Intonation && Japanese

I don’t know if it’s like a property/trait of people or what but some people don’t obtain the Japanese intonation even though they’ve been exposed to it so long. Is it because they weren’t hardcore enough with the Japanese exposure or used the mother tongue language ie english too much while learning the Japanese or are they too old to get it? (I only say the last one because the whole thing with trying to talk without an accent is harder if you’ve only spoken language x for let’s say the last 40 yrs of your life… just b.c. of your mouth muscle/movements that you’ve been doing and the ones that are requried language y. but then again does intonation even have to do anything with this anyway? I don’t think it does). basically, when you speak without correct intonation it just killls everything… like if you had to read an emotional letter it wouldn’t be emotional at all. it would just kill it.

I really would like to know the reason as to why some people just don’t obtain it…….

Basically for me, at first, for a long time ago I couldn’t really tell the intonation differences, at least not enough to copy it. Like, in the beginning, if you had me listen to kansai vs. hyoujungo I wouldn’t relaly be able to tell the differences in intonation but I would be able to tell that they’re saying stuff differently ie.  hidonai vs. hidokunai . donai vs. douka. Japanese is not as simple as just reading romaji without the stresses in english, you still need the correct intonation.  Speaking like a robot it helpful, but eventually you gots to get to know the intonation.

After a while, I think it was a year or 2 of like hardcore japanese environment – I really noticed  the intonation that people use while they speak and like that’s what sets the gaijin apart from the japanese or the fluent people. though there might be fluent people that speak with wrong intonation (isn’t dave spector considered fluent? or bobby orogan? he knew what shimensoka meant. :D)… which i don’t know how you do cause to get fluent you would’ve listened to mad japanese.  i say hardcore but it wasn’t torutous or anythin. it was completely enjoyable and fun because I discovered the wonder that is Japanese talk variety. one thing they definitely have over the korean talk/variety shows is the sound effects because they don’t get in the way, they’re just right, they’re not overbearing/annoying etc. literally, no matter how low budget the talk/variety show is or how low the ratings may be, the one thing they do have down is the sound effects and all those text over the screen.

Does korean have intonation by the way?  I don’t think they do or if they do, it’s not as important/as strongly used/heavily depended on just because korean has more sounds than Japanese. Cause you know, you watch those kpop people that memorized as much as korean as ppossible to go on those japanese mroning shows and obviously they’re intonation is off since they’re talking like they’re speaking korean. Wait, korean does have intonation for sure because of those weird rural dialects. and SPEAKING of KPOP people, I was proud of IU when she was on that japanese show, trying to speak as much as japanese as possible. she was speaking fairly fast and yes she made mistakes but it wasn’t incomprehensible/gibberish mistakes. there’s literally kpop groups that go on the TV in Japan and one member will literally say the word tanoshiikattadesu or something simplie like that in the most frusstrating way possible. she’s literally struggling to say it with every single syallable in that phrase. ( I never knew pronouncing tanoshii could be that hard but apparently it can be).. It wasn’t a struggle with her memory but her mouth I think lol. i understand it’s hard to pronounce japanese for korean people but sometimes it’s just so bad… I’m just like couldn’t have  practiced saying it (that one phrase…. that’s low standards but still) a little bit more before you came on the japanese tv.

SO I’ve mentioned intonation in preivous posts just because it was definitely one of those really super important realizations in my japanese learning journey.

I just wanted to give one example that struck me as I was watching kuriyama chiaki interviews. I don’t know why, but I like this girl.  I hope she doesn’t disappoint me with her acting skills once I watch something with her in it.

So in some interview she used tondemo nai desu. and even though I’ve never touched a japanese textbook other than tae kim’s guide to grammar if that counts, I’m pretty sure it’s in the textbook that you say this shit if you want to come off humble. what they don’t tell you is that if your intonation is wrong, it sounds like you don’t mean it at all.  I’m sure most japanese people are understanding of foreign pepole for not talking with the right intonation just becaues foreigner person x only started learning japanese ___ months/days/ago or is just visiting etc etc so i’m sure they wouldn’t take it that way. but that is how it comes off.

