Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Lateral apical postalveolar flap

While reading the Wikipedia article about the Japanese language, I encountered this sentence about how Japanese pronounce the "R" sound:
The 'r' of the Japanese language (technically a lateral apical postalveolar flap), is of particular interest, sounding to most English speakers to be something between an 'l' and a retroflex 'r' depending on its position in a word.
Now, I dare you to say -- out loud -- "lateral apical postalveolar flap" with a lateral apical postalveolar flap. In other words, say that phrase the way a Japanese person would. The 'l' and 'r' are pronounced identically. With 'l' don't stop your tongue against your teeth as you normally do; and on the 'r' your tongue should be more forward of the soft palate than normal. There's some irony that if you form your 'r' and 'l' with this lateral apical postalveoloar flap, then you can't actually pronounce 'lateral apical postalveoloar flap.'

My mother is Japanese -- when my wife and I chose names for our children we rejected names that my mother and her family could not easily pronounce. My wife (a speech pathologist by education) thought of naming our first child "Postalveoloar Flap" as a sick joke. It must have been the drugs. Or it could be that all speech pathologists have a sick sense of humor. Stutterers can have difficulty pronouncing "stutter." If you have a lisp, you can't say "lisp." I'm sure there are other examples where somebody who suffers from a speech disorder can't pronounce his disorder. Maybe that's how they test if the therapy works or not.

When I posted the cat bicycle image the other day, I neglected to mention Frank's picture of the invisible bicycle.

Japanese bicycle blogs

A new bike blog I discovered is "Hit the Trail". Sagano is a recent transplant to the Bay Area, where he enjoys road cycling and hiking. He's also recently discovered the fun of mountain biking in the Bay Area.

Some other Japanese language blogs I occasionally follow include Honk de BONK, Fun Cycle, Hatena Diary, J'adore le vélo, and Hole in the Wall. Gambatte!


  1. Now you've got me dissecting the terminology and trying to get my tongue to figure out *precisely* ... alveolar? Ain't alveoli in the lungs anyway?
    I am the only Caucasian in an otherwise Korean choir and if I *don't* think about it, but just plug in the hard-wired "imitate speech sounds" part of the mind, I've got an accent by the end of the service... and can hit high notes clearly that I can't do if I try. The brain is amazing.

  2. So generically, alveolar means "socket." The Alveolar ridge is the ridge of gum where the tooth sockets are at. Apical = "apex" or the tip of the tongue.

    So apical postalveolar means the tip of your tongue touches the back of the gum ridge.

    Lateral just means it sounds something like "L." Flap means that your tongue flaps up against the roof of your mouth once (versus a trill in which the tongue flaps up twice or more, so a Spanish "rr" sounds different from a Japanese "r").

  3. It's like Japanese class all over again!
    Japanese teacher: くる
    Class: kooroo
    J: No, くる
    C: kuru
    J: Almost! くる
    C: くroo!
    j: (・_・;)

  4. Hi Meep, my wife studied speech path at UNT.

    I grew up with Japanese family members all around me, so I didn't have problems with pronunciation. When I was younger, in fact, I had problems pronouncing some English words.

    I'm so out of practice these days my Japanese is horrible.

  5. ...very funny post, flitz...i have a new appreciation for you now...i am ichi ban fan...

    ...i may hold off on going out for sushi for a while, however, so i don't get asked why i'm chortling to myself...

  6. ...in retrospect, i hope my above response is in no way thought to be making fun of people w/ actual speech impediments...not my style...

    ...domo arrigato gozimashita !...

  7. Thanks for introducing my blog!
    'R' and 'L' sounds are very difficult for most Japanese (including me). I still remembered some embarrassing moments when I was pronoucing 'white rice', 'presidential election' in Japanese way. :-)
    Pronouncing "lateral apical postalveolar flap" correctly is a nightmere for me.

    Anyway, thank you for the link!

  8. I could never figure out why my Japanese mom chose to put 3 l's in my sister's name.

  9. Curses! Someone already beat me to "elecrtion". Foyered again.