Nice! Now we have a special place of our own :3
Here are the things I think are not entirely accurate:
i. English uses stress.
Stress contains three elements:
A rise in pitch.
A rise in volume.
A slight lengthening of the syllable.
English also uses vowel reduction
English also uses a feature called “vowel reduction”, which basically reduces the phonetic information in non-important vowels, making the accented vowel more prominent by comparison.
Compare the the second /o/ in <photographer> with that in <photograph>. In the first one, in which it is accented, the sound is much more o-like, while in the second, where it is unaccented, it becomes what is caled a schwa, or a central, neutral vowel.
This is important because Japanese does not do vowel reduction, which basically means that vowels in Japanese do not generally change depending on whether or not they are accented.
iii. What is pitch?
It is simply making your voice higher or lower.
Pitch does not technically depend on you
This might be nit-picking, but here goes.
Pitch is the perception of a sound as being higher or lower. Since it is a perceptual feature, it exists only in the brains of those that listen to a sound. It is not an acoustic feature, nor a feature of the sound: it is a feature of the perceived sound.
What is a feature of the sound is its frequency, and frequency is correlated with pitch. But pitch depends on the ability of the listener to perceive those changes as significant differences. A sound can be produced with a higher frequency and still be perceived to have the same pitch.
Think of people that are “tone-deaf”: they can hear two musical notes that are acoustically, factually different, but they will have difficulty identifying them as having a different pitch (because for them, they won’t).
iv. Most important rules
- Japanese has two
pitches tones: high and low.
- The first two
syllables mora of a word must be different pitches tones.
- [See below]
- There can only be one pitch drop in a word. (I.e. if a low
syllable mora comes after a high syllable mora, then there cannot be another high syllable tone in the word.)
3. The default pitch pattern for words is for the first syllable to be low and the rest to be high.
Default accent position
This changes depending on the historical origin of the word. It is true that most やまと言葉 are unaccented (low and then high, see photo), but the vast majority of loan words (words that have been borrowed from another language) are indeed accented.
For words that are accented, the default position is for them to be accented on the third mora from the end.
This is from my dissertation, and includes much more detail about this:
Just remember that a word with no arrow starts low.
An easier(?) rule-based mnemonic
An easier way to remember this is that the accent is the drop. If the word is unaccented, there is no drop. So the entire word must be high (because it never falls). But the first and second mora must be different, so the first one has to be low (because the second, and all the others, are high). So you get LHHH…
vii. What counts as a
syllable mora in terms of accent marking?
- Obvious stuff: ka ki sa shi su tsu etc.
- N is always counted as its own
- Kyo, kyu, jyu etc. are one
- Long vowels. (I.e. Kyuu = 2
syllables moras kyu + u.)
(Technically these “syllables” are actually called morae, but people are generally more familiar with the word syllable, so I went with that for this 2 minute overview.)
Syllables and moras
This is a pretty big difference, so I don’t think it is useful to “dumb it down”.
With notable exceptions, the Japanese accent system (and certainly the accent system of standard Tokyo Japanese) is not syllable-based it is mora-based. This is also true for traditional Japanese metric: haiku count 5-7-5 moras, not syllables.
A mora is not “a special kind of syllable”. They are entirely different things. The best definition I’ve found for a mora is that a mora is “something of which a long syllable consists of two and a short syllable of one”. It is a metric unit that sits between individual sounds and syllables.
In the case of Japanese, this is easy to remember because the kana alphabets are not syllabic, but moraic: anything that has its own kana (or kana digraph) is a mora.
This includes the katakana vowel lengthener 「ー」, the long vowels, the 「ん」, the 「っ」, etc. All of those are individual moras, and in traditional Japanese metric they should all have the same duration.
So, when you read that the default accented pattern is “three from the back” (「後ろから三番目」), those are always going to be mora.