Posts Tagged ‘Nitpicking’

As I Was Saying

November 9, 2009

Tonight on National Public Radio’s Fresh Air, there was an interview with an American who worked as a reporter in Japan for 12 years.  He covered crime for the Yomiuri Shimbun, writing in Japanese. He left Japan after an article he wrote lead to a yakuza mob boss threatening to kill him and his family.

The interview was fascinating, but what’s more, the timing was great.

Just a few days ago, in my last post, I wrote about pronouncing Japanese.  And with the word “yakuza,” this interview provides clear examples of correct and incorrect pronunciation.   In short, it’s /ya ku za/, not /ya ku za/.  (To be precise, it’s /ya ku za/, with no stress accents at all, but accenting the first syllable sounds close enough and is easier for Anglophones.)

I’m inclined to cut the interviewer some slack – anyone confronted with a word from a language they don’t speak is likely to mangle it by using their own language’s rules of pronunciation – but on the other hand he got to hear the correct pronunciation over and over.  And it’s not like we’re talking about Chinese tones or Xhosa clicks or something, you just have to accent the first syllable instead of the second.  He did get it right a few times, or was at least getting closer, but then he reverted to saying yaKUza again for the rest of the interview.  Oh well.

An interesting bit of trivia:  The Yomiuri Shimbun is the world’s best selling newspaper, with a daily circulation of 14 million copies.  The next four papers on the list are also Japanese, with Germany’s Bild coming in at number six with 3.5 million.  (These numbers come from the World Association of Newspapers.  Most of their publications are available only through subscription, but the 2005 list of largest newspapers is free.  Apparently the current list has the same top six papers as in 2005, but had shuffling in many other positions.)