I seem to have heard from films, shows and other japanese programs that there is a kind of vowel deletion in certain contexts which triggers a consonant change which might be allophonic.

This paper seems to cover the phenomenon, although I am interested in something specific

Since I have not studied japanese linguistics, I would need someone who has to help.


When a consonant followed by a high vowel follows /r/, does it always become a trill?

Something like:

CV(+high) /ɾ/ -> C [r]

Where C is a consonant that is not /r/

Are trills only allophonic in Japanese?

  • sorry looks like my rule doesnt make sense, updating question to clarify your issues Aug 1, 2018 at 18:08

2 Answers 2


Since the only syllable-final consonants in Japanese are /N/, a nasal whose place always assimilates to the following consonant, and /Q/, which geminates the following consonant, and there are no complex onsets (except for /Cj/), and a devoiced vowel is still considered phonologically/prosodically present (and often articulated as a puff of air), Japanese doesn't have a lot of phonological processes that involve adjacent consonants. Most geminates originate in a historical process akin to what you describe (e.g. /ɡaku/ + /koː/ → /ɡakkoː/, 'school'), but /r/ does not geminate.*

Are trills only allophonic in Japanese?

Yes. Not only that, Japanese has only one liquid phoneme, i.e. doesn't contrast rhotics and laterals.

When a consonant followed by a high vowel follows /r/, does it always become a trill?

No. Okada (1999) says:

/ɽ/, which corresponds to 'r' in Romanization, is postalveolar in place rather than retroflex and mainly occurs medially. Initially and after /ɴ/, it is typically an affricate with short friction, [d̠ɹ̝̆]. A postalveolar [l̠] is not unusual in all positions. Approximant [ɹ] may occasionally occur in some environments.

Labrune (2014) says:

The voiced apico-alveolar tap [ɾ] is generally assumed to be the prototypical realization of the liquid consonant in contemporary Japanese [...] Outside of [ɾ], the following phonetic (social or regional) realizations are widely attested: [l], [ɭ], [r], [rː], [d], [ɽ], [ɮ]. [...]

The short and long apical trills, [r] and [rː] are socially marked variants, characteristic of the popular speech of males from the Tokyo region. The higher the number of trills, the more socially marked the rhotic will be.

Although she specifies Tokyo, my empirical impression is that it's not confined to a particular region and may be heard from a speaker from anywhere (usually male indeed), though it might not connote vulgarity in the same way it does in Tokyo.

* There are a few loans with /rr/, such as arrā ('Allah'), but it's usually pronounced as something like [ʔɾ]. [araː] would probably be perceived as /araː/, not /arraː/.

  • just realised, so nasal syllable final consonants are /N/ not /n/ (uvular not alveolar)? Aug 3, 2018 at 8:15
  • 1
    No, like I said, its place always assimilates to the following consonant, so it's [n] before [t, d], [ŋ] before [k, ɡ], and so on. The use of "N" (capital N) rather than "ɴ" (small capital N) is deliberate because it's an archiphoneme. When utterance-final, it is traditionally said to be uvular [ɴ], but often the dorsal occlusion is incomplete so it's more like a nasalized vowel. See the Wikipedia article for more.
    – Nardog
    Aug 3, 2018 at 12:00

Labrune (The phonology of Japanese) does not report any such allophonic rule. She does report a trill realization as a social variant, typifying street thugs. It should be noted that while the standard IPA symbol for an alveolar flap or tap is [ɾ], people commonly write [r], in case there is no contrast. It may be that if your data is from movies, the actors may have been affecting a yakuza accent.

  • So then my first question is false while the second is true? Aug 2, 2018 at 1:41

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