start a log to document some of the progress and challenges I find as I continue to try to build a study routine that accounts for pitch-accent and phonetics.
Problems I’ve Noticed in my Accent
I am a native English speaker with a general American mid-west accent. Problems I’ve noticed (and have started working on) since studying pitch are these:
I put accent onto Japanese words in a pattern consistent with English (stress on second or third to last syllable). So, something like 日本語の勉強 would sound like に
ほんごの べんきょう as opposed to the correct に ほんごのべんきょうin the way I was speaking.
Because English stress also extends vowel length on stressed syllables, this also seems to lead to an effect where my accented vowels are too long and the non-accented one’s get clipped.
English tends to use the schwa vowel (the “uh” sound in cut) a lot for unstressed vowels, and even often replaces vowels with it (think of how “what are you going to do” can become “whacha gonna do” in casual speech). This is even seen in how English assimilates Japanese loanwords: 漫画 [ま
んが] becomes MAN-guh. 芸者 [げ いしゃ] becomes GEI-shuh. Paying closer attention, I can also see this tendency leaking into my Japanese sometimes, particularly during rapid speech, making my vowels sloppy.
English is syllable based while standard Japanese is mora-based. Thus, Japanese has many mid-syllable pitch shifts (such as in the last syllable in 日本人 [に
ほんじん]), that I just wasn’t making when I was speaking.
Mouth positions for some consonants (such as the aforementioned ワ) simply wasn’t quite right. A good example is the ふ sound. I knew ふ wasn’t like English F, where the top front teeth ride up on the bottom lip when saying it, but I was definitely saying words like フェリー and カフェ with that English F instead of the proper Japanese F sound (the voiceless bilabial fricative, ɸ).
Current Study Progress
I finished reading 日本語アクセント入門, which provided much information about the different patterns and tendencies of pitch accent for different parts of speech (such as verb and adjective conjugation patterns, compound nouns and loanwords) and provided comparisons of the basics between various dialects. It also went a little into how phonology can impact pitch accent placement. I’ve also read supplements from the NHK Accent Dictionary on more of the patterns for different types of nouns. However, it’s a lot of information to internalize and I’ll still need some time to thoroughly review it.
In addition, I’ve made an Anki deck with pitch accent info for some of the most basic vocabulary. I’m taking it slow, only adding 5 words a day and reviewing by referencing audio from the NHK dictionary and getting advice from my wife.
I’ve also been reading more about Japanese phonology and trying to fine-tune my mouth positions. I’ve had a little progress, I think, but some sounds, in particular the vowel ウ, are not yet convincing to my wife when I say them.
In terms of passive study, I’ve been trying to notice pitch accent more when I listen, but I’m still spotty. I can sometimes hear it if it’s a word I already studied or a common pattern, but it’s still very hit and miss, and so I’m reluctant to apply shadowing yet.
In reading, if I notice a word or phrase I’m confident I know the pitch of, I’ll try to read it aloud that way.
So, I’m going kind of slow. One of the first problems I ran into earlier was that applying constant mental focus to pitch accent as I spoke, listened, and read was incredibly tiring and caused me to burnout. I’m trying to manage it in a way that fits into my life with work while not burning out on it, but I’m really hoping my initial vocab studying in Anki will have a sort of “pump priming” effect that will allow me to begin to hear pitch accent more generally across the board when doing listening. I’m still pretty early into it, but I’ll try to keep this updated with more (hopefully shorter) posts on what I discover and the challenges I face.