The Japanese N? ん

I’m back with another question already!
I know this question is probably done to death, but I’m getting just a little stuck. I get that before m/b/p sounds its like an m, k/g it’s like ng, and for MOST other sounds it’s just the normal ‘n’ sound… But when it’s placed at the end of a word (like in nihon) it becomes ⟨ɴ⟩, AKA that weird ‘ng’ sound but further back. I’ve heard that this is used when ん shows up at the end of a word, so could the same be said for, say… じん / にん / さん etc etc? Or would you say it’s only really at the end of SOME? It’s something that bugs me, because I can’t tell if ‘Jin’ would be pronounced with that same sort of ‘ng’ that the end of nihon has… But supposedly, according to lots of people, it would seeing as it’s at the end of the word. Sorry for the ramblings, what would you guys say?

(Also, on a somewhat off topic note, I kinda pronounce 千円 with this odd sound, which seems to be pretty close, though I do also sometimes see it pronounced like ‘sengyen’ or the illusive ‘seyen’ and some nasalized vowel stuff. I’m assuming these are all pretty accepted and would be understood, but I’m curious to also get some thoughts on this!)

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Let’s take 人参にんじん as an example, because it’s got all of that.

The initial /n/ sound is the tip of the tongue near the front of the teeth but the following ん is pronounced using the middle of the tongue at the roof of the mouth, but not quite touching. This is because you have to move the tongue agian to pronounce じん. On the final ん, after making the sound with the middle of the tongue, let your throat close.

In the case of 千円, it’s that part where the middle of the tongue produces the ん sound but doesn’t quite touch the roof of the mouth that gets the ‘seyen’ sounding pronunciation.

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This is mostly because of institutionalised linguistic laziness, mind, rather than any particular pronunciation rules.

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To make a generalization: it’s always a French n. That nasally thing. Always. なにぬねの are all English-esque n’s, but ん always needs to come with a baguette and a glass of wine and a loogie (sorry). Not kidding. You want to get good at ん, listen to the way French folks end a word with -n. Personally, I’d recommend Chef’s Table on Netflix. Just change the language to French. If I, an amateur, had to sum it up, the language is spoken further back in the mouth than English is.

I know my tone is a little silly, but I’m serious. The best thing I ever did for my pronunciation of ん was take a semester of French. You don’t have to do all that. Just watch something on Netflix in French. Pay attention to how they say their n’s, esp. at the end of words. Pay attention to the whole language really. It’s so much more nasally than English is.

Find one phrase you really want to be able to say in French. First line of The Stranger by Camus, maybe: Aujourd’hui, maman est morte. Mom died today. Say it over and over and over. Until you’re indistinguishable from a native. Work on your french accent. Until you can you say your whole line out of your nose, mouth closed. Be comical with it. I’m serious!

I don’t even think of all those complex rules for ん anymore (m before m, n, b, etc.). I just think, French (nasal) n, and it comes out right.

Good luck!

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Another thing to point out with ん is that it isn’t always pronounced as an “N” sound. In words that have an ん followed by a ば or ぱ result in an M sound. For example, words like 先輩 (せんぱい) or 三倍 (さんばい), the ん is actually pronounced as an M sound rather than an N sound. The basic idea is that whenever ん is followed by another syllable, you shape your mouth so as to say that next syllable and then make a nasal sound for the ん before pronouncing the next syllable. For vowels, this ends up translating into a nasal vowel which is rather hard to pronounce at first. You can hear it in words like 深夜(しんや) or 全員 (ぜんいん). た or だ row sounds after an ん make the ん be pronounced with the tongue near the back of the teeth, where it should be for pronouncing t-row sounds, and か/が row sounds result in an N sound pronounced with the mouth shape for a K consonant. (This is all from Dogen’s videos which were really helpful for me on understanding this stuff).

If you listen closely to samples on forvo, you can hear some of these distinctions.

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