4 Basics of pitch accent of Japanese

Japanese uses pitch for its accent whereas English uses stress. When you pronounce an English word such as "student," the first vowel /u/ after /st/ receives a stress. You pronounce /u/ louder than other part of the word. (You are actually using a higher pitch for the streesed syllabl as well although you may not be aware.) Japanese uses two pitches, namely high and low. For example, the word "せんせい" (teacher) has a pitch pattern of low-high-high-low. The location where the pitch falls defines the location of the accent within a word. Thus, the accent of せんせい is on the third mora. It is possible for a word not to have any falling pitch.

Loudness should remain constant. You first need to develop skills to hear differences in pitch.

Standard Japanese (Tokyo dialect) follows two rules n its accent pattern.

1. A fall in the pitch may happen anywhere in a word, but once the pitch falls, it stays low.

2. The first two moras must have different pitch. (i.e. high-low or low-high)

The following list shows all of the possible patterns in standard Japanese for words up to four moras. Each sold blue circle represents a mora in a word, and a blue circle indicates a particle that is necessary to indicate accent patterns.

An red elbow in text indicates where a pitch falls.

One-mora words (two accent patterns)

The pitch pattern of a one-more word becomes clear when the word is pronounced in a sentence.

Accent position: 1     
                My hand hurts.        

Accent position: 0      
               My stomach hurts.


Two-mora words (three accent patterns)

A two-more word follows one of the three patterns.

Accent position: 1       
                   I use chopsticks.
Accent position: 2       
                   I cross a bridge.          

Accent position: 0       
                   I walk on the edge of a street.


Three-mora words (four accent patterns)

A three-more word follows one of the four patterns.

Accent position: 1      
                     Where do you go?
Accent position: 2      
                   I go to Japan.            

Accent position: 3      
                   Everybody goes.           

Accent position: 0      
                   I go by car.


Four-mora words (five accent patterns)

A four-more word follows one of the five patterns.

Accent position: 1      
                      I like literature.               

Accent position: 2      
                      I go on Saturday.               

Accent position: 3     
                     Taiwan is hot.               

Accent position: 4      
                     I have a younger sister.               

Accent position: 0      
                     I go to a university.



one-mora nouns        two-mora nounds       three-mora nouns      four-mora nouns


one to four-mora nouns
    Exercise on knowledge of accent    

Accent Judging (Numbers 1, 2, 3, and 0 refer to accent positions.)