Pronunciation of 以上

I’ve just encountered the vocabulary entry for 以上, and have a question regarding the pronunciation: The reading is given as いじょう, but in both the “Kyoko” and especially the “Kenichi” voice sample, the pronunciation is to me virtually indistinguishable from just いしょう.

I had a look around the internet, and some of the pronunciation examples I found did clearly have the sound resembling the English “j” (dʒ), but only about half.

Is this just a question of my hearing not being attuned enough to the Japanese, or is this some interesting facet of compound words, where the extra voicing isn’t always very clear?

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I’m not good with linguistic terms but it sounds like a clear じょう to me, but I can see how the sound gets slightly… slurred in this context? It’s changing contextually but I don’t have the vocabulary to describe that well.

Does listening to a word like this pronounced いしょう help to illustrate the difference?

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It sounds nothing like いしょう to me. Sometimes this is just how the j sound sounds in Japanese. I don’t know the IPA symbols and all that, but I think there are multiple j sounds in Japanese.

Maybe this would be helpful if you like looking at IPA stuff: Help:IPA/Japanese - Wikipedia. It clearly lists two pronunciations for j: dʑ and ʑ.

Also, if it helps, I think this sound for j in 以上 is similar to the one found in 大丈夫, so maybe listening to that one would help too.

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Hmm, thanks for the idea – unfortunately, the main difference I hear to 意匠 is the pitch accent…

I guess the difference between dʑ and ʑ that @seanblue points out is indeed what is tripping me up here.

See for example the forvo.com entry on 以上 – many of these to my ears have a pronounced “d” (as in dʑ; apologies for my lack of linguistics terms), but not all of them do.

Edit: I should add that my first language is German, where “voiced consonants” aren’t really a thing – or rather the distinction to unvoiced ones, as voiced sound frequently change to unvoiced ones if they are not at the beginning of the word. This makes it plausible that I might struggle more with that distinction than a native English speaker.

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Yeah, that was the first thing I noticed too… does make it less than helpful. 衣装 does have the same pitch accent as 以上 if you can find good audio sources for that word.

Also, the Wikipedia page on ʑ gives the English example “vision”. Maybe knowing that will help too.

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I don’t think I have anything else useful to say, but brains are weird. I can’t hear these two as anything resembling each other in sound, but meanwhile I’m still half convinced pitch accent is something you all have collectively decided to pretend exists to bully me. :sweat_smile:

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Just to illustrate how weird my particular brain is, then: If I listen to the samples by “straycat88” and “usako_usagiclub” on the forvo.com page for 以上, and then to the samples by “akitomo” and “Pantera3” on the page for 衣装, the main difference I pick up is in the length and nuances of the vowels. I can maybe convince myself that there is a difference between those し and じ fricatives, but I doubt I’d fare particularly well in a blind test…

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These are still a bit difficult to compare because of the different speakers, but I think the audio is higher quality than the forvo ones at least, so maybe it’ll help.

JPod101 衣装

JPod101 以上

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As someone who studied German a few years back, I think I have to agree. Might it help if I compared F and W in German though? If we look at their names in German, the sound in F is unvoiced, the sound in W is voiced, and I think (maybe I’m wrong) that the two sounds are fairly stable. (I guess there isn’t really a word pair that opposes F and W though…)

For じょう and しょう specifically, maybe I’m doing it wrong, but the way air flows through my mouth feels different when I pronounce each sound. With じょう, I feel like I’m making more of an effort to get the air to expand (and I’m pushing it slightly downwards?), whereas しょう just requires me to make the air hiss past my teeth. I know this isn’t a pronunciation question, but I often identify what I’m hearing by learning to pronounce it myself in an attempt to hear the way someone else might be doing it. That helps me. I’m not sure if it’ll be helpful for you though. :sweat_smile:

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@seanblue Thanks. I guess I’ll just have to pay extra attention to what right now seems to me to be some vague sense of extra voicing in order to get better attuned to this.

The Wikipedia page for ʑ mentions that it is “[f]ound in free variation with [d͡ʑ] between vowels”, which I guess answers my initial question regarding the observation of both forms being used.

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I guess I should have somewhat been more precise, even though I’m certainly not a linguist. It’s not like the difference between voiced and unvoiced sounds does not exist at all in German, but it seems to me to be comparatively much less important than in English. In particular, students in my native Austria would usually learn about “harte” (hard) and “weiche” (soft) sounds. The main cognitive focus here is on the aspiaration and vocal intensity in what I believe would be called a fortis and lenis contrast in linguistics, and not on the voicing or lack thereof. In particular, I can’t recall ever being taught about voicing back in high school, including in English class.