So anyways when kuriyama chiaki said it, she just said it in such a way that you could tell she really meant it, that she is modest as far as the thing the person complimented her on/or told her is concerned. I don’t remember the exact words. But anyways, just from hearing that, I had favorable impressions, she just seemed very likable. Literally, just from that one phrase.

This reminded me of this vblogger on youtube. her name is sammi or something and I think she said she has N1? is that what the level is. that test those people take to get jobs in japan. Basically, her intonation is just not there… I don’t get why considering she lives there and she doesn’t seem that old and she’s married to a japanese person. Well whatever her reasons, I saw her on a show where the performed enka and they were complimenting her obviously (plus she was actually pretty good and her pronounciation problems aren’t there or aren’t noticeable when she sings.). So here, she pulls the tondemo nai desu CARD obviously b.c. she read it in the textbook (that’s literally how it came off…. omgggggg’s here’s my chance to practice my stiff textbook japanese…. I mean this phrase is perfectly fine and i guess there’s many opportunities to use it cause obviously japanese people praise modesty over bragging. It’s just her japanes is so stiff and has no intonation). and she says in her usual intonation-deaf Japanese “tondemo naidesu” . It just doesn’t have the sincerity that kuriyama chiaki had. just the lack of the correct intonation just gives off a bad vibe, she did not make a good impression on me (I’m a 3rd person, computer screen bystander watcher but). It sounds fake.

I just thought it was interesting how differences in intonation can make such a big difference which made me thought of the japanese word/phrases 雲泥の差

天と地獄の差、 月 と there’s some other phrase where they compare the moon with something if my memory serves me correctly.

OH WAIT UP. they mentioend it on the AKB high school thing:

I too, had a point in my life where I spoke japanese with wrong intonation/ignoring intonation just because I wasn’t used to it that much to the point where I can really hear/notice it. once I noticed it like crazy, I then gained the ability to imitate it and own it so  that japanese people will be amazed at my english pronunciation in contrast to the japanese with intonation . woo hoo. I was also wondering for intonation, if it’s easier for singer’s to notice/get it down?

and in japanese you can either say 抑揚 or intone-shon.

I prefer the former to the latter fOR OBVIOUS reasons.  but like according to japanese tv like 90% of people use intone-shon. lolz.

orz ORZ

2 thoughts on “Intonation && Japanese

  1. Sammi (@33Sammi32)

    Hey! It’s Sammi…found your blog when I was checking where it was linked (I have my reasons…unfortunately..ugh) I’ve been told that the intonation in my English speaking is pretty flat too (and I notice it myself) and that’s just the way I am, just the way I speak, and it goes right into my Japanese speech as well because as you said, I am married to a Japanese man, and I speak Japanese most of the time still, even in Hawaii. It’s my 2nd language but I consider myself a bilingual because it’s so ingrained in my routine and brain. The tondemonai desu? Yea, not a phrase I usually use, I usually just smile awkwardly and do the mini-wave and iie, iie, but I wanted to say something a little more substantial on TV. Even so, it’s still not something I looked up in a textbook and rehearsed before going on, it just kind of came out when I was reaching back into the “keigo” part of my brain for an intelligent-sounding comment, not the awkward “iie, iie,” As a fellow gaijin Japanese speaker (I assume) you must get the “o-jouzu” quite often and it does get tiring to find ways to respond to it, right? Anyway, I did enjoy the article and you make a lot of valid points, but I just wanted to set my story straight and take out some of those assumptions.


    1. choronghi Post author

      I never thought you’d read this let alone leave me a comment. Thanks for the comment. I just wrote this b.c. I noticed what a huge difference intonation can make in Japanese.



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