Jamaicans! Why you speak Japanese so well!

My Japanese teacher said once that Jamaican pronunciation of the Japanese language is pretty good. Allow me to boast for a while, and say I agree. Compared to American-accented Japanese that I’ve heard, my Jamaican friends, students, etc. are actually pretty good.

Here’s why:

1. Our Vowels are the Same!

Or, at least, similar. Jamaican Creole (Patwa) and much Jamaican-accented English has a similar set of short vowels as Japanese:

a あ
e え
i い
o お
u う

Take the word “go” for example. In American (and British?) English, that “o” is actually two vowel sounds, /goʊ/, but in Patois, it’s one; and a short one. Just like Japanese. Also, the ‘a’ sound may be pronounced very differently in these accents, especially if it’s a long one.

The long vowel ‘aa’, [a:] though pronounced more like an ‘aw’, [ʌ], in more English-influenced Patwa, is also very much like the Japanese long vowel. Our diphthongs (two or more vowel sounds together) and most other long vowels are different, though.

2. We have the same consonants!

Apart from the /h/ sound, which may or may not be present in Jamaican speech, and the /ts/ sound, which is not considered one sound in Jamaican language (and does not occur at the start of a word!), Japanese and Jamaican language have the same consonants. Oh, and I forgot [ɹ] (that’s the IPA symbol for the Jamaican ‘r’ sound!) and [l]; Japanese doesn’t really have these, but sort of… combines them into the tapping [ɾ]. But otherwise, we’ve got the same consonants. 🙂 Oh, and the Japanese ‘f’ [ɸ], which is like our [f], but kinda weird…

Okay, we’ve got mostly the same consonants.

What’s interesting is that, even though we both don’t have the ‘th’ sounds ([θ] as in ‘thing’ and [ð] as in ‘this’), we deal with them differently when we try to say them. In Jamaica, we turn then into [t] or [tʃ] (‘ch’) and [d] or [dʒ] (‘j’) respectfully. That’s why we say tomp (‘punch’, from ‘thump’), chrii (‘three’), di (‘the’), and jringk (‘drink’).

But in Japanese, they use [s] or [z]. Which is why ‘earth’ would end up sounding like ‘ass’ (アース) from a Japanese person. Just for a laugh, consider this excerpt from an article by a (former) teacher of English in Japan:

I remember having students read from dialogs in the book. I always sweated a bit when it came to ” Our Earth is big and blue. ” “Very good Eiji, next sentence please.”
カタカナ語 Interesting Pronunciations

3. We both put vowels between consonants/after consonants!

Ever wondered why we sometimes have an ‘extra’ vowel in siniek (snake), supaida (spider), and Sumit (Smith)? How about why we put an ‘extra’ vowel at the end of rata (rat), uona (own), and ku (look, which once was luku before it got shortened)?

Some consonants don’t come together well for non-English influenced Jamaican Creole. And Japanese is the same. They will say, “emputy”, for example. And, for my name, they would ‘add’ an ‘u’, [ɯ̹], to the end, making it: ‘Keniiru’ (ケニール, /kɛni:ɾɯ̹/).

3. We both have vowel nasalisation!

When you pronounce [n], [m], or any consonant for which you stop airflow from going through the mouth for the entire pronunciation, any vowel that goes before it will be nasalised: pronounced through the nose.

But in both Japanese and Patwa, this happens even without such a consonant being there. And it actually matters in words! That’s why you have, with nasalised word underlined:

“A wa dat?” (What is that?)
“A wahn buk.” (It is a book.)

「けんくんはらくのたね。」(「剣くんは洛の種。」/ “Ken-kun, ku wa raku no tane.”)
(“Mr Ken, no pain, no gain.”)

Written in Japanese as ん and in Patwa as hn, nasalisation works like a consonant in both languages. And, in both languages, it seems to be reduction of a nasal consonant sound. ([n] and [m] at the end of syllables are both also written as ん in Japanese, interestingly!)

So, there you have it. You, my Jamaican friend have these distinct advantages in pronouncing Japanese.

A random ‘proud-to-be-Jamaican’ moment for y’all!

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0 Responses to Jamaicans! Why you speak Japanese so well!

  1. Pingback: Life of an MA in Linguistics Student | Mr Multilingual

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