第198課: Adjectives: Sound Changes

Although the contraction rules described in this lesson are discussed under the guise of slang speech, they are in fact more so representative of a widespread phonological phenomenon in many dialects in Japan. This is, Japanese tends to not like different vowels right next to each other.

In many dialects (mostly northern and eastern) including casual Tokyo-ben 東京弁, /ai/, /oi/, and /ii/ at the end of adjectives contract to [ē] in slang. Less commonly, those that end in /ui/ may be found contracted to [ē] or [ii]. This phenomenon has existed in some capacity in Japanese for quite some time. In fact, outside of adjectives, you’ll find plenty of words contracted with the same premise. For instance, the course words for “you”—omae お前 and temae 手前—are very frequently pronounced as omē おめー and temē てめー instead. Again, this is by no mistake. 

How Sound Changes Affect Adjectives

Returning to how this applies to adjectives, in Standard Japanese there is no instance of the syllables /ye/ and /we/, at least in native vocabulary, which means if the sound change /ai/, /oi/, /ii/ → [ē] causes either of those two syllables to form, /y/ and /w/ just drop altogether. An example of this is the adjectives tsuyoi 強い (strong). Its contracted form is tsuē, not tsuyē. In the examples below, you will find examples of these contracted adjectives in their glory. Unsurprisingly, this will be a wonderful opportunity to familiarize with some of the most iconic dialectical phrases in Japanese.  
1. あの服、ほんまにええねん。(=あの服、本当にいいんだよ)
Ano fuku, homma ni ē nen.
Those clothes are really good.
2. ええやないか! (=いいじゃないか)
Ē ya nai ka!
Isn’t it great?

3. ええんちゃうか? (=いいんじゃないだろうか?)
Ē n chau ka?
Is it not great?
Grammar Note: ちゃう is a contraction of 違う and is used in many Western dialects to ask if something is in fact not the case while still seeking a positive affirmation. 
4. あのサメ、怖えぇぇ! (=あのサメ、怖い!)
Ano same, koē…! 
That shark is scary!
5. すげーだろ! (=すごいだろう!)
Sugē daro!
Isn’t that cool!
6. めっちゃ眠てー! (=とっても眠たい!)
Metcha nemutē!
I’m really sleepy!
7. 冷蔵庫も何にもねえ! (=冷蔵庫も何もない!)
Reizōko mo nan’ni mo nē!
There’s nothing in the fridge!
8. うっせーな、てめー。 (=うるさい、お前)
Ussē na, temē.
Shut up, you. 

Word Note: As this example shows, some words can be further contracted—urusai → ussē.
This sound change also affects grammatical endings such as –nai ない and –tai たい
9. 弱ぇ奴は着る服も選べねェ! (=弱い奴は着る服も選べない!)
Yoē yatsu wa kiru fuku mo erabenē!
Weak guys can’t even choose their own clothes to wear!
10. たくさん食べてーなぁ。 (=たくさん食べたいなぁ)
Takusan tabetē nā. 
Man, I wanna eat a lot.
11. くだらねーことでいちいち突っかかってくんじゃねーよ。(=下らないことでいちいち突っかかっていくんじゃないよ)
Kudaranē koto de ichi’ichi tsukkakatteku n ja nē yo.
You can’t be charging at me with every little stupid thing.  
12. つまんねーこと聞くなよ。(=つまらないことを聞くなよ)
Tsuman’nē koto kiku na yo.
Don’t ask absurd things.
One must understand that the productivity of this sound change is not applied to all adjectives. There are plenty of idiosyncrasies and specialized variations depending on the adjective. 
小さい  Chiisai ちっちゃい・ちっちぇー
Chitchai/chitchē 寒い Samui さみい・さめー Samii/samē
悪い Warui わりい Warii 暑い・熱い Atsui あちい・あちぇー Achii/achē
安い Yasui やせえ Yasē まずい Mazui ま(っ)ぜー Ma(z)zē



