Japanese Pronunciation – Squeegee

Following up on my pronunciation post, I’d like to share what was perhaps my most frustrated encounter with terminology pronunciation.  A rising kick that rhymes with squeegee. You know, those cleaning wands with a wiper blade that fuel station attendants use to wash your windshield (if you still can find an old-fashioned station). For those unfamiliar with this tool, the name rhymes with Fiji. Now imagine a kick that also rhymes with this useful tool: yoko KEE GEE geri. When this command was called out at the dojo, I looked around trying to figure out what a kiji kick looked like.  It must be kiji, because that’s the only way you can make that sound in romaji.  The nice thing about romaji for us non-natives is that the keys to pronunciation are always there.  Now, although in English a ‘G’ might be ‘hard’ as in ‘great,’ it can also be ‘soft’ as in ‘cage.’ In contrast, and refreshingly, a ‘G’ in romaji is always pronounced the same way.  It doesn’t matter what other letters are around it.  Also, vowels retain their sound as well.  An ‘a’ does not pretend to be any other vowel because of peer pressure.

Take ‘age.’ This is always pronounced あげ (roughly. forgive me.) “ah-gay.”  The “gay” would have to be very short… with no diphthong. As a matter of fact, the way we pronounce “gay” would perhaps be more correctly represented as ‘gei‘ in romaji. So maybe “ah-geh” would work.  How about ‘ke‘ in romaji? Lets just say “keh.” But it most certainly rhymes with ‘ge.’  So can you guess what the mysterious kiji kick looked like? Yes, you’re right: keage けあげ.  When I tried to explain later (I just had to), I was told they just used a different Japanese accent.  Oh my! <facepalm>  Most times when it comes to martial arts, I believe “it’s not wrong, it’s just different.”  But in this case, that’s just plain wrong!

Sometimes, what we hear is just a bit off and we adjust to fit our paradigm. If I’m new to Japanese, maybe I will project the sounds I hear onto words I know. So keage becomes “care-gay.” And front rising kick is simply “my-care-gay.”  That one is harder to fix.  Sometimes people won’t even recognize the difference. Their ear is much more forgiving. So I find that slowing down and giving respect to each syllable helps.  Because even when you speed up, the sound is still there. So slowly say keage as ke a ge.  Maybe you sound like a two-year-old, but at least you have a fighting chance at a correct pronunciation.