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View Full Version : Why is 'karaoke' pronounced 'ka-ree-oh-kee'?


Gozu Tashoya
06-16-2002, 06:14 PM
I'm not asking why people don't pronounce the word the "correct" (or at least Japanese) way, but I'm very confused as to why it's "ka-ree-oh-kee" instead of, say, "ka-ra-oak."

Off the top of my head, I can't think of another word in the English language that pronounces the letter A as a long E, so why is karaoke pronounced the way it is?

Kamino Neko
06-16-2002, 06:39 PM
I'm not sure it's actually the spelling so much as 'it sounds better'.

Hara-Kiri (Harry Carry), and Kamikaze (Kama Kazee) get the same treatment - I'm sure there are examples from languages other than Japanese, but I can't think of them at the moment.

scott evil
06-16-2002, 06:55 PM
I don't know, but sometimes Karaoke can go bad (http://filebox.vt.edu/users/awitt/money_funny.asx)!

:D

- s.e.

Yes, I am obsessed with these girls...

BobT
06-16-2002, 07:06 PM
I think the English speakers are trying to get as close as they can to the Japanese pronunciation.

Which isn't very close, but at least it's a start.

Gary T
06-16-2002, 07:55 PM
It's a Japanese word, and every vowel gets its own syllable. Also, in Japanese, every syllable ends with a vowel or an "n." There's no such thing as a "silent e" in English transliterations of Japansese. Hence in "karaoke" we have four syllables, "ka," "ra," "o," and "ke." The "ra" syllable is unaccented and followed by the syllable with the primary accent ("o"). English speakers naturally make it into a half-long "E" sound because it rolls off the tongue most easily that way.

Gozu Tashoya
06-18-2002, 02:39 AM
Originally posted by Gary T
It's a Japanese word, and every vowel gets its own syllable. Also, in Japanese, every syllable ends with a vowel or an "n." There's no such thing as a "silent e" in English transliterations of Japansese. Hence in "karaoke" we have four syllables, "ka," "ra," "o," and "ke." The "ra" syllable is unaccented and followed by the syllable with the primary accent ("o"). English speakers naturally make it into a half-long "E" sound because it rolls off the tongue most easily that way.

How natural is this conversion of 'a' to 'e'? The only other polysyllabic "ao" word that comes to mind is Maori, and AFAIK, that doesn't get the 'e' treatment. Neither do the monosyllabic 'ao' words - tao, Mao (the general with the chicken, IIRC) - that I can think of.

I will admit that it does roll off the tongue (marginally) better than a more correct pronunciation would, but the fact that, AFAIK, it is a pronunciation that is wholly unsupported by English phonetics, it still confuses the heck out of me. Even if it is easier to say, what genius looked at the word and decided to pronounce it that way?

Tsubaki
06-18-2002, 05:23 AM
Maybe it wasn't the fact that someone LOOKED at the word and decided to pronounce it as ka-ree-oh-kee, but rather they HEARD the word and their brain interpreted the sounds that way.

I've seen this phenomenon a lot over here. Can't think of any examples off the top of my head, though :)

Johanna
06-18-2002, 05:54 AM
"Judaism."

AskNott
06-19-2002, 09:23 PM
I've heard that, as karate means empty hand, karaoke means empty orchestra. Is it true?

Monty
06-19-2002, 09:49 PM
AskNott:

From the Merriam-Webster online dictionary (bolding mine):
Main Entry: karaoke
Pronunciation: "kar-E-'O-kE, k&-'rO-kE, "k-r-'O-(")kA
Function: noun
Etymology: Japanese, from kara empty + Oke, short for Okesutora orchestra
Date: 1981
: a device that plays instrumental accompaniments for a selection of songs to which the user sings along and that records the user's singing with the music

Gary T
06-20-2002, 01:48 AM
Originally posted by KKBattousai


How natural is this conversion of 'a' to 'e'? The only other polysyllabic "ao" word that comes to mind is Maori, and AFAIK, that doesn't get the 'e' treatment. Neither do the monosyllabic 'ao' words - tao, Mao (the general with the chicken, IIRC) - that I can think of.

