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Spanish and Japanese are pronounced almost the same


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Old December 31, 2014, 10:58 AM
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Spanish and Japanese are pronounced almost the same

I learned a long time ago that Spanish and Japanese are pronounced almost the same. But have since found out that there are even more similarities between the two languages than I thought. (BTW, ironically the Japanese word for bread is pan just like in Spanish! But not many if any other words are the same. It's in the phonectics where Japanese and Spanish are similar.) (Italian too since it is a phonectic language with the same vowel sounds as Spanish.)

The vowels in Spanish and Japanese are pronounced basically the same. The "a" is pronounced as the "a" in father. In Spanish an example is "gracias" (thank you) and in Japanese an example is "asa" (morning). The "i" is pronounced as the "ee" in the English word "meet". In Spanish an example is the word, "mi" (my) and the Japanese "ichi" (one). In both languages, the "u" is pronounced as the "oo" in "loot." Examples are "umi" (sea) and "gustar" (to like) in Japanese and Spanish respectively. The "e" is pronounced as the "e" in "bed". In Japanese it's the initial sound of "ebi" (shrimp) and the initial sound of "el" (the) in Spanish. Finally, "o" is pronounced as the "o" in "hope". In Spanish an example is "ocho" (eight) and in Japanese "otoko" (man).
The consonants in Spanish and Japanese are also roughly the same with some well-known exceptions like the Spanish and Japanese pronunciations of the "r".
A Spanish word consists of a string of consonants and vowels which we can break up into syllables. The Spanish alphabet is used to piece together a word like "gustar," which breaks up into basically two syllables, "gu-star".
As mentioned before, Japanese pronunciation will break things up into the sounds of the Kana character syllables. Each Kana character will represent one sound in the word and can be written as such. Using one of the examples above, we could break up the Japanese pronunciation into individual Kana character sounds like this, "o-to-ko".
So in both Spanish and Japanese, we have most consonants and vowels having basically the same pronunciation, a set of consistent pronunciation rules, and the fact that both languages are not tonal in nature. With these shared elements, we have the ingredients we need to have pronunciation intersections between the two languages.
There is at least one example where a word is pronounced roughly the same in both Spanish and Japanese. In Japanese it is a form of the verb, "kaerimasu" (to return, go home). In Spanish it's a form of the verb, "callar" (to stop talking or to be quiet). In both languages the initial sounds of "ca" and "ka" are the same. The verbs simply have to change forms in order for them to sound the same.
In Japanese, a verb of the type "kaerimasu" changes into one the Japanese forms called the "-te form" like this, "kaette" (ka-eh-te). This verb form is used in sentences like "Chan-san wa Chuugoku ni kaette imasu" (Mr. Chan has returned to China).
In Spanish, a verb of the type "callar," in an imperative conjugation (giving a command), results in the word, "callate" (Shut up). This can be used in a sentence like, "Callate la boca " (Shut your mouth.)
Both of the words "kaette" and "callate" are in fact pronounced in a very similar way, owing to the effect that the "ae" combination has on "kaette" and the way some Spanish dialects pronounce the "ll".
With stricter analysis, the similarities do start to break down, but the aim is not to prove that Spanish and Japanese share the exact same pronunciation, but only that there is a surprising amount of similarity based on the linguistic distance between the two languages.
There may even be other, better examples of this. If the reader knows of other such examples where Japanese and Spanish words share anything similar, let me know.
In conclusion, it is indeed strange but true that the languages of Japanese and Spanish can find similarities in spite of their linguistic roots on opposite sides of the planet.
It is also strange but true that the languages of Japanese and Spanish can find pronunciation similarities in spite of a completely different linguistic history.

Last edited by Villa; December 31, 2014 at 11:06 AM.
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Old January 03, 2015, 05:33 PM
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Very interesting! (At least the third or so of the post that I managed to get through. Some spaces / line breaks would help )

In Korean, the word for bread is also similar to "pan" -- sounds more like "pong." A Korean translator told me once that it comes from Portuguese...
Old January 05, 2015, 12:09 PM
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Anko pan is delicious.
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Old April 15, 2015, 01:01 AM
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I must admit that I don't really see any point in comparing two non-related languages like Japanese and Spanish. Of course, if it helps you in your learning process of one or both languages, that's good. Having studied both Japanese and Spanish, I just thought I would comment on your comparisons, as I don't agree with all of them.

First of all, on the surface the vowels in Japanese and Spanish might appear identical, but they are quite different phonetically. Both languages have the same vowel inventory (/i/, /e/, /a/, /u/, /o/), but the quality of the vowels differ, especially in the case of /a/ and /u/. The Japanese /a/ is pronounced [ä] and is thus further towards the front of the mouth than the Spanish counterpart. And the Japanese /u/ is also produced further in the front of the mouth and is more open, pronounced [ɯ]. A trained ear would note the distinction immediately.

None of the languages are tonal, but the languages do have very different systems of isochrony. Japanese is a mora-timed language (i.e. it has a pitch accent), while Spanish is a syllable-timed language. This results in subtle - but very distinctive and important - differences in pronunciation. You would be marked a foreigner in Japan, if you were to speak Japanese in a syllable-timed manner, and a native speaker of Spanish would notice straightaway that you have got an accent, if you speak Spanish in a more-timed manner.

And on the Japanese word パン (pan). Note that it is not pronounced like in Spanish. The vowel is nasal and the final -n is pronounced [ɴ], sounding somewhat like -ng in the English word ring. It is, like Capn Spanish noted, of Portuguese origin - pão, which also has a nasal vowel.

Last edited by Nicolás; April 15, 2015 at 05:03 AM.
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