Add Pitch Accent Guide

I was browsing the forms here and stumbled upon this great companion site Over there they have this super handy pitch accent diagram. I would love to see this added over here!


Welcome to the forums!

This is probably low on their to do list, but in the mean time, here’s a userscript:


Woah super cool! Thanks for sharing and thanks for the welcome to the forums. I can already tell there’s lots of great stuff here. I’ll have to try out the extension!

This is probably low on their to do list

Kind curious… what makes you say that? Is it because the pitch accent diagrams are pretty niche in general or is there actually some list of features that the Wanikani team is working on?

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It’s not that niche, I’ve seen it all over.
It’s just a feeling in general, so take it with a grain of salt, but I think it’s more that it’s not that high of a priority on a website that focusses on teaching you kanji, which in itself have no pitch. The vocabulary is mostly there to help you learn all the different kanji readings, and how they are used. So teaching the pitch accent of the vocabulary is not that required for learning kanji.
Furthermore, they focus more on content and learning structure updates, which is a lot of work. Recently they looked into the best way to teach transitive and intransitive verbs for example.


So pitch is basically where the stress is?

pitch in japanese can be compared to stress in english. though where stress is slightly louder/longer than the rest of the word, pitch is the tone variation. some parts of the word are pronounced with slightly higher tone than others

No, and that’s a good example of why it’s hard to get the hang of.

Many resources will call it “stress” when talking about Japanese but it helps me to think of it like this:

English is a stress accented language. Syllables in words are stressed by modulating the pitch or adjusting the time taken or both.

Generally, Japanese mora’s take the same amount of time each and only the pitch is modulated. So it’s pitch accented.

For example:
はし as 箸 chopsticks starts high and then drops.
はし as 橋 bridge starts normal and then goes high.
はし as 端 edge is flat all the way.

Source: OJAD - 検索結果

There’s also this helpful comment from StackExchange:

To anyone unable to hear the difference, go grab a musical instrument and play do-mi and mi-do. Do-mi is “bridge” and mi-do is “chopstick”. – l’électeur Nov 26 '16 at 6:16


Thx for the answer. That seems to describe how stress works pretty much though.

One more question

What is"chopsticks?" Then?

not quite, that is literally just changing the pitch.

I can only talk about stress in English, I do not have much experience with stress in other languages. Stress can change the pronunciation at heck of a lot more; not just the pitch, but also vowel length, it can merge constants, reduce a vowel to a schwa, even potentially change the number of syllables.

Take Worcester, a city in England, (the ‘ceremonial county town’ of Worcestershire … which the awesome sauce is named from). The stress is on the first syllable, and is pronounce /ˈwʊstər/, a bit like ‘Wuh-ster’; which would be only a 2 syllable word. However if we shift the stress to the centre /wɒrˈsɛstər/, a bit like ‘war-Sest-ter’; we’ve now got three syllables, changed the vowels a bit, and it sounds completely different.

Stress is a more powerful beast; but usually the pronunciation rules for a languages are “usually” clear which is the stress, and even if it’s not and some have to be learnt; it’s still “usually” clear how the rest of the word contracts in the language. Heck, even if you aren’t explicitly taught such rules, it can be loosly summarised as “pronounce of the rest of the word lazily” and you’ll probably get it right.

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Japanese rarely has a word/suffix to indicate plurals. You usually have to gauge from context if they are talking about one, or many, a specific (the), or unspecific (a/an).

Like I said, many resources will call it stress, but when learning pitch accent, it’s very hard not to modify the mora timing as well so I find it helpful to separate out just the pitch part.

Japanese doesn’t pluralize like that so it would be the same as chopstick.

Comparing Japanese pitch accent to English township names is hardly a fair comparison.


It occurs in most, multi-syllabic words we speak in English. Vowel reduction to a schwa is so unbelievably common, most don’t even know schwa exists and it’s the most common “vowel” in English. If vowels don’t change to a schwa, their lengths usually do, or open become closed etc.

Worcester is a great example because of how radically it can change by moving the stress; it really does change the word completely. It’s county, Worcestershire, is even better when you compare it’s actual pronunciation /ˈwʊstərʃər/ (Wuh-ster-sher), to if you considered it all stressed /wɒrsɛstərʃaɪər/ (war-sest-ter-shy-er); (3 to 5 syllables).

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Haha yeah, reminds me of this Tom Scott video.


Alright, you have a point there, it feels like the entire english language could function with ə in place of evey other vowel lol. I wonder, though, how much this vowel reduction is true for japanese.

To my knowledge; not at all. Such vowel reduction is usually due to stress, specifically in unstressed parts of words. Japanese doesn’t have stress, it only has pitch.

Someone please correct me if I’m wrong; the vowels, consonants, and morae length are all exactly the same, regardless of pitch. The only thing that changes is the pitch itself.

got to love Tom Scott

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My question was not about pluralizing. The mi-do and do-mi explanation feels more like it’s about intonation rather than stress to me. That’s why I was curious how those giving the do-mi examples would explain “chopsticks!!!” vs “chopsticks???” I hope that’s a better way of explaining what the question is about.
As someone who had to deal with languages that clearly distinguish long and short vowels (like finnish) as well as languages with compound words with multiple stresses, that are not always even, I don’t seem to find anything difficult in japanese phonetics worth doing so much theory about. I feel like I can easily distinguish words and reproduce them correctly. I may be wrong, but I’m starting to suspect this is another area in the japanese learning system for english speakers that is just bad due to the way english is. Like when it comes to verb transitivity for instance. The explanations just don’t seem to cut it for me. At least in those resources that I used. And the wk translations for transitive/intransitive verbs are pretty inaccurate at times I think. I can often think of a context sentence where the “correct” answer that wk wants would not fit. I’m talking about about those “to be + verb” mostly.

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Ah ok, that makes sense now.

So for a questioning tone that usually rises at the end it’s all good since the pitch accent follows.

For emphasis like in “chopsticks!!”, what usually happens is a drop using a particle like “箸の!” or using the copula like “箸だ!”

One thing to note is that pitch accent changes a bit as words are used in a sentence. The pitch in a sentence tends to get lower overall as it goes on except for rise in questions like I mentioned and particles can effect the pitch drops.

I’m actually the same way, and I think it’s more intuitive for people who know a different language like that or who are used to hearing different English accents.

I started looking into it more because I was also curious as to why it seemed to give people trouble. And it seems like many people aren’t able to distinguish the differences without study.

Not to say that people who can intuitively grasp it have an advantage other than that they don’t have to actually study pitch accent. I think everyone can get to the same initial facility where the only way to further improve is practice.

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