The pronunciation of じ seems to vary and I'm not sure why

I’ve noticed that the pronunciation of じ seems to vary occasionally. Sometimes it sounds the J in “Jack” and other times, it sounds like the J in the French word “jardin”.

For example, I just learned 以上 and it seems to use the French J, while 上手 uses the English J sound.

I’ve been searching the web but I can’t seem to find an explanation for this and I’m not sure how to best phrase this question to find the answers I’m looking for. Wondering if anyone else has noticed this and knows why this is the case?

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Can’t say I’m aware of a distinction. Don’t perceive a difference or say it differently personally.

I have noticed something similar; furthermore, it seems that し gets different pronunciations as well, sometimes sounding “shi” (as in English), while at other times it’s closer to “si” (or something between si and shi). The female speaker seems to do that while the male speaker pronounces it as “shi” more consistently.

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Hm really? Try saying 上手 (じょうず) with the French J, I’ve never heard anyone say it like that before, but yet I always hear that French J sound used for 大丈夫 (だいじょうぶ)

I don’t really know how I would classify how I say it (well… Japanese I guess…), but it doesn’t change (or at the very least, I don’t perceive or intend for there to be a change). I’m not intending for it to be English or French or anything else.

It’s possible that it’s just a matter of what your native language is and how you perceive the sounds.

I have a hunch that Japanese natives would not say they are pronouncing it differently consciously.

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That’s interesting! So is that more of a speakers choice than it being that some words use “shi” while others use “si”?

One thing I have noticed is that the ‘i’ inし sounds almost non-existent at times, if it is followed by a consontant.

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From what I noticed so far, し depending on word and probably dialect is somewhere between shi and si. I pronounce it closer to “si”, but I think the male voice (Koichi-sama?) in WaniKani is a little closer to “shi”.

@ichigomoon when you say 事情, do the じ sounds differ in your case? The standalone じ and じょ?

I pronounce じ in 大丈夫 and 上手 a little differently, now that I’ve noticed it, but it’s a fault on my side, because I learned 大丈夫 a long time ago and I’m probably still pronouncing it the same way. But 以上 and 上手 should have a similar じ sound, no?

Yes! The standalone じ in that word sounds like the English J, while the じょ sounds like the French.

I don’t think that it’s a difference between standalone じ VS じょ/じゅ/じゃ though, seeing as the じょ sounds different in 以上 and 上手. The difference in sound is quite clear to me on wanikani too, especially if you play them one after the other.

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I talked a little about this in another pronunciation thread, saying:

Also, in lesson #43 [Dogen] says じ is pronounced as dʑ at the beginning of a word, and can often become ʑ after a vowel. (He also has more information on this in the video.) I believe he said じ and ぢ once had differences in pronunciation but in modern Japanese do not.

(I believe the “English J” you’re talking about is dʑ, and the “French J” is ʑ.)

Note that after ん or っ (small つ), it will have the dʑ pronunciation.

This pronunciation also applies to じゃ, じゅ and じょ.

This information came from Dogen’s phonetics series on Patreon, I’d highly recommend checking it out if you’d like to learn more about Japanese pronunciation and pitch accent.

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Regarding じ and ぢ, is it also true for ず and づ? They used to be pronounced differently? I know that sometimes in romaji they’re transcribed differently and kind of because of this I would pronounce them differently as well.

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Omg thank you so much! :pray:t5: This was exactly the sort of explanation I was hoping to find. I was driving myself crazy wondering if there was a reason for it, or if I was just confused about something that was arbitary.

Just had a listen to both of those and that is exactly what I meant by “English J” and “French J” haha, it’s good to know the actual phonetic names for those sounds now! How interesting!

I’m not really concerned about pitch accent at this stage and mostly struggle to hear a pitch difference in the same sound, but dʑ and ʑ sound so different from each other that it was bothering me that I didn’t know why. I’ve been somewhat avoiding Dogen’s channel as I don’t want to overcomplicate Japanese for myself and study way beyond my level, but that info is pretty invaluable and I’m surprised that this isn’t something I’ve seen mentioned before. Guess I should consider it if he’s providing content like this!

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Thanks for this thread !
I was wondering the same thing ever since I did the lesson for the vocabulary word 少女 (the male voice and female voice pronunce it differently)

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Oops, I didn’t even notice that lol! I hardly ever listen to the male voice :cold_sweat:

Everything I’ve read says yes, and they sound identical in the Wanikani voice recordings. They’re vestigial spellings and English loves it’s vestigial spelling preservation. You don’t really want your pronunciation, or ANY of your understanding of this language to be influenced by another language using a script it borrowed from ANOTHER language doing a horrible funhouse mirror impression of what words are supposed to be. There are many kana which can be transcribed into romaji in multiple ways. IE the way that will result in foreigners who don’t understand the phonetics to perform a less terrible but still incorrect impression of what its’ supposed to sound like (see tsu, shi, and chi) and the one’s that are more faithful to the actual structure of Japanese sounds while giving the finger to foreign perception of these character as letters (see tu, si and ti). I’ve noticed that natives almost always use the former when typing in Romaji. For example my favorite Vtuber’s channel says ‘Rushia’ in the title, because that was chosen by someone else who does branding as their job, but I’ve only ever seen her use ‘rusia’ when actually typing herself.

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I can’t find where I learned about it, but I’m pretty sure ず and づ used to be different (in essentially the same way じ and ぢ were), but nowadays they are pronounced the same as each other. However, the pronunciation does still vary based on the situation it’s in.

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They’re mostly vestigial, yes, at least in standard Japanese (i.e. the Tokyo dialect). Apparently though (I think it’s in the Wikipedia article), there are still regional differences in pronunciation, and some regions still differentiate じ and ぢ, and ず and づ, though perhaps not as consistently as before.

Just for the record, though I’m certain that you were just using the most convenient terms to make sure we all understand each other, the J used in French is actually ʒ, whereas the one in English is dʒ. (I speak French.)

Thanks for all the interesting information though!

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That’s more to do with the mechanics of the sound than anything else. The harder “j” is pronounced with the tongue completely covering the palate. After a vowel, there’s always space so it is inevitably pronounced softer except for people who use a more closed palate in general, like Kenichi.

Yeah, Kenichi uses ever so slightly less space between the tongue and the palate. It’s part of why I like his idiolect.

If you listen to 預ける, you can notice the Kyoko actually cuts off airflow when pronouncing ず and you can hear this in several examples.

Kenichi starts from a place where tongue isn’t quite touching and Kyoko almost always touches the roof of her mouth for z sounds.

I’d venture to say that most native Japanese speakers wouldn’t be either unless it was pointed out to them. The differences are all within an acceptable range for whatever dialect they happen to be using.

But until you have enough exposure to figure that out, it’s going to be tough to separate actual distinctions for dialects.

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