Pronunciation of g


Senior Member
When I listen to Japanese being spoken, sometimes I would hear the letter g pronounced has a hard g, sometimes pronounced sort of like the Engish "ng". I've read somewhere that this pronunciation of g as "ng" is fading. I just wonder if it's OK for me to always pronounce g has a hard g and forget about the "ng" pronunciation because it would simplify things considerably, especially for a beginner like me. Would this be considered bad pronunciation/accent?
  • Hi.
    Would you give me some contexts or examples of words?
    And are you hearing standard Japanese like from newscasters?
    Arn't you hearing from a person from Tohoku districts?

    At this moment, I don't know what you mean.
    I know what you mean, because my teacher talked like that, and I picked it up from him. I say words like daigaku as if they were spelt daingaku, and I'll even say ngakusei for gakusei.

    My understanding is that it is not considered standard, but I may be wrong about that.
    Hi palomnik,

    The word-initial position is the only place where the normative pronunciation requires /g/ to be pronounced [g]. Still, I hear a lot of people from East Japan say [ŋakɯseː] for 学生.

    To me, the use of [ŋ] (except for the realisation of the moraic N before velar plosives) sounds countrified. Subjective aesthetics (for it is always subjective) aside, I find this article a concise scientific explanation:

    By the way, Shatin, if you pronounce all /g/ as [g], the chances are that many times your pronunciation would pass unnoticed. Japanese does not recognise [ŋ] as an independent phoneme that creates difference in meaning (eg, kama is a sickle and gama is a toad, but ŋama is a variety of gama).
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    Hi Flaminius!

    I have just begun learning Japanese. Our teacher teaches us to pronounce /g/ as both [g] and [ŋ], saying that the latter is Tokyo accent :)eek:), sometimes it seems that she's kind of advising use to use [ŋ].
    What do you think? As a Chinese I have no problem pronouncing [ŋ], but what pronunciation would you advice for a learner?
    Thank you.
    [ŋ] is part of the standard pronunciation, but it is not required to be able to pronounce it unless you want to become a TV newscaster or something like that. It just sounds somewhat more "elegant", but you can pronounce always a normal [g], which is equally correct and you will be understood without any problem.
    Thanks Katsu.
    But when Flaminius said that it sounds "countrified", I thought it was considered non-standard.
    And I forgot to specify: only in non-tonic syllables.
    Youngfun, the velar nasal is the normative pronunciation but fading. It is normative enough for NHK and other TV stations to require newscasters use it but not all of them use it all the time. There is a small but constant stream of complaints about how NHK announcers are no longer able to pronounce [ŋ], based on the erroneous yet tenacious concept that NHK is a national media and must represent a speech variety that was the standard maybe 30-40 years ago. [Apparently, the standard pronunciation today is different. I agree that there is a standard but I think it'd be better off as a public one than a national one.]

    I am amazed that Katsu referred to [ŋ] as somewhat elegant. To me it is an outdated thing that perhaps remains only in the countryside. (<- The sentence immediately before has a high content of prejudice. Beware!)
    Thank you very much, Flaminius.
    Maybe Chinese textbooks and teachers still teach the old standard pronunciation to students. Our textbook is a 1988 edition, and is used by Chinese TV newscasters lo learn Japanese, so probably they want to sound like Japanese newscasters? The book is also aimed to prepare students to JLPT test, perhaps the standard pronunciation (with [ŋ]) is required in the test?
    Flaminius: As far as I know, [ŋ] is a trait of Tokyo dialect (I don't know whether Yamanote or Shitamachi, or if it comes from a different subdialect), and therefore, as Tokyo dialect is the basis for the current standard Japanese, I assume [ŋ] can be considered a part of the standard pronunciation, (or "normative", as you've said yourself). Furthermore, this [ŋ] sound is mentioned on textbooks for foreign students, or at least on the textbooks I have, some of which are not exactly what we would call "old" or "outdated".

    As for considering this pronunciation "elegant", it's an opinion which I've found on other discussion forums, also stated by native Japanese speakers, see for example comments on this site:

    Don't worry about this too much. Here's the real difference:

    Both are completely accepted. However, if you would like your Japanese to be more respected with the older crowd and if you want your Japanese to carry a sort of regal elegance, pronounce the g like [ŋ].

    This has been explained to me in great depth a number of time by various Japanese people. While all of them agree that it is a kind of... "high-class" way to pronounce the g, some thing that it is good it is dying out amount the younger crowd as it sounds rather stuffy. While others, such as the case with my friend and her mom, think it is the high of tragedy that this pronunciation is dying and have attempted to get me to start using it (at which I usually fail).

    Anyway, I'm not a native speaker of Japanese and of course I may be wrong about this, or, rather that "wrong", possibly what I'm saying may not be a generally widespread way of considering this point. I guess it mostly depends on every single person and the way everyone handles and sees the language.

    Personally, I'm able to pronounce and understand [ŋ], but I seldom use it when I speak in Japanese, I always pronounce a normal [g] even when it occurs in intervocalic position.
    Textbooks do not change any time soon because they are written by those who adore the [ŋ] pronunciation. I am contented having expressed my prejudice to the full and everyone has got the warning. ;)
    I myself actually prefer to use [ŋ] instead of [g] since [ŋ] is commonly used in my native tongue. But I once heard that [ŋ] is not used by young people anymore and is considered outdated. One time, I said [hangane] (はがね) to my Japanese friend and she couldn't even understand it until I switched to pronounce it as [hagane]. So I am confused. If I wanna hang around with young people, should I avoid pronouncing が as [ŋ]? (My friend is from Fukuoka btw, so that may be a reason)