Why does Japanese have so many long vowels at the end of loanwords?

For example, words like

I can understand ski having a long vowel to differentiate from 好き, but it seems to be a common trend in general. The original words also have the emphasis on the front, not the end. Does anyone have an explanation?

If I were to guess if you notice at how japanese sounds every letter a syllable, when it comes to loan words it fmorphs into the loanwrod but with Japanese pronuciation rules.


Someone else probably has a more scientific answer, but I’ll leave my own two cents.

Since Japanese is a pretty rhythmic language, by which I mean each syllable is more or less the same length in spoken Japanese, the way we pronounce berry, taxi, ivory, in English is typically rendered with that elongated vowel in Japanese. If they were just ベリ、タクシ、アイボリ, they may sound more like berry-, taxi-, ivory-, with almost a guttural stop to the vowel sounds, as opposed to the more natural fade they actually have in English.

It may not sound very different to those of us who speak languages where the length of vowels don’t change the meaning of a word, but to native speakers who sub-consciously hear those differences I imagine it’s a pretty stark difference.

Typically there’s not this much intent behind the spellings, though. It’s more of a representation of the sounds a native would make while mimicking the English pronunciation.


I feel like it’s this too. Without the elongated vowel, you get a tissue situation. I have yet to meet anyone who properly says “ティッシュ” with a proper “oo” sound at the end. Literally everyone I’ve talked to say “tish”. It took longer than I’d like to admit to figure out what they were asking for. :pensive: We should’ve elongated that one. :pensive:


If I saw those, I’d think it was “very”, “tax”, and “eyeball”. :joy:

Yeah I think it’s mostly when a vowel follows a consonant since the thats a distinct sound and the same sound in the mora doesn’t count. For example, the し in タクシー doesn’t count as an “i” sound since it can often become voiceless. Same with the き in スキー.

I think the outlier is ベリー. In that case it seems to be the tendency to always add a ー when there’s a “y” at the end of a word.


Thank you! I like the explanation with reference to fading, that makes sense to me.

Ah, that’s a good point. I don’t think it happens so much for r/l starting sounds, but sh/s/k especially get hit with that.

:joy_cat: … to the extent they are capable, right?

Recently my language partner mentioned that Japanese often mispronounce „agree“ as „ugly“ just to give one of the many examples that really give me pause because the English pronunciations are so far apart for my ears…


I believe it’s a legitimate attempt to use 五十音(ごじゅおん) to describe the sound they hear when we pronounce “very,” “taxi,” and “ivory”. It has nothing to do with differentiation from other Japanese words, it’s all about mimicry with a limited, unsuitable palette.

English ears are mostly tuned to hear stress and pitch differences in spoken words. Japanese ears are far more attuned to hearing the duration of vowels, something we tend to ignore altogether.

べり would represent some thing that sounds much closer to “belly” (think bad Scots accent, “get in my bell eh”) than “very.”

タクシ would represent something much closer to “tax” or “tax eh,” than “taxi” (“tax ee”).

And アイボリ would represent a り sound much closer to the “i” in “rip” than than the double “e” in “feet”.

Note that it’s also worth asking yourself why we still spell “feet” with two e’s.

It goes the other way, too. The differences between おばあさん and おばさん, or きて and きって are profound in Japanese, but those sorts of differences don’t really exist in modern English. We try to represent those sounds as “obaasan” vs. “obasan” and “kite” vs. “kitte” but it’s not a very good approximation.

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My guess has always been that it’s because there’s no short English I sound in the Japanese language, you know like the ih as in sit. To differentiate that with ee, they make the イ long イー. So like, city シティー, list リスト, and least リースト.

Also, I notice you said emphasis. I suppose it’s time for a small linguistics lesson. English has stress on syllables. Japanese does not. Japanese is considered a mora-time based language. Morae are an even more basic form of sound than syllables. For example, 日本 has two syllables but four morae. Kana easily shows this にっぽん. Very few languages are based on morae instead of syllables, and Japanese happens to be one of them.

Anyway, do not confuse mora elongation for stress. It’s not the same thing. For an exercise, think of each kana as a second long. テー would be pronounced two seconds. This is what linguists mean when they say it’s a time-based on mora. This is also the reason why some Japanese people may sound robotic when they speak English, especially with little experience.

I hope this helps you understand.

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Except belly is also written ベリー :stuck_out_tongue:.

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Not the Austin Powers Scots accent one in my head! :laughing:

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