The way the Japanese speak

- Developing teaching materials for education of spoken Japanese based on contrastive studies among Japanese, English and Chinese

Final rise-fall intonation

Here, the abrupt rise and subsequent fall in intonation suggests a complex intonation comprising an abrupt rise and subsequent fall in the subparts at the end of Japanese phrases. Let us consider, for example, the following conversation between X and Y. Both X (male) and Y (female) are university students. Here, X's utterances are indicated in green and red, whereas Y's utterances are indicated in pink.

male X:(1)
shigoto shita atoni "after working"
female Y:(1)
un "uh huh"
male X:(2)
goji kara "from five"
female Y:(2)
un "uh huh"
male X:(3)
juuji made "to ten"

"Temporal shift in voice height (the vertical axis represents pitch, whereas the horizontal axis represents time shift)"
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This figure shows two falling lines marked in pink. These lines indicate a temporal shift in the height of Y's utterance of "un" (Y1 and Y2), a fairly common backchannel that roughly corresponds to "uh huh" in English. Since Y is a female, Y1 and Y2 are located in the higher section of this figure. The lower section of the figure reveals three green- and red-colored lines, which reflect a temporal shift in the height of X's utterances of X1, X2, and X3, respectively. The final part of each utterance, colored in red, reflects a mountain-like change in the voice height, comprising an abrupt rise and subsequent fall. This is the intonation that we are dealing with here. Henceforth, such intonation will be referred to as the "final rise-fall intonation" (matsubiage, in Japanese).

The final rise-fall intonation is generally considered as the "childish," "unintelligent," and "impudent" ways in which young individuals speak; therefore, it is preferable not to use such intonation in formal situations such as a personal interview for a job.

In reality, the final rise-fall intonation is widely used by many Japanese speakers, including the old generation. Approximately forty years ago, Akinaga (1966: 50) noted that this intonation was observed in the speeches delivered by politicians.

The final rise-fall intonation reveals the speaker's preoccupation with his/her action of speaking a phrase. This is why intonation appears frequently when the speaker attempts to present a content that is difficult and lacking in some logical explanation.


Akinaga, Kazue (1966) "Nihongo-no hatsuon: intoneeshon-nado," Kouza Nihongo Kyouiku, Waseda Daigaku Gogaku Kenkyuusho, part 2, pp. 48-60.

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