2.1. Hiragana for vowels


Japanese has only five vowels like Latin and Spanish, and they are easy to distinguish.

Vowels:
HiraganaRomanizationPronunciationDescription
(a)a[a] audio Similar to the first sound of eye [aI], but without the ending [I]. It is pronounced in the front of the mouth, while the [α:] in father [fα:ð@r] is pronounced in the back of the mouth. The [æ] in ashsh] is not as wide as [a].
(i)i[i] audio Similar to the [i:] in eat [i:t].
(u)u[u] audio Similar to the [u:] in cool [ku:l], but [u] is a more relaxed sound than that. You don't have to round your lips tightly. It is quite different from the [U] in good [gUd].
(e)e[e] audio Similar to the first sound of the [eI] in day [deI], but without the ending [I]. The [ε] in end [εnd] is wider than [e].
(o)o[o] audio Similar to the first sound in owe [oU], but without the ending [U].

You don't have to worry about the vowel pronunciations very much. What is really important is the metronomic rhythm of Japanese. You must pronounce vowels with the same time length.

It is believed that Japanese had eight vowels: a, i, u, e, o, ï, ë, and ö. The last three were lost more than a thousand years ago.


Hiragana examples:

Hiragana:(a)(i)
Pitch:HL
Romanization:ai
Meaning:love (noun)

Hiragana:(u)(e)
Pitch:LH
Romanization:ue
Meaning:upper (noun)

Hiragana:(o)(u)
Pitch:HL
Romanization:ô
Meaning:king (noun)

Note: A combination of a kana with the vowel "o" and a kana for "u" is pronounced with [o:], not [ou]. A combination of a kana with the vowel "o" and a kana for "o" is also pronounced with [o:], not [oo]. In these cases, the second kana is there just to make the previous "o" longer and is technically described as the phoneme /H/. The sound [o:] is the same as [o] but twice as long as [o]. When Romanized, it is written as either "ô" ("o" with a circumflex) or "ō" ("o" with a macron). Remember that Japanese is metronomic. The sound [o] ("o") has one mora, while [o:] ("ô") has two morae. If you pronounce the former in 0.2 second, you must pronounce the latter in 0.4 second.

Hiragana:(a)(o)(i)
Pitch:LHH
Romanization:aoi
Meaning:hollyhock (noun)

Hiragana:(i)(e)
Pitch:LH
Romanization:ie
Meaning:house (noun)

Hiragana:(i)(o)(u)
Pitch:LHH
Romanization:iô
Meaning:sulfur (noun)

Note: This word has three morae, not two.


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