This – possibly exacerbated by the fact that voiced obstruents seem to be generally much rarer in southern varieties of German (incl. Austrian German) – also leads to trouble with English. 5+ years of living in South East England have fixed this, but in the beginning, I had quite some difficulty distinguishing, and especially reproducing, sounds like [dʒ] (vs. something more like [tʃ]).

This example is fascinating to me, as I don’t think most people (non-linguists) in Austria would even consider w and f to be a pair of sounds related by a difference in voicing, even though, on closer inspection, they certainly seem to be (along with maybe a change in the strengh of frication). I am not entirely sure what your criteria for a word pair would be, but what about Wein (wine) and fein (fine)?

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Ah, actually, this sounds like a good example. I’ve basically lost all of my German active vocabulary for lack of practice (I finished a beginner-to-intermediate textbook, but I never had anyone to talk to), so I appreciate it because words don’t come to mind spontaneously even if I can understand them. Thanks!

Ah, I see. Well, I mean… yeah, honestly, I don’t remember feeling as though the distinction between voiced and unvoiced pairs was as important in German as in English (e.g. normally, in English, I should say things like ‘realise’ with a clear Z sound, not an S sound, whereas when I listen to German, I get the impression there are just trends like “Salat” sounding more like ‘zah-lat’ would in English, but the English-style S/Z distinction isn’t as clear). Basically the only major sound change for letters I clearly remember hearing is the sound for CH in “ich” versus the sound in “Bach”, and that definitely feels more like a matter of ‘forcefulness’. Voicing doesn’t come into play. (Of course, I know all this only applies for whatever variety of German I learnt, and I know there are other accents out there.)

Interestingly enough though, I think that English also discusses ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ sounds, like when we compare the sound of C in ‘ice’ to the sound of C in ‘car’.

Wikipedia seems to agree with your experience, but I’ve honestly never noticed. :sweat_smile: I didn’t advance far enough in my German studies to really listen to many accents, and even though I frequently watch an Austrian VTuber, she usually speaks English, so I haven’t really caught any differences, even when she makes an aside in German.

Yeah I’d say it’s super likely that that’s what’s going on here! It’s something that’ll definitely get easier to distinguish with time, but here’s something that might help you get a feel for the difference in your own speech: if you put your hand on your throat while you say a voiced consonant, like dʑ or ʑ, you’ll feel vibration, but you won’t when saying a voiceless consonant, like tɕ or ɕ. Definitely blew my mind when I first learned about that distinction, the power of linguistics :joy:

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I hear the “j” in there, but it does seem like… a medium one, I guess, rather than a hard one. Like if しょ is the soft version and じょ is the hard version of the same sound, then the one in 以上 is kinda somewhere in between. In 大丈夫, too, the way I think I usually hear it pronounced. With practice it may get easier to distinguish them, but also, you’ll generally have context which should (usually) clear up which possible word it is, unlike when you’re listening to recordings of single words

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Yes, that’s a good trick, and definitely one I used when trying to sort out my accent after moving to the UK (not that people wouldn’t still guess that I’m from somewhere in Germany :P). What I find interesting, though perhaps not surprising, is that despite being conceptually aware of this, distinguishing the two sounds doesn’t seem to have become any easier. The comparision to production ultimately isn’t very helpful for me, as you can easily feel the larynx/upper chest area vibrate when speaking yourself. This feedback channel is of course missing entirely when listening to someone else.

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I think part of the problem is that the ~おう part causes vibration regardless of whether it’s part of しょう or じょう, so the unvoiced し vs. voiced じ is a very short part of the overall pronunciation.

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Yeah that’s true, there’s definitely a lot of overlap :sweat_smile:

Yeah trying to attune your ear to differences that aren’t as relevant in your first language is definitely a challenge, but if it’s any consolation I think a lot of people struggle to pick up on the nuances of pitch and vowel quality you’ve mentioned, so it’s all possible. I think having this awareness is the best thing for it honestly, just keeping the difference in mind will eventually make it easier. I’m not sure of any specific techniques for trying to get used to distinguishing them, but lingustic awareness is definitely helpful.

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Maybe try this article, if you haven’t read it already?

The tip of your tongue is creating friction close behind the alveolar ridge. This is the only one in Japanese, and it’s slightly further back than its English counterpart: sh.

The tip of your tongue is stopping behind the alveolar ridge, then releasing, creating friction. There are three palato-alveolar affricates in Japanese: ji, dzi, and chi. Although じ and ぢ used to be pronounced differently, they are now considered the same sound, with the exception of a few regional dialects.