Nouns: Introduction

snphan | Oct. 25, 2021, 2:11 a.m.

Happy Monday!πŸ’¦ Hope the weather is treating everyone well.

Today we will be going over the topics that this Nouns series will be covering and laying out some ground rules for interpreting compound nouns. The single most important rule that you should take away from this post is that all changes to the pitch accent of a compound noun are dependent on the properties of the last noun unit in the word1 (that's right, if we know that a word is a compound noun, we can ignore more than 50% of the word and determine the pitch accent pattern by just looking at the last noun). Specifically, these "properties" refer to the final noun's pitch number and the number of morae. There are 4 different categories for this final noun in a compound noun. The first is 3~4 Morae and not δΈ­ι«˜εž‹ (or 中高δ»₯ε€–), and the second is 3~4 Morae and δΈ­ι«˜εž‹. The third and fourth categories we deal with involve final nouns with 1~2 Mora(e) [in most cases these are suffixes] with a total of two different cases: Case A and Case B. We will get into these categories in more detail in a later post. For now, let's look at how to break apart compound nouns to really get a feel for what a noun unit can be. Let's begin by taking apart the word ζ—₯本θͺžγƒ»γ«γ»γ‚“ご. 

I'm confident that most of us here are familiar with this word. It means "Japanese" right? Also, we would consider this as a single word that is a noun right? Well, that's not what Unidic thinks. If we input the word にほんご into Unidic-MeCab tool (using python), and parse the output a little bit, we find that にほんご consists of two words! 🀯


What about fields of study like εΏƒη†ε­¦γƒ»γ—γ‚“γ‚ŠγŒγ?

Once again, Unidic doesn't consider 心理学 as a full word, but as a Noun + suffix. 

Let's look at another word that looks a little more like a compound noun: η΅ŒζΈˆηŠΆζ³γƒ»γ‘γ„γ–γ„γ˜γ‚‡γ†γγ‚‡γ†. 


As you probably expected, this is also a compound noun that consists of the word 硌済 and 犢況. 

While there aren't any concrete rules for how to break apart a compound noun, we noticed that most single nouns in Japanese consist of 2 kanji. If you see that there are 3 kanji, you can begin to suspect that the word may be a compound noun consisting of a single noun and a suffix. Above 3 kanji and the word is most likely a compound noun (like the ones that you see in Japanese Newspapers—it kind of looks like Chinese). Our beloved friend called the "JLPT exam" can also be considered a compound noun. It is broken down like so:


At the point when you see more than 3 kanji in a word, you can assume that it is a compound noun and focus on the last noun unit in the compound noun to determine the pitch accent pattern of the entire word. With that in mind, let's look at how to deal with the 1st of the 4 cases for the last noun in the compound noun: 3~4 Morae and δΈ­ι«˜εž‹δ»₯ε€–.

1Minematsu, Nobuaki. “OJAD and Its Practical Use for Teaching/Learning Japanese Prosody,” n.d., 27.