Sunday Soundcheck 74

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Until the latest column of the syllabary there were always five sounds (if archaic characters were included), but the last column of three is threatening to throw off our symmetry. Because the last row is a bit of a hodge podge anyhow, I will take the liberty of adding a couple of special characters this week and next.

First is the Vowel Elongation Mark, written as ‘ー’ (essentially a long dash). As is probably obvious at this point, most Japanese syllables are a consonant sound followed by a vowel sound. Each of these is getting one beat of time. Adding length to the vowel is actually changing the spelling and meaning in Japanese, unlike English were we can elongate or shorten sounds just to express feeling. In hiragana, vowel sounds are elongated by adding one of the vowel only characters which can be seen in Sunday Soundchecks One, Two, Three, Four and Five. Of course this is a little complicated by the fact that ‘o’ sounds are often elongated by adding ‘u’ which leads a lot of learners to the wrong pronunciation.

Katakana however has a simple method to elongate vowels simply by adding the elongation mark. Naturally it never appears at the beginning of a word, but here are a couple words using it:

Kontorooru (コントロール) from the English word ‘control’ used in many of the same ways as the English word.

Enerugii (エネルギー) from the English word ‘energy’ used in the sense of personal energy, not electric power or such.

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