ぶんえいぶんしたです / The Japanese translation with furigana is at the bottom of this page.
An image of an upper-class household in Tokyo where maybe the nasal sound was used
At Edo-Tokyo Open Air Museum, Koganei, Tokyo, you can see some preserved houses of former warrior class. The long boxes with the family crest are brought in by the bride at the time of wedding. / 東京都(とうきょうと)小金井市(こがねいし)の江戸(えど)東京(とうきょう)たてもの園(えん)では、江戸時代(えどじだい)の武家屋敷(ぶけやしき)を見(み)ることができます。黒(くろ)い漆(うるし)塗(ぬ)りや桐(きり)の、家紋(かもん)入(い)りの長(なが)い箱(はこ)は、婚礼(こんれい)のときに夫人(ふじん)が実家(じっか)から持(も)ってきた長持(ながも)ちです。
  1. Japanese was not one language
  2. The language created for “Modernization”
  3. The establishment of the Common Language in modern Japanese: the common grammar and vocabulary
  4. The limit of the Common Language: Its pronunciation varies from province to province
  5. Your Japanese and the nasal sound
  6. The nasal sound in modern Japanese
  7. Listening comprehension of the Japanese nasal sound
  8. [A game] Try a tongue twister containing the nasal sound


1. Japanese was not one language

In our previous post, we said that you do not have to remember the rules of the nasal sound for announcers.

As the reasons, we have two:

(1) There is no problem in communication if you pronounce all the ga-row sounds with the regular “g”, and

(2) The set of rules applies to only one of the Tokyo dialects, which was adopted as the base of the Standard Language by the Meiji government. Since Japan’s industrial and commercial development during the 20th Century centered on Tokyo, people used to pay more attention to the rules of the Tokyo language. Now they don’t as much.

Along these lines, in this post, we will discuss what the Meiji government’s “Standard Language” was; how common people are using it now; and how the nasal sound is used today.

First, as background information, up until the end of the Edo Era (before 1867), there was no one integrated Japanese language since everyone spoke their own dialect.

2. The language created for “Modernization”

In the Meiji Era (1868-1912), the new government wanted to develop Japan into a nation of industry and commerce as in the West. In other words, they wanted to “modernize” Japan.

On the other hand, it was difficult to communicate with people from different parts of Japan since they kept speaking their dialects. Therefore, the government created a model language for people to learn. In doing this, they used one of the Tokyo dialects which had been spoken by the former warrior class.

They called it the Standard Language and had it taught at school for children from 1903. When radio broadcasting began in 1925, they had the announcers trained to speak the Standard Language so that all people in Japan could understand it.

Their efforts were so aggressive that they strongly suppressed people from speaking their dialects and local languages. As a result, some of them have become almost extinct.

An image of Glover’s Garden in Nagasaki, built when modern Japanese was being created with the nasal sound
(A view of Nagasaki Port from Glover’s Garden. Thomas Glover was an English businessperson who contributed a lot to the industrialization of Japan in the Meiji Era. / グラバー園(えん)から長崎港(ながさきこう)を望(のぞ)む。トーマス・グラバーは、明治期(めいじき)の日本(にほん)の工業化(こうぎょうか)に大(おお)きな役割(やくわり)を果(は)たした英国人(えいこくじん)の事業家(じぎょうか)です

3. The establishment of the Common Language: the common grammar and vocabulary

Today, the initial goal of the Meiji government has been attained; information by Japanese media including TV, the Internet, radio, newspaper and magazines, is published in only one language.

One can understand it if he/she was raised in a Japanese speaking family and learned Japanese during their mandatory education. It’s because a common understanding of the vocabulary and grammar has been established.

Since the second half of the 20th Century, this language has been called the Common Language.

You, as a foreigner, first learn this Common Language. That’s why, basically, you can communicate wherever you go.

4. The limit of the Common Language: its pronunciation varies from province to province

Now we have the common grammar and vocabulary, but what about pronunciation?

In fact, people still speak a mixture of their own dialect and the Common Language in their communities and with their family and friends. Using the same grammar, they also speak with the local accents and mix local vocabulary and expressions.

However, many of them consciously switch to the Common Language when they are at work, in customer service, when they talk to strangers or to people from other areas. In doing this, sometimes their accent is influenced by the local accents.

It means that even after decades of watching TV and listening to the radio, the announcers’ accents and pronunciation have not necessarily been adopted in people’s everyday life. When it comes to the nasal sound, some never notice the existence of it.

In summary, pronunciation and accents vary from province to province in Japan, but it is never a big problem in communication.

5. Your Japanese and the nasal sound

We presume that your textbooks teach the common language as well.

In terms of vocabulary and grammar, that’s just fine. As for the pronunciation, the two most important things at beginning and intermediate levels are:

(1) Pronounce vowels clearly.

