こんにちにゃあ～！Welcome to Kiki+Koko: Let’s NihonGO!! Online! We’re Kiki and Koko, your guides to Japanese language and culture, helping you navigate the twists and turns of learning. And, this lesson, there certainly are some twists and turns you’ll find important to learn. With the help of QUIZBO™, our basically bilingual buddy, we’ll help you learn the pronunciations of this lesson’s characters. (Before this lesson, be sure you’ve learnt the previous 五十音, gojuuon, as it will be important to getting the most out of this. No worries, though, as we’ll guide you ever step of the way. ) And, we’ll help demystify 四つがな, yotsugana, and the misconceptions you may get through romanisation and other (still well-meaning) teachers.
Maybe you’re here for the first time, wondering what is hiragana, anyway. Well, your confusion will subside with a bit of our article: How Do You Write in Japanese? | Japanese Writing System Demystified. Perhaps, even after knowing what it is, you think you can get along in Japanese without knowing how to read, but with our caring words, perhaps you’ll understand the dangers of romaji, but also understand that there are still practical uses. And, if you’ve already completed your hiragana homework, and you’re ready to jump into this, but you’re not sure why these characters look so similar to the ones you’ve already learnt, and why there’s two dots above them, then you’ll need a healthy dose of 濁点, dakuten, which we explain in 🔊 Let’s Read!! w/ QUIZBO™ 【がぎぐげご】| 濁点とは？| What is Dakuten? (+ Helpful Hints with Kiki+Koko!).
四つがなとは? What is Yotsugana?
Before this, we’ve been focused mainly on helping you differentiate the original 五十音, gojuuon and their 濁点, dakuten, affected counterparts, but very quickly after hearing the pronunciations of「ぢ」and 「づ」in many dialects of Japanese, you may feel as though you’re hearing something familiar. And, you would be correct, so much so that this is a phenomenon all its own that has resulted in a set of kana to be known as 四つがな, yotsugana. Now, don’t worry, this isn’t an entirely new system of writing you’ll have to learn in order to read Japanese. This simply refers to literally ‘four kana’ which are 「じ・ぢ」and 「ず・づ」. There is a long history that is similar to the reason why you’ll see old school buildings use kanji like 「學」when you’ll see it in modern writing as 「学」which we explain in Japanese Word(s) of the Week w/ QUIZBO™ | 【学校】+【学期】(+Quick Culture Corner on School Semesters). But, to put things very simply in this case, long ago, Japanese had many more sounds than exist today. However, as time has continued, both officially and naturally through time, many sounds have simplified or merged. This is not only true to words including「ぢ」and「づ」, but words that used to contain other kana like 男「おとこ」, man, used to be 「をとこ」, and「 いる」, to be, used to be「ゐる」, and that’s barely scratching the surface of the surface’s surface. However, unlike many classical Japanese words, there are still actually an abundance of words you’ll see, even till this day, spelt with 「ぢ」and「づ」as well as pronounced using their unique pronunciation such as:
Meaning: ‘To shrink’
and, as 「Roundabout」by Yes begins to play, you’ll probably recognise:
Meaning literally: ‘To continue’
Why are 「じ・ぢ」and 「ず・づ」part of their own special band known as 四つがな, yotsugana? Well, many teachers as well as some romanisation methods will tell you that each of these pairs—「じ・ぢ」and 「ず・づ」—have the same pronunciation, which we’ll get into in a moment, because even though there is merging when it comes to 「じ・ぢ」and 「ず・づ」, it’s not quite forthcoming enough to say that and seeing as some romanisation doesn’t even distinguish between these characters, it’s definitely another important reason to learn these characters in order to understand them.
Clearing the Misconception / Variations in Dialect
Why 「ず・ づ」 and 「じ・ぢ」are actually distinct
Now, we have a bit of a not-so-hot take on the 四つがな, yotsugana, as some may write 「ず・ づ」 and 「じ・ぢ」off as only two sounds, and tell students to only think of them as two sounds, reading them the same. But, this is very shortsighted and will make things difficult in the long run. Even though there are many modern Japanese words than have shifted to even be spelt favouring 「じ」or 「ず」over「ぢ」 or「づ」, this is not to say that every word using 「ぢ」 or「づ」will be pronounced the same way as a word using 「じ」or 「ず」in every dialect. In standard dialect as well as many other dialects, there is a distinct to slightly distinct difference in pronunciation between these, therefore it’s a bit much to say that these are only two sounds definitively and are not to be differentiated simply because many dialects meld the sounds together. It would be the same as saying 「ち・つ」「し・す」are the same pronunciation simply because something like ちらしずし, chirashizushi, would be pronounced つらすずす, tsurasuzusu, in something like 東北弁, touhokuben, otherwise known as Touhoku dialect. And, this is sort of the same idea as suggesting JSL students think of「ず・ づ」 and 「じ・ぢ」as the same which would be very damaging in the learning process.
