How is "せんえん" pronounced?

Based one the spelling for the word meaning “one thousand yen”, one would assume “senen”, yet the pronunciation that WaniKani gives sounds like how an American would say “sayin.’” Anyone idea why?

1 Like

I can kinda hear that. :joy:

I quirk of pronouncing a “vowel sound” (あ・い・う・え・お) after ん is that the ん doesn’t get pronounced as strongly. Also, when it’s an え that follow, to me it sounds more like “ye”. So I kinda hear せんえん as “senyen”.

7 Likes

Sometimes I hear ん pronounced n, sometimes ng (I hear sengen or sengeng). The same holds for the ぐ row I find (gu becomes ngu). I’ve understood it’s dependent on dialect. Both Kyoko and Kenichi are marked as ‘Tokyo dialect’ or ‘Tokyo pronunciation’. But there are also words where Kenichi does this but Kyoko does not (and vice versa probably?).

I think it happens with these sounds mostly because of how the sound is formed. I find the Japanese n is really throaty (unlike English n which uses the tongue). The difference between n and ng isn’t that big in that case.

Would love to read explanations of some of the more advanced speakers.

3 Likes

Presumably this is the kind of thing that led to us writing “yen” instead of “en” in English.

14 Likes

Pronunciation is my strong point, so here is my two cents.

sayin’ is pretty close. But there is slightly more emphasis on the ‘yen’ part. The two syllables are even in level.

You start saying sen, but your tongue almost but doesn’t quite hit the the roof of your mouth to complete the ‘n’ sound. Then from there, the ‘en’ naturally comes out as a ‘yen’ sound.

Edit: Also, my pronunciation improved a ton when I found that Japanese people make their sounds more forward in their mouth. American English uses the whole mouth including the back of the mouth, like the cheek and the jaw. Japanese moves the sounds forward. Shapes them with the front of the mouth. It’s hard to explain, but if you can get it your pronunciation will sound way more natural.

5 Likes

I’ve heard it like @Peyo said, but I’ve also heard it like this: the んえ in せんえん sounding like gn in lasagna. I heard it on Pimsleur. And I just checked it on Forvo.com too, out of 6 audios, 4 sound more like Peyo described, 2 sound like this ‘gn’ sound.

3 Likes

I thought the same thing, but Wikipedia claims that’s not the case.

The spelling and pronunciation “yen” is standard in English because when Japan was first encountered by Europeans around the 16th century, Japanese /e/ (え) and /we/ (ゑ) both had been pronounced [je] and Portuguese missionaries had spelled them “ye”.

8 Likes

It seems not everyone pronounces it the same way.
For example in 婚姻 both almost skip the actual n sound (I too would describe them as the gn in lasagna but the (Italian) gn sound is slightly different).
In 船員 instead they use different pronunciations:
Kenichi-san goes with the ng as above
Kyoko-san instead seems to divide it into “sen” + “in” almost as if they were two words. (I think I’ve heard her do it in other words as well)

P.S. As far as I’ve seen on WK, it’s done on all ん that follow and precede a vowel. あんあ, えんい etc [I’ve started considering that ん like a "half ‘n’ " for this very reason]
Edit: the preceding vowel can (and often is) part of a consonant+vowel kana, not necessarily pure vowel kana.

2 Likes

I think this is a nasal vowel which is one of the interesting phonetic features Japanese has which English generally doesn’t I think. I think this link is relevant: https://japanese.stackexchange.com/questions/23869/pronunciation-of-the-japanese-ん-and-nasalized-vowels

1 Like

Because that’s the natural pronunciation. Pronunciation is learned from listening and speaking, not reading and writing.

Always consider a native-speaker’s pronunciation to have more gravity than whatever pronunciation you think the word should have based on the spelling. It will make actual Japanese communication much easier.

1 Like

I’ve read that the “ga” -> “nga” is more common with older speakers too, and that younger generations are more likely to pronounce it as we’d expect (I.e. as a hard g). I might’ve even seen that on the forums here but don’t remember where.

1 Like

It’s because it’s not a single sound. On its own, it’s an “ng” (although I’ve also heard it pronounced “m”), but it gets changed by the surrounding sounds.
The basic rule is that you go to where the following consonant is and nasalise it (I think this is correct in most situations). E.g.
ほんとう > hontou
そんな > sonna (these two use a standard “n” is with the tongue touching even further forward, almost against the teeth, btw)
せんぱい > sempai
ほんき > hongki
If you say those out loud you’ll hopefully get a feel for what I mean.
せんえん is interesting because you actually nasalise the vowel (the ‘e’ sound), which can sound a bit like inserting a y

3 Likes

Odd, I thought it was the other way around …
example: the English word “go” vs the Japanese ご. For me, both the consonant and vowel sounds are farther back and slightly higher up for ご whereas “go” has a stronger g sound made slightly lower, and the diphthong o comes forward through the lips. Maybe it depends on what variety of English you’re speaking, as there are so many different ways native speakers pronounce English around the world…
@Leebo what do you think?

2 Likes

Here is a better link with more details.

The key point is here

ん has different pronunciations(allophones) depending on surrounding context.

  • [m] before /p/, /b/ and /m/
  • [n] before /d/, /t/, and /n/
  • [ŋ] (What some might know as “ng”) before [k] and [ɡ].
  • [ɴ] at the end of prosodic units. This is close to [ŋ] but pronounced further down in the throat.
  • Before vowels, /j/,/w/,/r/,/s/,/z/ and /h/, it is pronounced as a nasalized version of the preceding vowel.
4 Likes

This is kind of what happens with 〜んいん words too right?

To my ear 全員, 店員 and 原因 sound a lot more like zeiin, teiin and geiin, for example.

EDIT: Also, I guess this also accidentally demonstrates a difference between 〜んいん and 〜にん, even though they’re both romanized as ~nin.

1 Like

Interesting! You know I’ve never actually spoken with anyone else about this. It has always just been a thing I’ve always been good at, but now I wonder if it is different feeling for everyone. When I speak ご the sound feels like it’s being shaped from the front. Whereas ‘go’, and other english sounds, use the whole mouth and throat more. I even assumed that this was one reason why Japanese became a language with so few distinct sounds. Using the front of the mouth just doesn’t allow more varied sounds to be easily made.

2 Likes

So what are the exact rules for how to pronounce it in different combinations?

Not sure what exactly you’re asking for, but the rules are all here:

If you want a really good explanation, Dogen’s patreon is the best resource on Japanese pronunciation I’ve found (also his skits on youtube are brilliant).

Ultimately though, you just need to listen to examples and record yourself repeating them until the sounds in your recordings are the same as in the original…

There’s a discussion here that might be helpful: