We have all heard that weird accent Japanese people give to the English language. Ever wondered how come it is so distinct?
The Japanese dont have as many vocal sounds as the westerners do. They are limited to consonant-vowel sounds and the only consonant that is ever used by itself is a mora (i.e. letter of the alphabet) that approximates the English n. Hence the Japanese have to always add a vowel after a consonant in order to pronounce it. There is no specific rule for this and usually the Japanese play it by ear, trying to approximate the original sound as well as they can.
Furthermore, and this is the defining characteristic, the Japanese cannot distinguish between the letters r and l. The vocal expression that is closest to these is the Japanese ra, ri, ru, re, ro. These sounds can actually go either way and sometimes they can be translated as la, li, lu, le, lo instead of r. For westerners pronounce an l sound they have to lift their tongue and touch the roof of their mouth. In Japan this sound is pronounced by instantaneously removing the tongue from the roof at the point you are pronouncing the syllable. This creates a sound that can be seen as being in between the English r and l. Hence the Japanese cant really distinguish between the two sounds.
Dont think though that the Japanese are not aware of this blunder. Once a Japanese person starts to learn English as a proper language and not just for every day usage he is quickly alerted to this problem.
The Japanese have actually incorporated a lot of English words in their vocabulary giving rise to what is called waseieigo ( i.e. Japan-made-English). Even though the root of these words can be traced as being English the truth is that they are purely Japanese. An example can be seen in pokettoberu () which is a pager and it derives from the two English words pocket and bell. Even Karaoke, one of the most identifying marks of Japanese uniqueness is a wasei! Kara means empty in Japanese (hence the martial art style of kara-te translates as empty-hand) and oke is short for the English word orchestra. Hence we can translate it as without an orchestra.
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