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Japanese phonology

This article deals with the phonology (the sound system) of Standard Japanese.

See below for more in-detail descriptions of allophonic variation.

Non-coronal voiced stops /b, ɡ/ between vowels may be weakened to fricatives, especially in fast and/or casual speech:

However, /ɡ/ is further complicated by its variant realization as a velar nasal [ŋ]. Standard Japanese speakers can be categorized into 3 groups (A, B, C), which will be explained below. If a speaker pronounces a given word consistently with the allophone [ŋ] (i.e. a B-speaker), that speaker will never have [ɣ] as an allophone in that same word. If a speaker varies between [ŋ] and [ɡ] (i.e. an A-speaker) or is generally consistent in using [ɡ] (i.e. a C-speaker), then the velar fricative [ɣ] is always another possible allophone in fast speech.

/ɡ/ may be weakened to nasal [ŋ] when it occurs within words — this includes not only between vowels but also between a vowel and a consonant. There is a fair amount of variation between speakers, however. Some, such as Vance (1987), have suggested that the variation follows social class; others, such as Akamatsu (1997), suggest that the variation follows age and geographic location. The generalized situation is as follows.