Mottainai or The Language Discussions

I’m going to make a hash of this, I’m sure. I have completely failed to explain Japanese pronunciation to many Americans many times before. Brits tend to fare better though, so I’ll give it a shot.

6 equally-weighted, un-accented, basically flat “mora”


The mo is a short “o”, not mow, but mo, as in mop. It’s followed by the double tt, which indicates “ta” as in “tap” preceded by a dead non-sound that I want to call a glottal stop but maybe isn’t. Giving “mo+{blank}” equal weight to “tai” and “nai”, while keeping a short “o” vowel is what seems to trip people up the most.

“ta” and “i” run together naturally to make “tie”, and “na” as in “nap” and “i” do the same to make a similar sound. I guess it’s really the start of the word where mispronunciation throws me off parsing what is being said, but they did also seem to weirdly over emphasise “inai” with an extra initial “i” after having already said “tai”.

This is probably undermined if the publisher and/or designer can’t pronounce it right in the first place, because it isn’t a Japanese game, after all.

EDIT: I just had a flashback. I have had this conversation before. It was because the BGG description describes the wrong pronunciation! It says that it’s pronounced like “mote”, right? That couldn’t be more wrong… oh, and then someone linked some Japanese person singing “mottainai”, and everyone chimed in to say it sounds just like “mote” to them and it was all very frustrating.


This seems to do a good job if you’re like me and can’t read pronunciations very well. For me it made what @Benkyo is saying make complete sense.


Knowing two languages helped. I only got the stress wrong; I placed it on the 2nd syllable, which is what I’m used to.


I read your description and then looked up a video of a Japanese person saying it. It definitely sounds like mo-tai-nai not mote-ai-nai to me. Japanese emphasis seems quite different to English emphasis (if that makes any sense) so perhaps that’s what catches people out. I can’t say that I wouldn’t completely mangle the pronunciation if I tried to say it though…


I hear mote-tai-nai from the video MikeimusPrime linked.

Likely as a function of American English often featuring an unreleased stop with a /t/ coda

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I can understand an inability to pronounce the difference between mo+{blank} and mo: (that’s mo(p) and mow, basically), since American doesn’t have the distinction. I can’t understand the inability to hear the difference though, I find that fascinating.


I wish I could remember more examples of interesting linguistic intricacies that my linguist friend told me about, but it’s actually fairly common to hear things that aren’t there, or hear them differently than how they actually sound.

I’ve encountered a lot, like an American friend asking me why caterpillar and … maybe gorilla were supposed to rhyme in his kid’s picture book, when to him they clearly don’t.

Sorry, long derail now, maybe a topic for a different thread.


Moderator’s Note: the topic of languages creeps up again and again and I thought this was as good a starting point as it gets :slight_smile:

Please feel free to suggest a better name for this thread. I don’t feel creative today.
Thanks and happy linguistics!


I love Japanese pronunciation. It tends to make sense, with very few weird exceptions.

What I hate about Japanese are the particles (O, Wo, Ga, Wa), which the best explanation I’ve ever gotten from dozens and dozens of native speakers is “It sounds wrong when you use the wrong one, and it sounds right when you use the right one.”

Oh, and the conjugation-based-on-social-class. That’s just idiotic. All languages have idiotic elements (gender in Romance languages, words-spelt-the-same-meaning-different-things or words sounding the same meaning different things in English, the utterly baffling “shi” in Mandarin that is pronounced “sh-uuuh” instead of “sh-eee” like it should be… and so on), and that’s Japanese’s one.

Watashi wa Quria desu. Ori wa Ma-ru-ke. Boku wa oresama.

And so on.

Canadians have a weird habit of dropping syllables (Yonge = “young”, Toronto = “Tuh-ran-ah”) and some utterly baffling pronunciations without justification (About = “aboot”, Cards = “kerds”).

EDIT: Corrected the way we pronounce “about” to non-Canadian ears. To us it sounds like Americans say “Ab-hout,” but again, language is weird.

SECOND EDIT: I forgot about a personal, hyper local example! There is a street in Kitchener/Waterloo that is spelled “Weber” and pronounced “Wee-bur”, but the line of BBQs made by Weber are pronounced “Web-er.” Utterly baffling, and none of them can explain why but everyone I know who was raised in the area insists on the Wee-bur pronunciation for the street.


Canada is world-famous for “Aboot”.

And even if written English has traps, the UK also has enough accent variations that just make everything impossible. Learn English as a second language and then move to Newcastle? Good luck.


I feel like English at least has an excuse for being weird by being a franken-language deriving from various people invading, asking locals “what’s that?” and then just writing down whatever.

(And then more stuff got added via the same process, but with us as the invaders.)

French has a fancy committee for setting their language rules and they’re still wandering about deciding tables need genders.


And then this just popped up when I switched to Tumblr:


We have a number of children’s books published by Usborne, a publishing company with a good number of UK authors it seems.

There are some rhyming words in them that I can understand how they are supposed to rhyme, but don’t because of differences between American and English; but there are some that I cannot fathom – maybe the next time I run across some, I’ll take note of them and post them here, to see if anyone can confirm or deny the rhyme.


It is a bit weird yes. But this is the rarest of cases and definitely a fine addition to our collection :slight_smile:


I think it’s generally accepted, but may not be universally known, that if you didn’t hear certain speech distinctions growing up you don’t develop the ability to notice them at all (unless you go and live there, and then it takes ages). Vowel sounds are particularly subject to this.


I don’t hear “stark naked” very often, as I think “buck naked” has become more common overall, at least in my neck of the English speaking world.

I do hear “stark contrast” and “stark reminder” relatively often though.


It was a trifle surprising the first time I was offered Stark Öl.


Was it Gorilla? :wink:
edit: it is the only one I know, I checked and apparently there are multiple ones by that name now and not only from one country.

Öl in German means oil–just saying. Fitting saying is: “Geht runter wie Öl”