Question of the day: how do you form a question in Japanese?
In English, we often know that someone is asking a question based on a few aspects of a speaker’s sentence formation, such as an upward inflection of the speaker’s voice at the end of a sentence. Other features typical of questions sentences in English are words such as “wh” words – who, what, when, where, and why. In Japanese, a question is often formed with a few of the same features that English contains, like upward inflection of a speakers voice at the end of a sentence and words such as nani, naze, doko, itsu, and dare. Yet, Japanese has a unique feature that English doesn’t; a particle that directly indicates that the previous phrase or sentence was a question – the particle ka/か.
か is used at the end of a sentence to indicate that the speaker is asking a question. It acts kind of like a question mark at the end of sentences in English, except that in Japanese か is used in both written and oral speech. This is a really fantastic particle because it can help Japanese students identify when others are making statements or asking questions in conversation. So, listen for the か in conversation to know when you are expected to respond!
Note: In written form, if か marks a question, it is followed by a question mark, just like in English.
[Particle] か (ka) is essentially the Japanese version of a question mark. The sentence turns into an interrogative question by putting this ‘か’ at the very end of the sentence. This is most often used in more formal Japanese, or when sentences employ the use of “です” or “ます.” If used in an informal question, か can be seen as extremely direct or familiar. It can also be used when someone is using a self-reflective question… when someone is asking him/herself a question.
Sentence + か
How are you?
Do you have a girlfriend?
(います is the ます form of いる, which we addressed yesterday)
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Voiced and Voiceless Vowels
In Japanese speech, you’ll find that some vowel sounds are voiced and others are not. What do we mean by voiced and unvoiced? Typically, vowel sounds are voiced – meaning that they are given their full vowel sound with proper pronunciation. However, you’ll find that there are a lot of occasions where it sounds like Japanese speakers aren’t including the vowel sounds in words that seems like they should have vowels. Words that have vowel sounds that aren’t voiced fully are considered unvoiced, such as the u in kusso, the i in kitsune, the i in hito, the u in takusan, the u in suki, the i in chikai, etc…
Basically, the vowel sounds i and u are glossed over, making it seem like they are deleted from the word.
We’ll re-address this once we begin the pronunciation guides, but for now we’ll give you a basic explanation for why vowels become voiceless. The reason that these become voiceless vowels is because they are located between two voiceless consonants. Voiceless consonants are consonants that require the voice to be used to effectively produce the consonant sound. When a vowel is found between two voiceless consonants, the resulting vowel sounds is often voiceless as well.
Voiced Consonants: M and n of the ‘Nasal’ consonants; b, d, and g of the ‘Stop’ consonants; dz(u) of the ‘Affricate’ consonants; the z of the ‘Fricative’ consonants; the r of the ‘Liquid’ consonants; are all voiced consonants – which require the vowel sound to be voiced in most cases.
Unvoiced Consonants: P and b of the ‘Stop’ consonants; ts[u] of the ‘Affricate’ consonants; s, h, sh[i], and ch[i] of the ‘Fricative’ consonants; are all voiceless consonants and could possibly result in voiceless vowels if placed between two of these kinds of consonants.
*the u in desu and masu are often unvoiced in normal speech