PA 101: Notation
snphan | Oct. 6, 2021, 4:28 a.m.
Before we dive into the technicalities of Japanese Pitch Accent, a note should be made on the notation for pitch accent used on this site. There are two objectives that the notation in "Learning" seeks to accomplish:
- There are loosely two pitches that compose Japanese Pitch Accents: a low pitch and a high pitch. The first objective of the notation is to show where the high and low pitches are for each word;
- Great, we know what the pitches are for one word, but what happens after? Typically a particle is attached to a noun, so the second objective is to show the pitch of the following particle. *Particles are indicated by parentheses after the word.
Within "Learning", we will be using borders to show where pitches are low, high and where they change. Let's look at an example. For the word "company" in Japanese (会社・かいしゃ), we have the following pitch accent:
We can see here that the pitch begins low, rises at the first mora, then stays high1. Pretty simple right?
The second example is for the word for "literature" in Japanese (文学・ぶんがく). The pitch accent for this word is shown below:
Once again by inspection, we see that the pitch starts high, drops immediately after the first mora, and stays low1. Easy peasy.
Here is the final example today. This time, it's for the word "man" in Japanese (男・おとこ):
This shows the pitch starting low, rising at the end of お, and then staying high1 until the end of the word... until it drops??? This drop accomplishes the second objective of showing what the pitch of the following particle should be. If a particle were to follow おとこ, let's say the particle が, we will have the following pitch accent:
Start low, go high until the last mora of the word and then drop just before the particle が.
Let's revisit かいしゃ and ぶんがく in terms of the showing what the pitch of the particle after the word is. Unlike おとこ, there is no drop at the last mora which means that the pitch stays high even to the next particle. If we stick the particle (が) to かいしゃ like we did previously, we will expect the following pitch accent pattern:
Similarily, attaching (が) to ぶんがく gives us the following pattern:
A similar notation is shown on the "Parser" page. However, the borders showing the low or high pitch appear above each mora.
1A point on "staying high" or "staying low": when saying おとこ, the pitch doesn't stay high on one note or low on one note (we aren't robots 🤖... we have vocal cords! ✨... though it is 2021 so we could be wrong... haha... 🤐). Instead, in spoken Japanese the pitch gradually trails off, decreasing minutely with each successive "high" or "low" pitch mora. A better and more natural representation of おとこ looks something like this.
The same thing applies to long sentences whether the pitch is high or low—it gradually trails off... by how much each mora you may ask? It depends on the person. For that, we recommend listening to native Japanese speakers to develop that intuition. For some really good visualizations of what the pitch looks like in a sentence, check out Tofugu's article on Japanese Pronunciation.
That's it for Pitch Notation on this website. Next up, we get into the types of pitch accents. Memorize these patterns and you are 50%+ of the way to achieving natural spoken Japanese 🐱🐉.
Below is a quick review quiz for the notation used in this section of the site 🧠.