In a previous post, I talked about the surprising complexity in explaining long vowel sounds. Since then, I’ve made a little progress and decided to separate the /ei/ and /ee/ long vowel sounds completely.
The decision finally came with a realization late in the night. (Yes, I probably spend way too much time thinking about this stuff.) I though about Katakana and its simplified system of using 「ー」 for long vowel sounds. I thought about words that are obviously long /e/ vowel sounds such as 「ケーキ」 versus /y/ vowel sounds such as 「メイク」. You see, the fact that 「メイク」 writes out the 「イ」 instead of using 「ー」 proves the fact that there is a significant and important difference between the two sounds. You can’t see this in Hiragana because 「ー」 isn’t used for long vowel sounds.
This convinced me that improved pronunciation was worth the little extra complexity it takes to explain this. But really it wasn’t that bad. Here’s what I ended up with.
Before we go any further, we need to revisit Hiragana to talk about a very important aspect of Japanese pronunciation: the long vowel sound. When a sound is followed by the corresponding vowel sound: 「あ」、「い」、「え」、or 「お」, the combination forms a single, longer vowel sound. It is very important to fully extend the vowel sound for correct pronunciation. The table given below illustrates what matching vowel sounds indicate a long vowel sound. The rows in grey are very rare combinations found in only a few words that will be pointed out as we learn them.
Table 1.6. Extending Vowel Sounds Vowel Sound Extended by Example Pronunciation / a / あ まあ maa / i / い いい ii / u / う くう kuu / e / い せい sei / e / え ねえ nee / o / う とう too / o / お とお too
I plan to replace the ローマ字 with links to the actual pronunciations once I get to adding sound.
Now, this still glosses over the issue the combinations don’t always make a long vowel sound. You also have to consider how the sounds line up with the Kanji. For instance with 「経緯」, the long vowel sound is in the first character: 「けい」. In other words, it should be read as 「けい・い」 and not 「け・いい」. Another example is 「問う」, which obviously can’t be a long vowel since the 「う」 is outside the kanji. But given that I’m explaining long vowel sounds for the first time much less anything about Kanji, I have no choice but to skip the more intricate aspects. Besides, you better know some kanji if you’re advanced enough to actually use words like 「経緯」 and 「問う」.