I will admit that it does roll off the tongue (marginally) better than a more correct pronunciation would, but the fact that, AFAIK, it is a pronunciation that is wholly unsupported by English phonetics, it still confuses the heck out of me. Even if it is easier to say, what genius looked at the word and decided to pronounce it that way?
Perhaps you're thinking too hard about this?

In tao and Mao, the syllable with the "a" is accented, which makes all the difference in the world. No comparison.

Try saying "ka-ra-O-ke" really fast while maintaining a very clear stress on the "O." If you let the "ra" deteriorate into "ri" (pronounced as a half-long English E like the y in hungry, not a full long E like in agree), I think it rolls off the tongue a lot easier. This sloppiness in pronunciation is a natural human trait-- unaccented syllables get dropped or modified to facilitate smoothness in speaking quickly.

Gozu Tashoya
06-20-2002, 02:29 AM
Originally posted by Gary T
Try saying "ka-ra-O-ke" really fast while maintaining a very clear stress on the "O."

Okay, but you really prove nothing by telling a Japanese kid to pronounce the word the Japanese way. :p

A wizard song for thee
06-20-2002, 03:56 AM
Gary T, not to call your credentials into question (since you didn't offer any), but a friend of mine from Tokyo once decided to teach me to pronounce karaoke the correct way, and his instructions included stess on the "ra" syllable, the very one you said was unaccented. I'll grant you that we were both pretty well under the influence of alcohol at the time, but can you, by any chance, provide a pronunciation cite?

Tsubaki
06-20-2002, 06:23 AM
Technically, there are no accents in Japanese; every syllable should have the same amount of stress (although the tone may change).

Maybe that's why "foreigners" (ie non-Japanese) have trouble pronouncing some words...because we want to stress some syllables over others. Just a WAG.

Monty
06-20-2002, 09:15 AM
Tsubaki: Technically there are accented syllable in Japanese, just not all that many. Compare the different meanings for "hashi" as an example.

Gary T
06-20-2002, 10:26 AM
Originally posted by A wizard song for thee
Gary T, not to call your credentials into question (since you didn't offer any), but a friend of mine from Tokyo once decided to teach me to pronounce karaoke the correct way, and his instructions included stess on the "ra" syllable, the very one you said was unaccented.
I haven't been discussing how it is pronounced in Japanese. It wouldn't surpise me if it's different from English renditions. I mentioned some features of Japanese relative to syllables--for example "-oke" is two syllables, and not to be pronounced like the English "poke."

For how karaoke is pronounced in English, any up-to-date dictionary should do, such as the one Monty cited.

My main point is, given that the English pronunciation (at least in the U.S.) has primary stress on the "o" syllable and no stress on the preceding "ra" syllable, that preceding syllable gets overshadowed and is vulnerable to being altered somehow--in this case the vowel quality mutating to one that makes the transition to the "o" more fluidly.

CalMeacham
06-20-2002, 10:49 AM
I'm surprised that nobody has mentioned this before -- It seems clear to me that our pronunciation of Karaoke has been influenced (polluted?) by our knowledge of the word Carioka =


Carioca Pronunciation Key (kr-k)
n.
A native or inhabitant of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
carioca
A dance similar to the samba.
The music for this dance.


(from this source: http://dictionary.com/search?q=carioca )

It's not unusual for foreign words to be transformed by association with other words already in the language (even when they're foreign words themselves!)

Gozu Tashoya
06-20-2002, 04:43 PM
Originally posted by CalMeacham
I'm surprised that nobody has mentioned this before -- It seems clear to me that our pronunciation of Karaoke has been influenced (polluted?) by our knowledge of the word Carioka

I might be showing my narrow range of literary readings here, but I've never seen that word in my life. Then again, I pronounce karaoke the "proper" way, so maybe you are on to something. ;)

Anyway, to recap, we have Americans pronouncing a word in a way that is totally unsupported by any rules of pronunciation and phonetics because, apparently, American mouths are lazy.

And this is from the country that creates words like antidisestablishmentarianism? :confused:

Tsubaki
06-20-2002, 07:09 PM
Originally posted by Monty
Tsubaki: Technically there are accented syllable in Japanese, just not all that many. Compare the different meanings for "hashi" as an example.

