Pitch accent for loanwords

I don’t focus that much on pitch accent or speaking in general. But I like to have a general idea of pitch accent for classes of words so I can at least be right more often than not.

I realized recently that I have no idea what default approach for pitch accent to use when saying loanwords. Does anyone have any rules or resources to share for loanword pitch accent? A quick google search (in English) only gave me two English scientific papers that weren’t very helpful.


Dogen covers this in episode 59 of his Patreon series. The general rule is that in katakana loanwords, the down-step tends to be on the 3rd mora from the end of the word. Hence why baNAna in English becomes BAnana in Japanese.


I haven’t gotten into the pitch accent yet, want to be higher in base Japanese before worrying about it, but I did notice that pattern with borrowed word sports names when I was doing some vocabulary reviews. It almost felt like the words were trying to immitate the English stress accent in a uniform manner. Basketball was very nocticable with the pitch dropping after BO. Good to know that rule of thumb (if I am interpretting the word mora correctly that is).

It’s possible (though I can’t say for sure) that バスケットボール having its pitch drop after the ボ is due to a different phenomenon. Very often, when two words (I guess nouns more specifically) are combined into a single word, the pitch drops after what would be the first mora of the second part. For example, 学校 (がっこう) is heiban, but if you attach the prefix 小 to get 小学校 (しょうがっこう), the pitch now drops after the が instead. I think it would be reasonable to view バスケット and ボール as two words being combined into one word in this same way, hence the pitch drops after the ボ now. (Not that it really matters how this word got its pitch accent if it happens to line up with two rules. I just noticed this and wanted to mention.)


Basketball has the stress on the first syllable in English though.

I enjoy learning patterns because they are interesting, but for actual real world use I rely on learning words individually and focusing on what I hear.


A good example of this is the word 天気予報. 天気 is normally atamadaka and 予報 is heiban but when combined, the original pitch accents are ignored and the pitch drops after the first mora of the second word like you described it.

The same thing happens with バスケットボール where the original pitch accents are ignored.

That rule is generally true but there are so many exceptions that you almost have to learn the pitch accents by heart. Sometimes, they try to follow the stress accent but other times they just pronounce words heiban instead like コメント.

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Yeah, someone shared a research paper with me on this and it went as follows:

  • Pitch drops after the 3rd mora from the end.
  • Unless the third mora from the end is one of several “special” things like ん, っ, and others, in which case it drops after the 4th from the end.
  • Unless there are only two mora in the word, in which case it drops after the first mora (aka second from the end)

Which all sounds great and super helpful, until it went into some even more complex explanation that I didn’t understand (this was all in Japanese) to point out other situations that are exceptions to those rules and exceptions to those exceptions. It all got very confusing. Even when looking up バスケットボール to double check my understanding before posting my response on that, I saw that ボール is heiban, which breaks all those rules.

All that said, if I can rely on the above rules being right 80+% of the time, I’m okay with that. I don’t need anywhere close to perfect pitch accent. I just want a decent default for when I don’t know the pitch accent for a specific word.


Another thing to consider are devoiced vowels. I’ve never seen a pitch drop after a devoiced vowel in loanwords, so スキー drops in pitch after the キ.

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Yeah, the article mentioned that too, but I didn’t understand their notation so it was a bit hard to follow. :disappointed:

These are very good rules and cover almost all frequent katakana words. I would say you’ll get more than 80% this way.

If you want to know a couple more rules, from what I remember in Dogen’s video on this topic, there is also a tendency for recently adopted loanwords (my impression was that “recent” is roughly the last 10 years) to retain their original English stress accent, even if it violates the other rules. And the exceptions to all of the rules you mentioned seem to be overwhelmingly 平板, such as テーブル, or ボール as you mentioned. (I’ve been saying ボール wrong this whole time :frowning:)


This is true, hence why I worded it the way I did, but point taken.

I am curious as to the origin of the speech pattern either way. I want to say it was English-inspired since so many modern 外来語 words are English since the war, but honestly I am just guessing at this point with 0 research to back it up consider the Black Ships were Portugese back in the 1500s.

So many assumptions were made in the writing of this post and I am just waiting for someone to push their glasses up the bridge of their nose with the immortal words: “Heh, well actually…”

Guess I thought you were saying you thought they had succeeded in imitating it. Don’t mind me.

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