In the standard dialect, 「ず・ づ」 and 「じ・ぢ」are differentiated which only slight crossover as the sounds are very similar anyway. The noise is made by touching the teeth with and without the buzzing of the tongue on the teeth respectively. In 鹿児島弁, kagoshimaben, otherwise known as the Kagoshima dialect, the difference between 「ず・ づ」 and 「じ・ぢ」are clearly differentiated. In Northern Touhoku as well as Okinawa, you’ll hear 「ず・ づ・じ・ぢ」pronounced the same closer to 「ぢ」—which again, will vary in pronunciation based on dialect. And in Southern Touhoku, it will all be mashed down into just 「づ」.
What’s to be Made of This?
The final say on「ず・ づ」 and 「じ・ぢ」
So, from this we can definitively say… you can’t definitively group 「ず・ づ」 and 「じ・ぢ」together. When enunciating in standard dialect, you’ll hear distinctions. However, that isn’t to say when you’re pronouncing a word, you should make the distinction extreme. Just like we explained in The Necessary Nebulousness of 「ん」(The Mysterious Maverick of Japanese Morae), it’s about attempting the pronunciation from the correct place. If you start from saying 「じ」instead of 「ぢ」or 「ず」 instead of 「づ」in a word spelt explicitly with a 「ぢ」or 「づ」 rather than knowing it’s pronounced differently and merging it, it just won’t have the correct standard pronunciation and you’ll find yourself merging words themselves that are totally different.
The word「気づく」,きづく, is very different to the word 「築く」, きずく, however in pronunciation many people wouldn’t be able to tell the very minute difference. the Z sound and the Dz sound in Japanese are definitely similar anyway, but different to the strong sound of its pronunciation in English. The Z sound may be better expressed by a buzzing on the front of the palate rather than the strong buzz of the top and bottom teeth together with the tongue. And, maybe to many, the sounds of the Japanese Z and Dz sound the same as they are both much softer than what many other languages are used to hearing. However, if there were one defining feature that could assist in differentiating, it’s that characters romanised with dzu or di have a stronger Z sound that’s closer to the teeth than the rest romanised with a Z. However, be careful even when using the palate because if your consonants become too far back on the palate rather than near the teeth, it will start to sound closer to many Indian language pronunciations. (And, with many parallels to sanskrit, this is an interesting point to make, but that is a lesson for a different time.)
So, what should you take away from all of this? We guess the point of it all isn’t to say that you should expect or give any of these characters extreme distinction, but to know it’s not useful to say that all of the characters are exactly the same and leave it at that. They are similar and there are dialects in which 四つがな, yotsugana, can be merged completely, but in both practical and etymological senses, it’s important to know there is a distinction.
Luckily, you’re learning these now rather than hundreds of years ago when the characters didn’t have a distinction like 濁点, dakuten, where people ‘just knew’ which characters were pronounced differently based on context. Now, you too can work on differentiating these characters, paying close attention to 濁点, dakuten, which, with time, will start to feel like you ‘just know’. But, you’ll know you ‘just know’ based on your efforts and returning here often until it becomes natural to you.
Above are the tools that you’ll need to compare the original character and the modified character. But, without further ado, we should probably welcome back your computer friend and ours, QUIZBO™くん！(The ™ is silent)
If you remember from previous instalments, this is a portable version, QUIZBO™ Mini, who lives here on the site. He’ll be here to help sound out these hiragana for you. You can click the sound ‘bytes’ as many times as you’d like, QUIZBO™ won’t mind. ( Get it, bytes? … Computer? …We’ll stick to teaching Japanese. ) Afterwards, you’ll be able to take a quiz with QUIZBO™ to help you review them or test your knowledge!
Are you ready!?
Let’s NihonGO!! だぢづでど!!
We’re going to show you the character, then you you can click the play button to hear QUIZBO™ sound it out for you. But, as a better visualisation of each sound, we also have the romanised pronunciation of each character so you have something in English to which you can compare it.
In romaji, 「だ」 is transliterated as「da」which sounds sort of like 「dahh」**
Helpful Hints with Kiki+Koko:
When you think of the way you say the letter ‘s’ and the letter ‘z’, it may become more apparent that they have more in common than you think. So, when you look at ざ, it’s okay to initially think of さ then see the dots and remember it’s time to modify that sound. After a while, it’ll become more natural.