(2) Pronounce each mora at an equal length.

After that, learn the correct accents and the flow in tones of the Common Language or of the language spoken in the area you live.

As for the nasal sound, you can think about it after learning all of the above. If you are busy, you don’t have to think about it.

6. The nasal sound in modern Japanese

By the way, the nasal sound is used in Japan in more varied ways than you may think.

There are areas where completely different sets of rules for the use of the regular “g” and the nasal exist; there are areas where people switch the regular “g” and nasal sound carelessly and for no particular reason; and in other areas, the nasal sound doesn’t exist at all.

Over all, it seems that there are fewer people who use the nasal. Even in Tokyo, fewer of the younger generations use it. Some say that in several decades, the nasal will disappear from the Japanese language.

The prospect that the smooth nasal sound will disappear causes some people to lament it. As we are from Tokyo, we will miss it, too, but Japanese is a language of long history. There have been many additions and disappearances in the past, and this may be just one of the changes.

7. Listening comprehension of the Japanese nasal sound

Back to present, the nasal sound is still often used. You may sometimes wonder while watching TV and videos, because a nasal does sound like the “n” sound. (For your information, we put a link to a video clip of a children’s folk song to show how it sounds, in [Mini Pocket (1) or the Japanese Nasal Sound].)

Usually you can easily tell what the speaker means by the context or from the situation. For example, you will not confuse “kagi” [with a nasal sound like “ka-ngi”] (key, lock) with “kani”  (crab) because you generally don’t miss a crab in your purse or you don’t go to a seafood restaurant to eat a key.

That’s why the incident of my mistaking “mini pocket” for “mi-ngi pocket (the pocket on the right side)” was rather unusual.

8. (A game) Try a tongue twister containing the nasal sound

Lastly, let’s practice a popular hayakuchi kotoba or tongue twister. Try to say this first slowly, and then gradually faster.

> Nama-mugi, nama-gome, nama-tamago (Raw wheat, raw rice, raw egg)

Below are two links of videos of different people saying this:

First one is “Hachi-ji da yo, Zen-in Shuugoo” (It’s Eight, Let’s Get Together), a popular TV program of about 40 years ago. Surprisingly, all people here are saying this with the clean nasal sound although many are not from Tokyo.

However, when we compare videos demonstrating “nama-mugi, nama-gome, nama-tamago”, many more people say it with the regular “g” recently. 

The second video is read by a woman with the regular “g” sound as well.

By the way, this children’s book titled “Namamugi Namagome Namatamago” is a collection of Japanese tongue twisters and very enjoyable. So we hope to introduce it to you here in the future. 

Related Posts

[End of the English post]

Image by Mr. Akihito FukushimaI / I just said the vocabulary is common in Japan but actually there is a huge vocabulary of dialects spreading all over Japan. In Kagoshima dialect, “saruddo” means “walk” but it is totally incomprehensible for one from Kanto area like me. / 語彙(ごい)は共通(きょうつう)と申(もう)しましたが、方言(ほうげん)語彙(ごい)はまだまだ豊(ゆた)かです。鹿児島(かごしま)で「さるっど」は歩(ある)くという意味(いみ)だそうですが、関東(かんとう)出身(しゅっしん)の私(わたし)には全然(ぜんぜん)わかりません。

ミニポケットの話 最終回 鼻濁音と現代の日本語について

  1. ほんはひとつではなかった
  2. 近代きんだい」のためのげん
  3. きょうつう」の成立せいりつ文法ぶんぽう全国ぜんこくきょうつう
  4. きょうつう」の限界げんかい発音はつおんかくほうことなる
  5. ぶんほん濁音だくおん
  6. 現代げんだいほん濁音だくおん
  7. 濁音だくおん
  8. (遊び) 早口言はやくちこと









2. 「近代きんだい」のためのげん





3. 「きょうつう」の成立せいりつ文法ぶんぽう全国ぜんこくきょうつう





4. 「きょうつう」の限界げんかい発音はつおんかくほうことなる






5. あなたのほん濁音だくおん









つうの「g」 と濁音だくおんが、きょうつうとはちがうルールで使つかわれるほうもあれば、「g」と濁音だくおんをめいめいがきなように使つかったり使つかわなかったりするほうもあり、濁音だくおん存在そんざいしないほうもあります。





でも、たいていはぶんみゃくじょうきょうですぐわかります。たとえば、「かぎ(鍵)」 と「カニ(蟹)」はとてもていますが、バッグのなかでカニがなくなったとか、かぎべに海鮮かいせんりょうみせくとかいうことはないでしょう。


8. 早口言はやくちこと


> 「なまむぎ なまごめ なまたまご」










=>Return to 2019 Posts / 2019年投稿記事へ戻る

=> Return to Home/「ホーム」へ戻る

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

eleven − four =