What Is “p” In Japanese? [pa, pi, pu, pe, po]

We are now at the final lesson for our modified hiragana and their associated sounds. This time it is all about the letter “p” which is a great one to end it on. What is “p” in Japanese?

Well it’s a pretty simple sound to make, but a little more tricky when it comes to writing it. What is interesting is that it also comes from the [h] sound, just like how [b] did in the last lesson. However, this time it uses a different method of notation.

I’m sure you can see what it is in the featured picture for this post. It is that little circle instead of the two lines. Let’s go over the sounds first, and then go into some educational information on the both these new circles and those older dashes.

All The [p] Sounds In Japanese

To make these [p] sounds in Japanese you just use the same [p] sound that you find in English. Of course, you add on those five Japanese vowels and keep them pure. That’s all there is to it!

ぱ = pa

ぴ = pi

ぷ = pu

ぺ = pe

ぽ = po

One thing to note is that when you make these sounds, it should kind of feel like the sound is being made on the lips themselves.

This is a little different from English where the sound feels like it’s coming from inside the mouth.

A better way to explain it would involve a rather in-depth discussion on where you vibrate the sound within your own body when you make them, but I’ll keep it really short so that you can get the picture.

When we speak English, especially in America, we make the sound in mouth and throat but we actually let the sound reverberate down into our chest cavity which gives it more of a full and heavy sound.

In Japanese, the sound is made in the same place, but it doesn’t go down into the body. Instead, it stays in the head which gives it a thinner and clearer feeling.

If you are into music, we might compare these two by saying that there is a lot of bass when speaking English, but when speaking Japanese it’s all treble notes.

This analogy isn’t limited to just the [p] sound, but applies to pretty much all of the language. That being said, I’m just making a general comparison between these two languages.

You will no doubt hear some people from both languages that use the opposite of what I’ve described.

Notes On The Daku-On (゛)

The Japanese word daku-on means “voiced consonant” and it is exactly what we have been learning in the last couple of lessons.

The two dashes that get added onto the kana to make them voiced are often called daku-on, and that same word is sometimes used when talking about the category of sounds that fall into it.

I’ll show you this later on when I give you another free hiragana chart. It’s divided into several sections, one of them being these voiced consonants.

Notes On The Handaku-On (゜ )

Then we get to the handaku-on. You can probably tell from the spelling that this new word is pretty much the same as the old word, with “han” added on to the front of it.

The Japanese word han means “half” so we could deduce from those two pieces of information that this is a “half-voiced consonant” and that would be a pretty accurate description of it.

When you look it up in a dictionary the results you get back are:

  • maru mark
  • semivoiced sound
  • p-sound

If you’re wondering what that first definition means, the Japanese word “maru” translates into English as “circle” which matches what we would call it if we didn’t know the official name.

Yeah, just add a little circle to it. A little maru!

Hadouken! Just Kidding, It’s Example Words

How many Street Fighter players do we have here? At least one, right?

I’m not gonna’ lie, when I first learned about handaku-on it made me think about that famous move from this classic fighting game.

But to my great sadness, they were not the same words. Now that I think about it though, it might have been a little too weird if they actually were the same.

Let’s move on to the example words for the [b] and [p] sounds.

うりば = Sales floor

ぺこぺこ = Starving

ぶた = Pig

ぱたぱた = Flapping

びん = Flight

ぷんぷん = Pungently

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I feel like speaking Japanese is one big tongue twister!

It’s not every single word, but when you start getting into full sentences there will be times when the sounds match up in such a way that you feel like you’re really getting a workout for your mouth.

Conclusion To Modified Sounds

Congratulations, you have now learned all of the modified sounds!

Now that you’ve got the basic and the modified one’s down, there is only one category left: The combination sounds.

That’s not their official name, but you will understand why I call them that when you see them. It is much more accurate to say combination hiragana, since that is what we are going to be doing.

But since a lot of people (myself included) associate sounds with their respective writing systems, I think it’s alright to continue calling them this way.

You know, my goal is to help people understand Japanese easily so I tend to talk in a way that makes sense for the largest amount of people.

I could start using the academic terms like “copula” and “agglutinative” which are technically correct, but they are so weird and so rarely used outside of the study of linguistics that I feel it’s best to avoid them when possible.

One word that I have been using is “mora” and there’s a good reason for it. I will go into that more on the next lesson, as it is about to become a very useful way of understanding how the Japanese language is divided up.

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