16 March, 2013

How English speakers mangle Japanese

After my recent "go" at the Japanese language for mangling English, to be fair, I should mention how English speakers mangle Japanese. Unfortunately it is a difficult thing to present in writing to an English-speaking audience. Often it is accent that destroys the word. For example:

Karaoke is said (in Australia), more like "karyoky". In Japan the word is said, "ka-ra-o-ke", each syllable is pronounced.
(This is using an Australian pronunciation, sorry to my international readers.)

"a"s sound like "a" in "a beetle"
"ra" is like the "ra" in "rasp"
"o" is "o" as in "ox"
"ke" is like the "ke" in "kettle".

Have a go!

Karate is another one. It has three syllables, "ka-ra-te" Not "tea" but a short "te" like the start of "teddy".

Kimono always gets me in Australia. If I say it the Japanese way, I'm often misunderstood, but I can no longer say it authentically in an Australian accent.

I think the chief problem is that Japanese only have five vowel sounds, but English has many more than that and English speakers apply a variety of vowel sounds to Japanese words, which easily skews the words to a point of being unrecognisable. Much like this word: "makudonarudo" is not recognisable to an English speaker as Japanese for "McDonalds".


Ken Rolph said...

The relationship between the sounds of English and the letters used to represent them can be a bit tricky. We have more sounds than letters.

"Rasp" could be a problem. You can say it two ways, as you can with dance, castle and similar words. Also depends on which part of Australia you come from.

Rasp or Rahsp.

Wendy said...

Yes, this pronunciation guide has holes as big as boulders, as some Americans pointed out to me on Facebook. It would be better if I knew (and all my readers knew) the international phonetics alphabet. But I don't. The "ra" is the "a" that you say when you open your mouth for the doctor to see your tonsils (I presume this is uniform, but probably not!).

The "r" is another problem altogether, Australian English doesn't have an equivalent. It is about halfway between an "l" and an "r" and is why Japanese have so much trouble with English words like "brush" and "blush".