Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Regarding The Voiced Plosive Consonant/Geminate Unvoiced Bilabial Stop

At the prompting of reader "Marcus" I have looked into the question of what is NHK's official position on the correct pronunciation of the name of the country, whether it is "Nihon" or "Nippon" -- and why as of late last year everyone on the network is saying the stuttering "Nippon."

[Note to readers: the below contains big chunks of Japanese text. It is not necessary to read the Japanese text to understand the post - MTC]

In 1998, the network received a number of inquiries about its stand on the country's name. Its response then was that according to its in-house guide, the correct pronunciation is "Nippon."









[ニホン]と読む語 日本画、日本海、日本髪、日本橋(東京)ほか

[ニッポン]と読む語 日本(国号)、日本国民、日本橋(大阪)ほか

[ニホン]または[ニッポン]と読む語 日本一、日本記録、日本語ほか

[ニホン]を第1とし、[ニッポン]を第2とするもの 日本アルプスほか



(メディア研究部・放送用語 豊島 秀雄)


Fascinating, no?

According to the findings of NHK's Media Research Bureau, the failure of financial institutions and the unveiling of scandals involving officials of the Bank of Japan in 1997-98, but even more so the shouting of the crowds at the 1998 World Cup soccer matches, had viewers peppering the network with questions about the official pronunciation of the country's name. Seeing tens of thousands of fans yelling the easy-to-chant "Nippon! Nippon!" rather than the softer, unvoiced alternative, then hearing announcers using "Nihon" seems to have confused a lot of folks.

Very kindly, the NHK executive in charge of daily word usage reproduces the pronunciation rules as they appear in the NHK company handbook of that time:
"Nihon" is the correct pronunciation for some terms: Nihonga (Japanese-style painting), Nihonkai (Sea of Japan), Nihongami ((Japanese hairstyle), Nihonbashi (the location in Tokyo)

"Nippon" is the correct pronunciation for some terms: Nippon (official country name), Nippon kokumin (citizens of Japan), Nipponbashi (the location in Osaka)

Both "Nihon" and "Nippon" are equally correct for some terms: Nihon ichi/Nipponichi (No.1 in Japan), Nihon kiroku/Nippon kiroku (the Japan record), Nihongo/Nippongo (the Japanese language)

"Nippon" is not wrong but "Nihon" is preferable for some terms: Nihon Arupusu (the Japan Alps)

So that should have settled it, right? According to the NHK handbook, the correct pronunciation of the country's name is "Nippon" -- end of story.

Not so fast.

Within six years, the same division of NHK issued a clarification, this time with historical and public opinion survey data demonstrating that "Nippon" was not only not official, it was not popular:
「ニホン」か「ニッポン」か 「日本」の読み方の現在









So, according to NHK's research, the 1934 recommendation of a Ministry of Education's advisory council that "Nippon" to be the official pronunciation was never adopted by the Government of Japan. NHK, in what seems to be a bit of pre-emptive self-policing, adopted the recommended pronunciation one week after advisory council made the recommendation.

Ridiculously and inevitably, NHK's adoption of "Nippon" became the evidence for other organizations that "Nippon" was the official pronunciation.

As the research bureau duly noted, the "Nippon" pronunciation was less popular in the younger age cohorts. Surveying all age cohorts, the research bureau found that in 2003 "Nihon" was used 61% of the time and "Nippon" 37% of the time, with the split having shifted since 1963, the first year NHK researchers asked the question, from "Nihon" 45.5% of the time and "Nippon" 41.8% of the time.

So that should have settled the matter. "Nippon" is the name in the handbook, not the official name. Use one or the other.

Of course, some folks want to make sure. In this case the Democratic Party of Japan's Iwakuni Tetsundo (yes, the former President and CEO of Merrill Lynch, Japan, among many other things) wanted an official answer...

[I have sent an email off to Iwakuni-sensei to find out why he wanted an official determination. When I hear back from him I will insert his explanation here.]

The question Iwakuni-sensei submitted can be found here. (Link - J)

The Aso Cabinet's response came in the form of a Cabinet Decision (kakugi kettei), the gist of which was:

- There has never been heretofore a Cabinet Decision on the matter of the official pronunciation of the country's name

- Both "Nippon" and "Nihon" are are in widespread usage so there is no reason to unify the pronunciation one way or the other.

