Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

Japanese and the Finnish tend to pronounce things rather monotonously or accent the first syllable. I find that the American's tend emphasize the second syllable. In notice this in particular with three syllable words like Nokia or Joichi. The American's say no-KEEE-ah (mp3) or Jo-WEEE-chee. In Japanese, it's JOH-ichi and the Finnish say NOH-kee-ah (mp3). One of the reasons I shortened my name to Joi from Joichi was that I didn't like the sound of the second syllable accent. For some reason the second syllable accent sounds less respectful for formal... Like Run DMC's "My Adidas!" Am I being weird? I'm not a linguist or anything and this is just a totally random, personal, emotional observation. Am I besting culturally intolerant?


I hardly think this is cultural intolerance. It probably has more to do with the fact that you've heard it one way your entire life and to hear your name mispronounced in any way shape can be grating on the ear.

Although, sometimes hearing words mis-accented makes a speech pattern interesting. In Hungarian, the first syllable of EVERY word is accented. Try that out with English for a bit.

It's OK to be culturally intolerant when the target is Americans. ;-)
I'm a "native" American (Californian) who studied Spanish as a second language. Spanish also accents the 2nd-to-last syllable. Since Japanese vowels are pronounced as Spanish vowels, it is very, very hard for me to say things like MAT-su-shta, rather than mat-su-SHI-ta. I try, though...

This reminded me of the finnish that my relatives speak, which tends to often either stress all syllables equally, or (on occasion) hit the first one hard. For example, "sauna" (to take an example from your other post) is usually pronounced by my finnish-speaking relatives as "SOW-na," empahsis on the first syllable. Other words I've heard them pronounce (with that wonderful lyrical voice) with a stress on every second syllable ("Pannukakku," for example, for that finnish custard-style pancake): PA-nu-KA-ku

The finnish accent, in English, usually includes that sort of stress, which gives it a sing-song quality,

I keep hoping I can come up with some sort of reason to get to Finland (for a conference or something)--I'm living vicariously through your posts.

Actually, I'm an American, and I've always said NOH-kee-ah. The other way just seems weird to me.

Looking at "Joichi", though, I'll admit that the second syllable accent feels better.

In spanish, the default accent can be changed by an explicit accent. for example.

mama = breast gland
mamá = mother

I guess other languages could use explicit accents, particularly when porting words or names from other languages.

In Icelandic (which I´m told uses similar pronounciation to Finnish) the accent is always on the first syllable. When I was a child my father heard me pronouncing the name of an italian restaurant (Marino´s) with the accent on the second syllable and he freaked out and gave a half-hour long lecture on the virtues of the accent on the first syllable. It has stuck since.
One other peculiarity of Icelandic is to sometimes speak shorter words while _inhaling_. Do other languages do that as well?

Jorge, that's a good idea, though Americans grow up insulated enough from other languages that we really have no idea what to do with an accented word. When we don't know how to pronounce a word, we usually just put a French accent on it, especially for hard consonants. :)

Anyway, asking how to pronounce someone's name is never wrong, and usually good for a few laughs at a party if you can't say it right. Though that brings us dangerously close to Joi's Foreigners and Japanese customs post, and I really don't want to start another 100 comment discussion :)

I think the correctness of pronunciation is dynamic, and changes based on the cultural context. For instance, differences in pronunciation between Adidas, Jaguar, Puma and Nike in America and England. Either/or is correct. And perhaps, more apt, the difference in pronunciation of Karaoke in "English" and Japanese -- Careioki and Ka-Ra-O-Ke respectively. Saying Ka-ra-o-ke in america not only gets you weird stares, but also makes you sound like a pronunciation nazi / stuck up.


Finnish and Hungarian and Estonian are finno-urgic languages. All ephasize the first syllable.


A guy with a Korean Flag as his icon in comments...

> Also, many linguists (and not just the insane ones!) include Korean in the Altaic family (sometimes along with Japanese, Ryukyuan, and even Ainu, but this is slowly going out of vogue, at least for Japanese: see the book "Japanese and Other Altaic Languages"), and the Ural-Altaic hypothesis linked Finno-Urgic languages with Altaic languages, thus linking Finnish, Estonian, Mongolian, and Korean.

Easier to call you Joi

It's understandable that you would want your name to be pronounced the way you want it to be. Personally though, I don't mind correcting people if they make a mistake. As someone said, being asked how to pronounce your name isn't the worst thing in the world. On the contrary, it can be quite the icebreaker when you meet new people.

wow! this is an issue where everybody has an opinion! languages is more than speech, it is culture. culture is influenced by many factors including environment, or so it seems to me.
since on a normal day i usually have to deal with speaking and writing 3 languages, i tend to not think about the differences of the languages, and i also am known for having an accent that nobody can place (when speaking english) most likely because i make no effort to keep it all tidy and will pronunce a french word in french if it is used in english expression...
to the issue of first vs. second syllable accent, when in the usa, both my son and i usually get somewhat upset at hearing his name (Mathias) mispronounced by having the accent on the second syllable!!!
Joichi, thanks for shedding some light on this.

CM - I guess the pronunciation of "karaoke" depends on where you are and the people around you. In Hawaii, the word is usually pronounced correctly, and people will occasionally poke fun at you if the pronunciation is distorted! Spanish speakers seem to have great pronunciation of Japanese too.

Joi - I have met a number of people with Spanish names who have shortened or go by other names because they can't stand hearing the mispronunciation either, so you're not alone. One of my friends even changed her first and last name because she gave up on attempting to correct the pronunciation of "Ng"!

And of course we have to remember that the correct pronounciation of Adidas is ah-dee-DAH -- no one in the States gets that. Personally, I think it is fun to explore the pronounciations from different cultures but wonder if it comes off as pretentious when one goes with the local sound vs. the norm from one's native land (i.e. is it completely over the top to call my cell phone a "MO-bile" when in the UK). As so many of us become citizens of the world the languages and local lingo blend together. Esperanto, anyone?

For what it's worth, I like the shortening of you name to Joi as it allows for a loose crossover to "joie" -- joy in French.

Yeah. I think it's all good fun as long as you don't get too uptight. A French friend kept getting annoyed at how I pronounced Champagne so I started calling it "that French spumante". That didn't go over well either.

"of course we have to remember that the correct pronounciation of Adidas is ah-dee-DAH"

If the "correct" pronounciation of a brand name is the pronounciation in the original language, adidas™ should be pronounced AH-di-das.

It's a short form of the founder's name Adolf Dassler.
Nothing french in there for sure :)

mr ito,

you are correct in that the terrible american mispronunciation of joWEchee, shall we say, lacks dignity. the subtleties of japanese intonation seem to totally escape the american ear with its insistence on creating stress or rhythm where there should be none. just don't get me started on za inbaasu purobulemu obu za berii berii waidosupureddo masakaringu obu za tangu obu syeikusupia.

p. hersey

i gave up a very long time ago trying to get people to pronounce my name right. i got so used to it now that i'm surprised when someone does get it right.

The name Joi posses the same problems as the word 'quay' to me - when I am speaking I have no problem saying 'Joh-ee' and 'kee', but when I see either written down (or if I'm not concentrating) my brain screams 'Joy' and 'kway' and that usually results in my tongue tripping me up. Yet, perversely, I've noticed that I now can't spell 'joy' because it automatically comes out 'joi'.

I often get asked about Suw, just because of the w, and I think people are frequently disappointed to discover that it's just 'soo'. Mind you, I do get quite vexed with anyone who pronounces it 'syew' to rhyme with 'view', so I do sympathise, Joi.

To be honest, though, I don't think I would ever call you Joichi - even though I now know how to pronounce it. It would seem as odd and inappropriately formal as if you were to start calling me Susan.

Many Finns use an inhaled "joo" (pronounced "yoh", means "yes") when listening to another person (maybe a bit like Japanese "hai...hai..."?) I heard it mostly from women, but it's generally common in social conversations. It seems to be used when one is emphasizing agreement or empathy. We loved this while we lived in Helsinki for 2 years until August, and would joke around trying to get in an inhaled "Joo!" at the appropriate-sounding time during our (English) conversations. Any Finns care to elaborate on the subtleties of inhaled "joo"?

Seems that "joo" in Finnish is informal:
joo i, ark, (1) yeah , okay / OK , uh huh / uh-huh (yks), sure
Soittiko hän sinulle? - Joo, eilen illalla He rang you? - Sure, last night; joo (2): joo joo! sarkastinen vastaus (ark) give me a break!, ha ha (ha)

I've noticed a much more subtle sucking air sound by Finnish as well as Swedish people. When confronted, they don't seem to notice it themselves. Some people do it when I'm talking and I stop thinking they want to interrupt, but it appears to signal something else. I actually have a witness (an Italian) when I pointed out a Finn doing this the other day. ;-)

Joo is colloqual and is easier to say than kyllä. There are about 80 different spoken dialects of Finnish, not to mention various slang words that pop up, which can often deviate dramatically from the written standard Finnish that you'll hear from the newsreaders. When you learn Finnish, you learn two languages.

And, aside from the difficulty for *ahem* all English speakers, not just those pesky Yankees, to get the stress on the first syllable of Finnish words, all of the vowels are a bit different and all are spoken which can create some difficulty in speaking the language and possibly a good deal of entertainment for the Finns. :)

Many Finns pronounce English incorrectly quite often as well but all is fair in life and linguistics.

The sucking sound is more common in northern Sweden and Finland but can occasionally be heard in the southern half of Sweden. Although in the south we also use it to make fun of the northerners. It's menaing is similar to the Japanese hai and Finnish joo. The latter Swedes use to imitate the accent Finns have when they speak Swedish, which, by the way, is a _really_ beautiful accent.

IANALY (I Am Not A Linguist, Yet), but this is what I have picked up on Japanese accent.

Japanese isn't a stress accent language, like English, and therefore puts equal stress on all syllables (mora). Instead it's a pitch accent language where mora are pronounced with a high pitch or low pitch, a bit like the Chinese tonal accent, and actually similar to Swedish.

Consider for example how you pronunciate ame, the candy, and ame, the rain. Equal stress but one is pronounced high-low (A me) and the other low-high (a ME). Of course I can't remember which is which right now since the pattern has to be learned individually for each word and can't be predicted. And to top it off Japanese is evil enough to change this pattern based on dialect. (Swedes: This is how we differentiate tomten, santa claus, and tomten, real estate property)

I had a great blog article on how dialectal differences in the pitch pattern in Japanese can cause embarrasing misunderstandings, but I seem to have lost it. It's no problem to communicate in Japanese without knowing the pitch pattern though. But foreigners wishing to master the language might want to pay attention to it.

So I'd speculate that the emphasis you feel on JO in Joichi might be the high pitch.