One topic I’ve written several posts on is how pronunciation is so important when learning Japanese, and I had given a link to an online accent dictionary that I see a few people had checked out. I also noted that I owned a physical accent dictionary, but had never really used it much.
I decided to pull it out, the Shinmeikei Japanese accent dictionary (新明解日本語アクセント辞典). In the age of the internet where nearly everything is available online, it feels strange to even use a paper reference book, but after looking up a few words I was glad I did.
For beginners, websites that show basic intonation are fine (like the one I referenced above), but if you are really serious about perfecting your pronunciation, this book is the perfect companion. Here are some of the reasons why:
Word count: The Shinmeikai has over 70,000 words which doesn’t compare to any websites I’ve seen.
No ads or distractions:When studying from a web page, you typically have to deal with ads, menus, and other things that usually detract from your focus.
Word combinations: This dictionary even goes so far as to group words into categories, and demonstrate the entire pitch flow (high/low) for different endings. For example you may know what 赤い (akai) sounds like on its own, but what about 赤ければ (akakereba)? Or what about if you follow a verb with a certain particle (like を)? In some cases this may be obvious but in others its definitely not.
Regional differences: The Shinmeikai has map which shows different regions and how they effect intonation. There is the well-known ones like Tokyo and Osaka dialect, but also others such as regions where there is ‘flat’ intonation. Pretty interesting if you are into this kind of stuff.
Other goodies: This book also contains some useful hints that took me years to figure out, like how the ki sound in 企画 (kikaku) is pronounced in a breathy way without fully enunciating it. Also there are sometimes several different pronunciations listed, both the classic and modern ones. There are also full-page diagrams of the major word categories showing an easily-understood graph of the pitch falls and raises.
One interesting side-effect of studying with a book like this is will show you quickly if you really learned hiragana alphabet order (あいうえお、かきくけこ, …) or if you just think you did. With this I quickly confirmed that although I can rattle off hiragana without too much trouble, I get stuck when trying to figure out if は is before な (answer: it isn’t). When looking up words in a physical dictionary like this you have to manually flip through the pages until you can zero in on the exact word. It’s pretty challenging and I still need alot more practice to perfect the skill.
I have an older edition which is great, but the latest edition looks like it even comes with a CD which will be a boon for those of you who still prefer computer-lookup of words.
A book like this is unique because it really only appeals to those somewhere in the middle of the spectrum of those studying the language. If you are a beginner and just learning random stuff here and there, it’s probably overkill. On the other hand, if you are (or planning on) living in Japan for a few years, you’ll likely pick up a great deal of the proper pich patterns just from listening and repeating words and phrases, though if you wanted to try and become a NHK announcer you might want to have one of these as a reference.
But for the sweet spot of those who are studying the language seriously without having the opportunity to live in the country for a long time, which is really the target audience of this blog, this book is near perfect for what it offers. There is no way you are going to just read it from cover-to-cover and memorize everything, but if you target certain commonly used words (like 日本語 and 英語) you can gradually make your intonation closer to that of a native speaker.
Older version (the one I have):
Latest edition (with CD):