■ 促音(そくおん): Double or long consonant っ
A small tsu (っ) is used before a consonant to make it long, like the /k/ in bookkeeper or the /t/ in cat toys in normal conversation. The small っ or first consonant is pronounced with the same duration given to other kana. (That is, it is assigned a full mora.)

In practice, 促音 is applied to those kana that also undergo 濁音 change: k, s, t and h, but 濁音 themselves do not have 促音 forms. Except for foreign words, h changes to p (半濁音) when 促音 is applied.

■ 撥音(はつおん):syllabic n ん
Although not strictly 促音、ん before な行かな acts similarly to っ:

ばん+のう→ ばんのう (ban + nou → bannou) 万能 versatile, all-purpose
ざん+ねん→ ざんねん (zan + nen → zannen) 残念 disappointment

Before vowels and 拗音、撥音 may be extremely difficult for English speakers to pronounce. ん receives the same duration as any other kana. (It is assigned a full mora.) Two sets of nearly minimal pairs for practice are:

その範囲は (sono han'i wa) その埴輪 (sono haniwa)
金融 (kin'yuu) 記入 (kinyuu)

Although the above examples sound completely different to a native Japanese speaker, a few words exist whose 撥音 has permanently affected the next sound:

けんねん→ けねん (ken + nen → kenen) 懸念 concern
はんおう→ はんのう (han + ou → hannou) 反応 reaction

熟語 with つ
When the last sound of a 漢字 in a 熟語 is つ、the 促音 process (促音便) is applied to the next sound:

しつ+け→ しっけ (shitsu + ke → shikke) 湿気 humidity
かつ+そう+ろ→ かっそうろ (katsu + sou + ro → kassouro) 滑走路 runway (for airplanes)

This does not apply when the つ is at the end of a 熟語

えん+ぴつ+と→えんぴつと (en + pitsu + to → enpitsu to) 鉛筆と pencil and

熟語 with く before か行かな

がく+か→ がっか (gaku + ka → gakka) 学科 subject (in school)
さく+きょく+か→ さっきょっか (saku + kyoku + ka → sakkyokka) 作曲家 composer (music)

As this last example shows, the rule is not always applied. Between the first and second 漢字 of a 熟語、however, the rule is nearly always applied.

◇ 日 and 一

いつ+かい→ いっかい (itsu + kai → ikkai) 一回 one time
にち+ほん→ にっぽん (nichi + hon → nippon) 日本 Japan

When possible in a 熟語、一 usually undergoes 促音 change. 日 is less predictable. Dictionaries list 一 as having a reading of いつ、though not 日。Perhaps it is simplest to consider 日 as having an alternate reading of につ。

熟語 with ん before は行かな generally causes the /h/ to change to a /p/:

かん+へき→ かんぺき (kan + heki → kanpeki) 完璧 complete, perfect
かん+ほう+やく→ かんぽうやく (kan + hou + yaku → kanpouyaku) 漢方薬 Chinese medicine

Sometimes, this is a /b/ instead of a /p/:

なん+へん→ なんべん (nan + hen → nanben) 何遍 how many times
びん+ほう→ びんぼう (bin + hou → binbou) 貧乏 pauper

◇ Onomatopoeia
促音 and 撥音 are used often in onomatopoeia.

がっかり disappointment
そっくり identical looks
こんこん (sound of a fox barking)

To capture the pronunciation of the original language, many 外来語 have 促音。

バッハ Bach
カセット cassette

◇ Affixes
Some affixes include their own 促音・撥音:

こども+っぽい→ こどもっぽい (kodomo + ppoi → kodomoppoi) 子供っぽい child + similar to → childish
ま+くろ→ まっくろ (ma + kuro → makkuro) 真っ黒 completely + black → jet black
ま+なか→ まんなか (ma + naka → mannaka) 真ん中 completely + center → dead center

◇ Colloquialisms
促音 is applied to the second kana in some words. This is mainly conversational.

ばかり→ ばっかり (bakari → bakkari) just, only
おなじ→ おんなじ (onaji → onnaji) same

In a few settings, の undergoes the 撥音 process (撥音便):

もの→ もん (mono → mon) 行くもん
の→ ん (no → n) 行くんです

促音 also occurs as a natural part of speech. This depends on the speaker, social setting, etc.

そうです→そうっす (sou desu → sou ssu) That's right

◇Motherese (baby talk)

おっぽ tail
おねんね nap

◇ Verbs
In the past, forms ending in an い列かな underwent 促音 change:

わかりて→わかって (wakarite → wakatte) understand
もちて→もって (mochite → motte) have

This second example suggests that perhaps 一 and 日 combine using a ち促音 process.

◇ Miscellaneous
A few words do not seem into fit into any of the above categories:

先っぽ tip
葉っぱ leaf
泥んこ mud

Vocabulary notes

い列かな kana ending with an /i/ sound, the i-row kana: い、き、し, etc.

外来語 foreign words. See 外来語

か行かな kana beginning with a /k/ sound, the ka-column kana: か・き・く・け・こ

漢字 kanji, Chinese characters. See 漢字

熟語 compound 漢字 words. See 熟語

濁燕 dakuon, kana with tenten changing unvoiced kana to voiced kana. See 濁音

な行かな kana beginning with a /n/ sound, the na-column kana: な・に・ぬ・ね・の

は行かな kana beginning with an /h/ sound, the ha-column kana: は・ひ・ふ・へ・ほ

半濁音 handakuon, h-column hiragana with a maru changing h to p. See 半濁音

拗音 youon, palatal sounds such as the "y" in kyuu. See 拗音

This entry was created by Benjamin Barrett on 2000-06-26. It was revised on 2000-07-03 by BB with contributions from Jeremy Angel, Yuno Hanlon, Maynard Hogg, Malcolm James, Jim Lockhart, Masako Sato, Fred Uleman and Roger Williams. Romaji typos corrected 2003-04-01 at suggestion of Martin Ferrari.

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