(Link - J)

So, until such time as the Diet says otherwise, Nippon is officially just as good as Nihon, and vice versa. Indeed, it would be wrong to choose one or the other.

So then, what the heck is going on at the national broadcaster?

I decided, "OK, enough of the impressionistic musings. Count."

So this morning, I counted every instance of NHK news announcers and reporters using either "Nihon" or "Nippon" in the national broadcast from 07:00 to 07:45, with the words either standing alone or in compounds.

My results:

"Nippon" was used 7 times

"Nihon" was used 6 times

Of this

Instances when "Nippon" was used [# of times]:

- country name [5]
- nippon daihyo ("representing Japan") [1]
- nippon kokunai ("inside Japan") [1]

Instances when "Nihon" was used [# of times]:

- zennihon judorenmei ("All Japan Judo Federation") [2]
- nishi nihon ("western Japan")[2]
- higashi nihon ("eastern Japan") [2]

From the looks of it, NHK's announcers are following pronunciations outlined the handbook of 1998, no matter what the Cabinet may have decided in the interim. To the network's credit, the announcers are not over-correcting, using "Nippon" in compounds where has heretofore never appeared.

Nevertheless, hammering away with "Nippon" flies in the face of everyday usage. As explained in a Nihon Keizai Shimbun article of last year (Link - J - text is only partial. Copyright infringing full text versions can be found on listserves like Chiebukuro), a 2004 study of actual speech found that over 97% of the instances "Nihon" was being used. Even for compounds like nippon daihyo and nippon ichi where "Nippon" is the proper form, speakers were over-correcting, saying nihon daihyo and nihon ichi 80% and 77% of the time, respectively.

So, is there some sort of resolution to the conundrum of why NHK announcers have made the switch to the voiced plosive consonant/geminate unvoice bilabial stop when talking about the country?

Not yet.

I did put the question of whether or not there have been mandated changes since the election to NHK News producer Takahashi Eisuke on Facebook.

His response was...colorful:
As for your request for the "company email detailing the change",I have just consulted with this mysterious guy in black suit sitting side by side with me round the clock and his answer was "If Michale Cucek thinks NHK switched it's official narrative on Abe administration suddenly and thus become cheerleader instead of critic,than the duty is upon this guy to provide much more detailed evidence with 5W1H rather than writing a blog post based on pure imagination,No?".However,he also told me to inform you to dial 0570-066-066 for NHK customer service and voice your complain.I have much more critical idea on your blog post.But the man in black insists me to halt my guns and not to engage too much in SNS.I have my family to feed and this guy is said to be connected directly to Abe,so i obey.Lucky you.

Perhaps the man in black will let Mr. Takahashi send me the email now.


Jan Moren said...

Um, you've been at things like pronunciation and the way people's faces look for a long time now. Are you going to continue with this for long? I'm going to take a break from reading this blog for a while; I'll check in from time to time so I don't miss when you get back on track again.

MTC said...

Herr Morén - -

Thank you for your readership. Your intelligent commentary will be missed.

Brian B. said...

I prefer the 'Nihon' pronunciation myself.

That said 'pp' is not a voiced consonant. Never mind that it's called 半濁音, that doesn't really mean voicing. Voicing refers to vibration of the vocal folds (aka vocal cords) during production of a sound. Neither 'p' or 'h' involve vibration of the vocal folds, 'b' on the other hand does.

If you want to use linguistic jargon to describe 'pp' in as much detail as possible, it is an geminate unvoiced bilabial stop. 'h' is an unvoiced glottal fricative.

By the way, I would translate NHK's statement a little differently. I don't think they say that 'Nippon' is the 'correct' pronunciation, but rather the 'official NHK pronunciation'.

Jeremy Whipple said...

Excuse me, but I wish you'd stop calling [p] a voiced consonant. It isn't. Voiced consonants are [b], [d] , [g], and their ilk. If you want to distinguish [p] from [h], which is also unvoiced, you could refer to it as a plosive consonant. (Not that you asked, but [h] is a glottal fricative.)

MTC said...

Brian B. and Jeremy Whipple -

Your suggested corrections have been incorporated.

Space said...

Seems that you should use Nippon also when you talk about prisons: http://www.kobunsha.com/shelf/book/isbn/9784334977399

Bryce said...

You may want to point out to your readers that Eisuke's response came after your loaded and equally sarcastic question and insults about his English.