A-HA! I was waiting for someone to say this!

I would say that its more a question of tone than accent. Its not that they are saying one syllable more strongly than the other, but that one syllable has a higher pitch than the other.

That's what I've always been taught in my 11 years of Japanese study, anyway :)

teela brown
06-20-2002, 07:09 PM
Next guy I hear pronouncing "sashimi" as "shushimi" gets a plug of wasabi stuffed up his nose.

Monty
06-20-2002, 08:12 PM
Originally posted by Tsubaki
A-HA! I was waiting for someone to say this!

Next time, how about heading it off then instead of being like a two-year old with a prize?

I would say that its more a question of tone than accent.

Except for the minor little bit that Japanese isn't a tonal language.

Its not that they are saying one syllable more strongly than the other, but that one syllable has a higher pitch than the other.

See above.

That's what I've always been taught in my 11 years of Japanese study, anyway :)

What you've been taught and what you've learned aren't always the same thing. In any event, my Japanese teachers said it was a difference in accent, as in emphasis, just like the accent in English is a difference in emphasis.

Monty
06-20-2002, 09:23 PM
Speaking of heading things off...

The bit above about the two-year old with a prize is just a figure of speech I had hoped would be seen as describing the joy that the other poster would display when someone "took the bait," so to speak. Of course, I couldn't think of an appropriate emoticon for it either, drat!

CalMeacham
06-20-2002, 11:47 PM
I might be showing my narrow range of literary readings here, but I've never seen that word in my life. Then again, I pronounce karaoke the "proper" way, so maybe you are on to something.



It's not your reading -- it's your age.


Back during WWII, the had a thing called the "Good Neighbor Policy" that encouraged friendship between the US and South America, largely in an effort to keep them away from he Axis powers. Carmen Miranda (from Brazil) became a big star up here, and Disney made cartoons with South American motifs, like Three Amigos. As a result, South American tuff got a lot of play up here. The carioca among these. IIRC, one of the cartoon characters in Three Amigos is Jose Carioca, a parrot.

Also IIRC, a lot of people in the US pronounced is "carry-okee".

This interest in things Latin continued into the Fifties and petered out in the Sixties, when I was growing up i the cultural fallout of WWII. I recall hearing about carioca a lot, and so, I'll bet, did most Boomers. Get a tape of Three Amigos. Or watch "I Love Lucy" reruns. Or something. Folks m age, I'll wager, were familiar with "carry-okee", and shoehorned "Karaoke" into that pronunciation. The first time I heard about "Karaoke singing" I thought someone had revived the Latin music (recal that I heard it -- I didn't see "Karaoke" written for quite a while after that).

I have seen similar distortions with other words. I think someone above mentioned "Hari-kari", which is the way I first heard that term. It wasn't until later that I read Japanese history and learned that the correct term was "hara kiri" = "belly slit", the vulger slang for seppuku. (I prized this little gem, until Shogun came along and blabbed it to the world.) It's still not clear to me if this is a transformation to a rhyming form, so much more common in English ("hurly burly", helter skelter", etc.), or was based on anuncer Harry Carey.

Gozu Tashoya
06-21-2002, 03:12 PM
Originally posted by pugluvr
Next guy I hear pronouncing "sashimi" as "shushimi" gets a plug of wasabi stuffed up his nose.

I suppose "shushi" is out of the question too, then? ;)

Thanks CalMeacham, that explaination makes a lot more sense to me. (Plus it was educational!)

BalmainBoy
06-23-2002, 07:21 PM
Monty, if English isn't a tonal language, how come my English teachers were always talking about the tone of a passage or a word?

..and lay off my mate Tsubaki. If she's lived in Japan and married a native AND learned the local dialect so as to make the locals slack-jawed with amazement, her opinion is as valid as your teacher's.

BalmainBoy
06-23-2002, 07:22 PM
Monty, if English isn't a tonal language, how come my English teachers were always talking about the tone of a passage or a word? So it must be valid talking of the tone of a japanese word?

..and lay off my mate Tsubaki. If she's lived in Japan and married a native AND learned the local dialect so as to make the locals slack-jawed with amazement, her opinion is as valid as your teacher's.

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