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Subject: syllable-timing and mora-timing
From: TAKASUGI Shinji (tssf.airnet.ne.jp)
Date: Sat, 28 Aug 2004 15:55:05 GMT
References: 1, 2, 3, 4

> > Since Japanese was a syllable-timing language before and became a mora-timing language only 500 years ago or so, I think the diphthong theory is very probable.
> Interesting! For my edification, would you mind elaborating on what is meant by "syllable-timing" and "mora-timing," particularly the "syllable-timing"?

Human languages always have a rhythm. Many of them, such as Spanish and Mandarin, have a syllable-based rhythm, in which syllables are minimum beats of speech. Listen carefully to spoken Spanish or Mandarin, and you'll notice syllables are pronounced in an approximately equal time.

Some languages with complex syllable structures, such as English and German, have a stress-based rhythm. One syllable in a few words is pronounced longer and stronger, and this stress rhythm won't change greatly even in a fast speech.

Japanese has a mora-based rhythm, and I think this is not common in the world. Modern Japanese speaker pronounce おじさん in four beats and おじいさん in five beats.

Just think about poems. The following is an ancient tanka of Nara period:
田子 (たご) (うら) ゆ うち () でて () れば 真白 (ましろ) にぞ 富士 (ふじ) 高嶺 (たかね) (ゆき) () りける

This poem seems 字余り (jiamari - too many morae) to modern speakers because たごのうらゆ has six morae and うちいでてみれば has eight morae, while a tanka must have 5, 7, 5, 7, and 7 morae. But it was completely okay when it was made because Japanese was a syllable-timing language. のう in たごのうらゆ was a single syllable, so was ちい in うちいでてみれば. The former phrase had five syllables, and the latter phrase had seven syllables.

The following webpage of mine might be interesting:

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