In romaji, 「ぢ」 is transliterated as 「di」which sounds SORT of like the letter 「D」**but varies based on dialect ranging from /ʒi/ to /ʤi/ to /ʑi/
Helpful Hints with Kiki+Koko:
So, this character is based on ち which already may seem like it’s a bit of the odd one out. You’ll see this romanised as ji, but like we explained earlier, this is misleading in many cases where the pronunciation has stayed the same after the Edo period.
Again, this is one of the 四つがな, yotsugana, so the best way to think of this is that it’s meant to be /ʤi/, but is often simplified into /ʒi/, but can be /ʑi/. If you don’t know special linguistic lettering, then just think of it as ji, dzi, and zsi.
When typing this character, you can also just write ‘di’, which when someone speaking Japanese would read ‘di’, you would get the same sound depending on the dialect. Now, if you’re looking to get a very exact pronunciation, closer to the D sound of an English word, you’d use 「でぃ」which gives a much more specific alveolar tap.
Overall… just try your best with this one, and stay consistent with standard Japanese pronunciation, and when you’re further along and comfortable, you can spice things up with different dialects.
In romaji, 「づ」 is transliterated as 「dzu」or 「du」which sounds sort of like a cross between the English words「do」and 「zoo」 depending on the dialect which ranges from /dzɯ/ to /zɯ/ **
Helpful Hints with Kiki+Koko:
This character is based on つ which, again, is another character that seems to fit a different sort of pronunciation despite being in the ‘t’ line, but the original character can also be romanised as ‘tu’ which gives more validity to what we’re going to present. This character can often be seen romanised as ‘du’ which can feel misleading, but if you use the proper softer sound, and standard pronunciation, anyone looking at ‘du’ will end up reading it the same way as dzu depending on their dialect.
Again, this is one of the 四つがな, yotsugana, so the best way to think of this is that it’s meant to be /dzɯ/, but is often simplified into /zɯ/. If you don’t know special linguistic lettering, then just think of it as dzu often simplified to zu unless specified by spelling or dialect.
This can be typed using just ‘du’ and it will provide the proper character. However, if you want to specify the specific alveolar tap associated with an English pronunciation of ‘du’, you’d see: 「どぅ」. You’ll see these sorts of spellings often for Okinawan and other Japonic languages.
Pronouncing this one is definitely about differentiating the buzzing difference between ‘zu’ and ‘dzu’ and finding a happy medium that differentiates it enough from 「ず」to make it a different character– not too extreme, it’s all about how you attack the pronunciation that makes that very tiny subtle difference.
In romaji, 「で」 is transliterated as 「de」which sounds sort of like the English word「day」**
Helpful Hints with Kiki+Koko:
You’ll see this character so very often day to day, especially with words like that magical です。You’ll notice that the ‘d’ sound of Japanese is much less of an attack, a muddied version of the ‘t’ sound which is also softer in comparison to the English counterparts. It’s almost as if 「て」 is voice with air and is a little farther back on the tip of the tongue whilst 「で」is closer to the tip of the teeth, covering more space, without air, and is more about voice without that burst of air. Each are not attacked sharply, but 「で」is definitely softer.
In romaji, 「ど」 is transliterated as 「do」which sounds sort of like the English word 「dough」
Helpful Hints with Kiki+Koko:
D’oh! otherwise known to true trivia nerds as: [Annoyed Grunt], or translated in the controversial episode ‘Thirty Minutes over Tokyo’ from that certain American cartoon family:「しまった、ばかに！」which isn’t exactly a translation, but still fun when you’re watching a show and get a bilingual bonus. It’s usually just transliterated as 「どっ!」
Anyway, this includes that same softer consonant using more of the tongue rather than a sharp sound like in English. Think of the original 「と」, then think of muddying the pronunciation into 「ど」. We’re sure with more exposure, and listening to this, practising along, it will become more natural with time.
And, there we are! 「だぢづでど」!! Whew!!! That was quite a lot to get through, but we hope you feel better for it. We covered so much about dialect, pronunciation, misconceptions and more. And, we definitely understand that this can be a lot to absorb as a beginner, but if you feel overwhelmed with any of the information, know that there’s no rush! In fact, it’s best to return multiple times in order to fully absorb the information. It’s not realistic to expect an immediate mental download of the materials, but rather, something of which you get a general understanding, then you go back over it, understanding more, then as you proceed and see more context, you’ll start to feel it becoming natural.
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