Another dialectical phenomenon that has an even wider distribution in Japan is dropping the final –i of adjectives and replacing it with a glottal stop, which is optionally spelled with っ. This is frequently employed when talking to oneself or when the adjective in question is not necessarily directed toward anyone. In other words, it has an expletive nature to it. 
13. やばっ、逃げろ!
Yaba…nigero!
Crap…run! 
14. 痛っ!
Ita…!
Ouch…!
15. このお湯、熱っ!
Kono oyu, atsu…!
This (bath) water’s hot!
16. くそ寒っ!
Kuso samu…!
It’s freaking cold…!
17. うわっ、臭っ!
Uwa…, kusa…!
Dang…it smells…!
Another phenomenon that's not so much dialectical as it is emphatic, rather than stopping with a glottal stop, emphasis can be added to an adjective in casual speech by dropping I and elongating the preceding vowel. In fact, the final /i/ doesn’t have to be dropped for this to work.
18. 外、寒ー。
Soto, samū.
Outside’s co-o-old!
19. すごーい!
Sugōi!
Coool!
20. 胃が痛ーい!
I ga itāi!
My stomach hurrts!
Returning to how this applies to adjectives, in Standard Japanese there is no instance of the syllables /ye/ and /we/, at least in native vocabulary, which means if the sound change /ai/, /oi/, /ii/ → [ē] causes either of those two syllables to form, /y/ and /w/ just drop altogether. An example of this is the adjectives tsuyoi 強い (strong). Its contracted form is tsuē, not tsuyē. In the examples below, you will find examples of these contracted adjectives in their glory. Unsurprisingly, this will be a wonderful opportunity to familiarize with some of the most iconic dialectical phrases in Japanese.  
1. あの服、ほんまにええねん。(=あの服、本当にいいんだよ)
Ano fuku, homma ni ē nen.
Those clothes are really good.
2. ええやないか! (=いいじゃないか)
Ē ya nai ka!
Isn’t it great?

3. ええんちゃうか? (=いいんじゃないだろうか?)
Ē n chau ka?
Is it not great?
Grammar Note: ちゃう is a contraction of 違う and is used in many Western dialects to ask if something is in fact not the case while still seeking a positive affirmation. 
4. あのサメ、怖えぇぇ! (=あのサメ、怖い!)
Ano same, koē…! 
That shark is scary!
5. すげーだろ! (=すごいだろう!)
Sugē daro!
Isn’t that cool!
6. めっちゃ眠てー! (=とっても眠たい!)
Metcha nemutē!
I’m really sleepy!
7. 冷蔵庫も何にもねえ! (=冷蔵庫も何もない!)
Reizōko mo nan’ni mo nē!
There’s nothing in the fridge!
8. うっせーな、てめー。 (=うるさい、お前)
Ussē na, temē.
Shut up, you. 

Word Note: As this example shows, some words can be further contracted—urusai → ussē.
This sound change also affects grammatical endings such as –nai ない and –tai たい
9. 弱ぇ奴は着る服も選べねェ! (=弱い奴は着る服も選べない!)
Yoē yatsu wa kiru fuku mo erabenē!
Weak guys can’t even choose their own clothes to wear!
10. たくさん食べてーなぁ。 (=たくさん食べたいなぁ)
Takusan tabetē nā. 
Man, I wanna eat a lot.
11. くだらねーことでいちいち突っかかってくんじゃねーよ。(=下らないことでいちいち突っかかっていくんじゃないよ)
Kudaranē koto de ichi’ichi tsukkakatteku n ja nē yo.
You can’t be charging at me with every little stupid thing.  
12. つまんねーこと聞くなよ。(=つまらないことを聞くなよ)
Tsuman’nē koto kiku na yo.
Don’t ask absurd things.
One must understand that the productivity of this sound change is not applied to all adjectives. There are plenty of idiosyncrasies and specialized variations depending on the adjective. 
小さい  Chiisai ちっちゃい・ちっちぇー
Chitchai/chitchē 寒い Samui さみい・さめー Samii/samē
悪い Warui わりい Warii 暑い・熱い Atsui あちい・あちぇー Achii/achē
安い Yasui やせえ Yasē まずい Mazui ま(っ)ぜー Ma(z)zē



Another dialectical phenomenon that has an even wider distribution in Japan is dropping the final –i of adjectives and replacing it with a glottal stop, which is optionally spelled with っ. This is frequently employed when talking to oneself or when the adjective in question is not necessarily directed toward anyone. In other words, it has an expletive nature to it. 
13. やばっ、逃げろ!
Yaba…nigero!
Crap…run! 
14. 痛っ!
Ita…!
Ouch…!
15. このお湯、熱っ!
Kono oyu, atsu…!
This (bath) water’s hot!
16. くそ寒っ!
Kuso samu…!
It’s freaking cold…!
17. うわっ、臭っ!
Uwa…, kusa…!
Dang…it smells…!
Another phenomenon that's not so much dialectical as it is emphatic, rather than stopping with a glottal stop, emphasis can be added to an adjective in casual speech by dropping I and elongating the preceding vowel. In fact, the final /i/ doesn’t have to be dropped for this to work.
18. 外、寒ー。
Soto, samū.
Outside’s co-o-old!
19. すごーい!
Sugōi!
Coool!
20. 胃が痛ーい!
I ga itāi!
My stomach hurrts!
 
