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Senpai or Sempai?
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Posted 6/22/14 , edited 10/23/15
I'm gonna commit a faux pas here, but linguistics is one of my arm-chair hobbies, so I can help but to be "that guy".

It's called assimilation, the tendency for one sound to change into another sound, based on the sounds that follow. "SeMpai", because when you pronounce the /m/, you are already in position to pronounce the /p/ (your mouth is already closed). When you pronounce the /n/, your lips are open and your tongue is touching the roof of your mouth (among other things), and you need to exert a bit more effort to pronounce the /p/.

Think of how "input" is spelled vs. pronounced. You might not notice it, but there's a good chance you might be saying "imput".

I don't know how assimilation in Japanese works, but since we all have the same vocal apparatus, I'm sure there are similar things.

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20 / M / Tórshavn
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Posted 6/22/14 , edited 6/22/14
I don't need senpai! </3 I've got my imaginary cute imoutos which wuvv me!


yngvarr wrote:

I'm gonna commit a faux pas here, but linguistics is one of my arm-chair hobbies, so I can help but to be "that guy".

It's called assimilation, the tendency for one sound to change into another sound, based on the sounds that follow. "SeMpai", because when you pronounce the /m/, you are already in position to pronounce the /p/ (your mouth is already closed). When you pronounce the /n/, your lips are open and your tongue is touching the roof of your mouth (among other things), and you need to exert a bit more effort to pronounce the /p/.

Think of how "input" is spelled vs. pronounced. You might not notice it, but there's a good chance you might be saying "imput".

I don't know how assimilation in Japanese works, but since we all have the same vocal apparatus, I'm sure there are similar things.



That's pretty awesome, nice arm-chair hobby!
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Posted 6/22/14

BLACKOUTMK2 wrote:

I prefer applepai, myself.


Best comment EVER!!!
Posted 6/22/14
The person above absolutely frightens me.
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Posted 6/22/14
Full senpai or no senpai
Posted 6/22/14
who cares
Posted 6/22/14

severticas wrote:

who cares


lol i was asking myself when did i reply to this thread. why you so fast? ><
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21 / M
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Posted 6/22/14
ん can be both n/m from what I know. English letters suck at producing foreign language sounds sometimes though so it's せんぱい or 先輩 to be more exact. Conversely, you can't really spell Ls with Japanese characters either. Ls and Rs are the same letter there.
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Posted 6/22/14
just about every japanese person i know pronounces it "Sempai" however its Spelt Senpai. However, alot of japanese people that pronounce it as "sempai" are actually pronouncing it as "senpai" but many different regions of japan have different accents which leads to a common misconception that the proper pronunciation is Sempai.

In truth, there is no real "proper" pronunciation of the word, as each pronunciation is understood to mean the same thing.

Alot of japanese girls tend to pronounce it as "Sempai" as it sounds cuter.

~ As explained to me by 7 of my japanese friends and my japanese instructor
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Posted 6/22/14
doesn't matter like tempura is actually spelled tenpura.
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Posted 6/22/14 , edited 6/22/14

Aethix0 wrote:

It really should be noted that the ん does sound more like an "m" sound than an "n" sound when placed in front of syllables beginning with m, b, or p. Which is why "sempai" is actually a legitimate romanization.
Pronunciation and spelling are a different thing all together though. Pronouncing it as sempai works because of the way our mouths work, but its not like you can make foe paw a legitimate spelling of faux pas just because that's how you pronounce it. I'm only saying this because you stated that "sempai" would be a legitimate romanization.

Pretty sure that "m" by itself isn't a legitimate character chain in any form of standard rômaji alphabet. Meaning that you can't spell it with that romanized alphabet that way. Though the characters look the same as ours(because they are romanized), they aren't actually the same in effect, as the alphabet has its own rules for Japanese usage, including characters that aren't standard in English, or characters that consist of multiple roman letters yet act as a single character. If an 'n' has a language rule, or speech byproduct, of being pronounced like an 'm' in this language when used before a 'p' then it is a language rule that changes the way the character is pronounced while leaving the spelling unaffected. Kind of like how "thought" in English is pronounced "thot", but you would never write it that way and not come away looking pretty silly. Not even sure that really is even a good example as at least that follows phonetics. It would be more like someone writing the word 'snake' as 'ßnake', as a lone finishing 'm' character has about as much contextual usage in rômaji as the ligature ß has in English. For a non-bilingual speaker that wouldn't grasp the concept of an finishing 'm' they might be going "Is this supposed to be Mi? Ma? Myu?" I mean they would be able to pronounce it with the 'm' sound if given the correct spelling due to natural mouth movements, but it would kind of be like how an English speaker could say "I hi t somebody" just fine, but might have a problem with the word "Tsunami" as the sound isn't natural by itself to us, to the point we don't realize that it isn't just an odd quirk of how the words flow together and can be a sound in its own right.

