Wasabi Stories vol.20: “Interesting Difference in ‘N’”



wasabi stories“Wasabi Stories” is a quotation and summary of a column which touches ones heart or not found on the internet.

It is a Japanese famous person’s story extracted from the NIKKEI news paper.

The purpose in posting the column in JAPAN Style is to cheer you up and to make you feel “it’ was worth reading!”

Wasabi (Japanese horseradish or mustard) is spicy and stimulate your nose and make you teary.

The columns in “Wasabi Stories” hopefully spice your heart and sometimes make you teary!

The stories were originally sent as E-mail Newsletter in Japanese. Some are a little old but we’ll eventually catch up with new ones.



“Interesting Difference in ‘N’”

Today’s story teller is a novelist, Yoshinori Shimizu. In this column, he is writing about “pronunciation”.

One day he joined a round table discussion and heard an interesting story from Osamu Mizutani, president of Nagoya University of Foreign Studies.

When he was young, he was praying at church and asked a question by an American.

“What are they saying?” The American was wondering when Japanese say “ah-men”.

Mizutani told him that they were saying “amen” in English pronunciation; however, the American seemed it didn’t make sense to him.


The problem was “n”.

Mizutani explained “’n’ in English and ‘n’ in Japanese are different.

In English, ‘n’ is pronounced strongly with closed mouth, like pushing air.

In Japanese, contrary, ‘n’ sounds more dispersed.

So Japanese “amen” doesn’t sound “amen” to Americans, it sounds like “ah meh” to them.”

Listening to Mizutani’s story, Arthur Binard (American poet and essayist writing in English and Japanese) agreed with him.

Another attendee said, “in Japanese, when a vowel sound comes after ‘n’, ‘n’ sounds likely to flow away.

For example, ‘sennen (a thousand years)’ can be pronounced as it’s written but ‘sen-en (a thousand yen)’ is pronounced ‘seh-en’ because the ‘n’ sounds weak after vowel ‘e’. ”

This story reminded Shimizu an episode when he was teaching writing at an elementary school.

He noticed children in the lower grades who can’t write “man-in (full)” in Kanji wrote “mah-in” in Hiragana.

He was wondering why they couldn’t write “man-in”.

“It had been mystery for a long time but now I know why they couldn’t write.

That’s because they hear people pronounce with weak ‘n’, it sounded like ‘mah-in’ to children.”

The differences of languages are interesting, and conversation with those who are curious about the differences is fun and makes him happy, Shimizu says.

The NIKKEI Apr/6/2009 by Yoshinori Shimizu (novelist)


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