「ST」は紙名を新たに「Alpha」として2018年6月29日より新創刊しました。 Alpha以降の英文記事はこちら
「ST」は紙名を新たに「Alpha」として2018年6月29日より新創刊しました。 Alpha以降の英文記事はこちら


A note on pronunciation

ByMike Dwane


Finally, a Japanese restaurant has opened in my home town. For many years, I have been able to enjoy Indian and Chinese food here but until now it has been a sushi-free zone. The owner may be Chinese, the head chef Malaysian and the waitress Korean, but the gyoza and the udon seem to have passed the authenticity test set by the small Japanese community here.

For my wife and her friends, it is a taste of home. And it is also an opportunity for them to poke fun at my Japanese pronunciation as I confuse my shichimi with chijimi and shijimi.

My revenge is to ask them to repeat after me -- in quick succession -- laboratory, lavatory and rubber tree. I admit this is a little cruel of me as it targets the peculiar difficulty Japanese have in distinguishing between the "l" and the "r" sounds in English.

But it is not just the Japanese who find English a difficult language to get their tongue around. It has bizarre spelling conventions which are the result of waves of settlement and invasion of Britain over thousands of years by the Celts, the Romans, the Anglo-Saxons, the Vikings and the Normans.

The basic building blocks of English come from Old German, Old Norse, Latin and French but its vocabulary has been enriched by almost every other language on Earth. English words like tycoon and honcho come from Japanese.

As a native speaker, it comes naturally to me that "you," "yew" and "ewe" are all pronounced in the same way. We call such sound-alike words homophones. But I have every sympathy for non-native speakers. How are you supposed to know that when you cry a "tear," it rhymes with "beer" but when you "tear" a page, it rhymes with "bear"?

In his history of the language, The Story of English, the author Robert McCrum identifies 13 different ways in which the "sh" sound can be spelt -- or spelled if you prefer American English!

These are in words like shoe, sugar, issue, mansion, mission, nation, suspicion, ocean, conscious, chaperon, schist, fuchsia and pshaw. A couple of these words are obscure and not part of the working vocabulary of even native English speakers. But it does show how difficult English pronunciation can be.

I guess it puts my difficulties in the Japanese restaurant in context. Japanese is considered a very difficult language for English speakers but once you have mastered intonation and emphasis (I haven't, by the way), there are few variations in pronunciation.

The next time you find yourself in a restaurant in London or New York, try to remember the "sh" sounds in sugar and shellfish are pronounced in the same way. Then treat yourself to a nice glass of champagne!


「七味」「チジミ」「シジミ」の発音を混同して日本人の妻とその友人に笑われる筆者は、「じゃあ laboratory, lavatory, rubber tree を発音してみろよ」と仕返しする。英語の発音は難しいのだ。

The Japan Times ST: March 21, 2014

The Japan Times ST 読者アンケート




2018年6月29日号    試読・購読   デジタル版