As far as full English goes, I don't think Sempai would work either as I don't believe(I could be wrong) that ai is a legitimate spelling for that sound in any English word that isn't itself a loan word(likely an asiatic language) used in completion without changing the spelling from an asian alphabetic romanization to English phonetics. As far as I know ai is always used how it is used in the word "wait" in standard English. To get the correct sound using a native English-like spelling you would have to use something like "ye" or "ie" rather than "ai". Basically Sempai is kind of like using half of one alphabet and half of another. Senpai is the correct rômaji spelling, but if you wanted to phonetically change it to the English roman alphabet then you would need to spell it something like Simpye. Although I think Sinpye might still be more appropriate as the 'n' is still supposed to be there it just kind of blends into an 'm' in many natural speech patterns, kind of like input. When asked to be enunciated clearly for whatever reason(In anime you often see people address people one syllable at a time when teasing people or trying to get a distracted person's attention. "Se-n-pai!") I bet you the 'n' is clear as your mouth timing isn't tumbling over sequential sounds.
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Posted 6/22/14

AsahinaInu wrote:


People tend to pronounce words like say "jutsu" correctly right off the bat because we can interpret it phonetically as "joot-su" even though it it is more precisly "ju-tsu" which sounds the same. I bet there's a lot of Japanese folks that get confused when a newbie westerner tries to say something like "tsuki" and it comes out as "suki".

I have encountered many that pronounce "tsu" too close to "su," but normally there is not much of a problem because of the word itself. Words beginning "tsu" would many times not be in correlation as those beginning "su."
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Posted 6/22/14

tsun wrote:

I have encountered many that pronounce "tsu" too close to "su," but normally there is not much of a problem because of the word itself. Words beginning "tsu" would many times not be in correlation as those beginning "su."
Interesting. I guess that's good to know. One of my good friends majored in linguistics so the building blocks of language in general are something we used to BS about all the time. Consequentially I have a decent understanding of the basic "code" of language and speech itself but my vocabulary and practical speech skills of languages are pretty abysmal. I can speak some basic Spanish(rusty as hell), write it a bit better, and can pick up a decent chunk of words and sometimes phrases in several other languages enough to know some of the subject matter being talked about. So I always like learning more practical stuff. Thanks for the info.
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Posted 6/22/14
Either way, it sounds creepy now. Thanks guys and gals.
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29 / M / A rock in the mid...
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Posted 6/22/14 , edited 6/22/14

AsahinaInu wrote:


Senpai is the correct rômaji spelling, but if you wanted to phonetically change it to the English roman alphabet then you would need to spell it something like Simpye. Although I think Sinpye might still be more appropriate as the 'n' is still supposed to be there it just kind of blends into an 'm' in many natural speech patterns, kind of like input. When asked to be enunciated clearly for whatever reason(In anime you often see people address people one syllable at a time when teasing people or trying to get a distracted person's attention. "Se-n-pai!") I bet you the 'n' is clear as your mouth timing isn't tumbling over sequential sounds.


Senpai and Sempai are both correct in that ん is pronounced as somewhere in between the two, it's not generally a hard 'en' sound or 'em' but more something between the 'm' in hmm and 'n' in hnnngh. It's the same issue as 'R' and 'L'. It's usually written with R as it's more orthographically correct to Japanese, same as using 'n', but it isn't pronounced like either the English 'R' or 'L'. For more accurate enunciation to most westerners using 'm' in senpai is generally going to work better, and the usual romanization system used in the west is more focused on how things are pronounced vs. the correct orthography within Japanese.
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