Japanese Language Wiki
Japanese Language Wiki

While English allows us to string together consonants for as long as we like, Japanese has a bit more of a need for vowels.

There are really only 133 sounds they can make. That sounds like a lot, but think of all the sounds we make in English. There are 10 right away from 'long' and 'short' vowels, plus 21 (26 letters in the alphabet minus the 5 vowels we already ruled out) consonant sounds, which brings us to 31. 'Sh', 'th', 'ch', which brings us to 34. 'Ar, 'br, 'cr', 'dr', 'er', 'fr', 'gr', ('hr', 'jr', 'lr', 'mr', and 'nr' aren't really ever used in English, so we're skipping it, and 'ir' sounds like 'er', just like 'kr' sounds like 'cr') 'or', 'pr', ('qr' isn't used, and 'rr' is the same as 'r' by itself) 'sr', 'tr', 'ur', and 'vr' ('wr' is only used in 'write' and is in that case the same as 'r' by itself, and 'xr', 'yr' and 'zr' are just plain silly). That gives us 13 more, just by adding the same letter to all the other letters of the alphabet, giving us 47 right there...

Needless to say, English speakers can make a great deal more sounds than Japanese speakers.

Whew, that's a lot of language skills and math. So let's get into this. What makes those 133 sounds that Japanese speakers can barely help but make, even when pronouncing English words? Here's a chart:

w r y p b f h n dz ji d ts ch t j z sh s g k
を** o
    • Though this character is in the w+o spot, where it should be pronounced like 'woah', it's actually just pronounced 'o'.
  • This character is the only character in the Japanese language that can stand alone - without a vowel, and without being a vowel itself. It's just 'n'.

This is only the Hiragana chart, there's a whole other syllabary for Katakana, which is the syllabary used for writing words and names that come from countries other than Japan, such as 'computer', or 'Sally'.