Beginner question on pronunciation of some words

Beginner question here. I’ve gone through Hiragana, Katakana and starting to study grammar via Genki books and radicals/kanji/vocab via WaniKani.

I’ve encountered some words with puzzling pronunciation (as in, they don’t seem to fit with any rules I’ve seen so far). When I tried to double check, I discovered they seem to be pronounced differently in different sources.

  1. In the Genki textbook I, the word for “major” (専攻) is transcribed as “せんこう (senkoo)” which is how I’d expect it to be pronounced. However, in the accompanyining audio files they clearly pronounce it differently (in several places, so it’s not a mistake), with MO (も) sound instead of KO (こ): “せんもう (senmoo)”. Both Google translate and jisho.org online dictionary voiceovers give the せんこう version, so I assume it’s the primary/correct one. Still, I’d like to know for sure if there’s some rule on the pronunciation of K sounds after ん that I’m not aware of?

  2. WaniKani and jishoo.org provide strange pronunciations for words with G (が げ) sounds in them, like:
    下がる
    下げる
    上がる
    上げる
    They seem to pronounce が (Ga) and げ (Ge) sounds as な (Na) and ね (Ne). Meanwhile, Google translate voices them as I’d expect them to be pronounced, with clear G. Which way is the correct way, and again, is there a rule here that I’m not aware of?

2 Likes

Hi @JarrodL! I like to use this website to check some pronunciations:


It usually has a recording of a native speaker. I know that sometimes a N will sound like M, like in 先輩, but I haven’t read anywhere that a K could sound like M, so I can’t comment on that.

This “sageru” “saneru” thing it’s supposed to be a regional difference. The standard way of speaking seems to be “sageru” though. (The “saneru” for a native speaker of portuguese actually sounds like a Ñ: sañeru).

This article is pretty in depth and will speak about some pronunciation rules, including the aforementioned (it’s on The nasal が):

3 Likes

K never sounds like M - that you’re hearing it as such is probably some kind of recording or playback artefact.

(In some dialects, mind, G is pronounced as NG when it appears in the middle of words.)

3 Likes

Quick example: 麦 (むぎ)
It just popped into my reviews for the first time in a while, and that NG is just very 気持ち悪い

1 Like

And it’s worth noting that Standard Japanese is one of them.

6 Likes

As others have said, it’s normal for g to be pronounced nasally depending on dialect and register. As for せんこう, normally, again, as has been pointed out, it can only be pronounced senkoo or semkoo (or more like sengko kind of) in modern Japanese. However, there used to be a rule long long ago that the consonant after a nasal would be voiced, so k => g. This does not apply today.

Far-fetched theory

LucasDesu below has a more plausible explanation, IMO, but the rule I just mentioned might help explain why the pronunciation might at times deviate a bit if the speaker is being too careful to pronounce the nasal clearly (giving m) and then the nasality carries forward inadvertently onto the k giving it a subtle nasal-voiced flavour as ng if you will. So that the result could sound a bit like semm(g)oo to you since you also hear ageru as aneru. Or it could just be an audio artefact, as suggested elsewhere.

I’m not sure if this might the be the case, but I searched around for the audio and came across the chapter one audio. In one of the conversations, one of the speakers says:

D1
Man: リーさんは日本人ですか?
Woman: いいえ、アメリカ人です。
M: 学生ですか?
W: ええ。アメリカ大学の学生です。
M: 今、何年生ですか?
W: 二年生です。
M: リーさんの専門は日本語ですか?
W: ビジネスです。

In another resource (supposedly a different edition), they say 専攻. Later in a reddit I came across, I found that a user noted that the words were swapped between editions. (Not linking because there’s a link to copyrighted CD audio). In any event, you might be actually hearing せんもん(専門) not せんこう(専攻). I can’t explain why that’s the case, though.

8 Likes

I second this one. At my class, everyone else had the first edition except me. So everyone else learnt 専門 while I learnt 専攻.

2 Likes

Traveling JR West (Hiroshima) I couldn’t avoid to notice every time they said 次 (tsugni) when announcing the next step.

2 Likes

Yeah, that is it - the audio I have is from the 1st edition. I figured it out a bit after original post was made when someone pointed out that there is another word with similar meaning and double-checked with a friend who has 2nd edition.

どうもありがとうございました everyone for replies!

3 Likes

With regard to the ‘g’ sounds, I found this resource years ago written by a Japanese native that’s pretty great:

1 Like