Returning to how this applies to adjectives, in Standard Japanese there is no instance of the syllables /ye/ and /we/, at least in native vocabulary, which means if the sound change /ai/, /oi/, /ii/ → [ē] causes either of those two syllables to form, /y/ and /w/ just drop altogether. An example of this is the adjectives tsuyoi 強い (strong). Its contracted form is tsuē, not tsuyē. In the examples below, you will find examples of these contracted adjectives in their glory. Unsurprisingly, this will be a wonderful opportunity to familiarize with some of the most iconic dialectical phrases in Japanese.  

1. あの服、ほんまにええねん。(=あの服、本当にいいんだよ)
 Ano fuku, homma ni ē nen.
 Those clothes are really good.

2. ええやないか! (=いいじゃないか)
  Ē ya nai ka!
  Isn’t it great?

3. ええんちゃうか? (=いいんじゃないだろうか?)
  Ē n chau ka?
  Is it not great?

Grammar Note: ちゃう is a contraction of 違う and is used in many Western dialects to ask if something is in fact not the case while still seeking a positive affirmation.

4. あのサメ、怖えぇぇ! (=あのサメ、怖い!)
  Ano same, koē…! 
  That shark is scary!

5. すげーだろ! (=すごいだろう!)
  Sugē daro!
  Isn’t that cool!

6. めっちゃ眠てー! (=とっても眠たい!)
  Metcha nemutē!
  I’m really sleepy!

7. 冷蔵庫も何にもねえ! (=冷蔵庫も何もない!)
  Reizōko mo nan’ni mo nē!
  There’s nothing in the fridge!

8. うっせーな、てめー。 (=うるさい、お前)
  Ussē na, temē.
  Shut up, you.

Word Note: As this example shows, some words can be further contracted—urusai ussē.

This sound change also affects grammatical endings such as –nai ない and –tai たい

9. 弱ぇ奴は着る服も選べねェ! (=弱い奴は着る服も選べない!)
  Yoē yatsu wa kiru fuku mo erabenē!
  Weak guys can’t even choose their own clothes to wear!

10. たくさん食べてーなぁ。 (=たくさん食べたいなぁ)
     Takusan tabetē nā.
   Man, I wanna eat a lot.

11. くだらねーことでいちいち突っかかってくんじゃねーよ。(=下らないことでいちいち突っかかっていくんじゃないよ)
   Kudaranē koto de ichi’ichi tsukkakatteku n ja nē yo.
   You can’t be charging at me with every little stupid thing.  

12. つまんねーこと聞くなよ。(=つまらないことを聞くなよ)
    Tsuman’nē koto kiku na yo.
    Don’t ask absurd things.


Idiosyncrasies 

One must understand that the productivity of this sound change is not applied to all adjectives. There are plenty of idiosyncrasies and specialized variations depending on the adjective.

 小さい  Chiisai ちっちゃい・ちっちぇー
Chitchai/chitchē
 寒い Samui さみい・さめー Samii/samē
 悪い Warui わりい Warii 暑い・熱い Atsui あちい・あちぇー Achii/achē
 安い Yasui やせえ Yasē まずい Mazui ま(っ)ぜー Ma(z)zē

Another dialectical phenomenon that has an even wider distribution in Japan is dropping the final –i of adjectives and replacing it with a glottal stop, which is optionally spelled with っ. This is frequently employed when talking to oneself or when the adjective in question is not necessarily directed toward anyone. In other words, it has an expletive nature to it.

13. やばっ、逃げろ!
  Yaba…nigero!
  Crap…run!

14. 痛っ!
  Ita…!
  Ouch…!

15. このお湯、熱っ!
  Kono oyu, atsu…!
  This (bath) water’s hot!

16. くそ寒っ!
  Kuso samu…!
  It’s freaking cold…!

17. うわっ、臭っ!
  Uwa…, kusa…!
  Dang…it smells…!


Vowel Elongation in Stem 

Another phenomenon that's not so much dialectical as it is emphatic, rather than stopping with a glottal stop, emphasis can be added to an adjective in casual speech by dropping I and elongating the preceding vowel. In fact, the final /i/ doesn’t have to be dropped for this to work.

18. 外、寒ー。
  Soto, samū.
  Outside’s co-o-old!

19. すごーい!
  Sugōi!
  Coool!

20. 胃が痛ーい!
  I ga itāi!
  My stomach hurrts!