Japanese Language Blog

Japanese Pitch Accent Posted by on Aug 27, 2011 in Grammar

Japanese pitch accent can be tricky, especially when it comes to words that are spelled with the same hiragana but have different pitch accents.

Rain (あめ) () (ame) a[high] me[low]

Sentence : 雨が降ると思う (ame ga furu to omou) I think it’ll rain

Candy (あめ) (飴) (ame) a[low] me[high]

Ex: がほしい = (ame ga hoshii) I want candy

The first two words are ‘rain’ and ‘candy’. Notice that the hiragana that comes after these two words are the same, but the kanji are different. In written communication these two words can be easily distinguished by their kanji. In verbal communication the way to differentiate the two words is by context and pitch accent. The first part of the word for rain starts off with a high pitch accent with ‘a’ (あ) but falls to a lower pitch accent with ‘me’ (め). However the word for candy starts off with a low pitch accent and ends with a higher pitch accent.

Here are some other examples:

Bridge (はし) (橋) (hashi) (accent on second mora)

Ex: は修理中です = (hashi ha shūrichū des) The bridge is being repaired

Chopsticks (はし) (箸) (hashi) (accent on first mora)

Ex: パーカーさんはで食べてみた (paakaa san ha hashi de tabetemita) Mr. Parker tried to use chopsticks

Another way to look at pitch accent is by looking at what part of the word is accented. For the word ‘bridge’, the accent is on the second mora. A mora is something that determines syllable weight. So with the word bridge, は would be the first mora and し would be the second mora. The word for bridge will have the accent on the second mora, but the word for chopsticks will have the accent on the first mora.

Watch out for this one:

Oyster (かき) (硴) (kaki) accent on first mora

Ex: はたべれますか (kaki ha taberemasu ka) Can you eat oysters?

Fence (かき) (垣) (kaki) accent on second mora

Ex: 父は庭のまわりに根を作りました (chichi ha niwa no mawari ni kakine wo tsukimashita) My father made a fence around the garden

Persimmon (かき) (柿) (kaki) no accent

Ex: 今日スーパーでを買います (kyō sūpā de kaki wo kaimasu)

So with the word for persimmon, there is no accent on any mora

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