I have been always interested in teenage vernacular (特有の言葉 tokuyu no kotoba). My senior thesis was on the teenage vernacular in Southern California. Teenagers are experts (専門家senmonka) in creating new words as they are not bound by rules. They are creative in any language.

Some new words are born and die, while others gain status to be used on TV even on the news, lose the hipness, and are abandoned by the young creators. One of the significant changes I noticed in the 1990s was a change in accent in some vocabularies. Note that the conventional accents described here are ones used in Tokyo. Young people have started to flatten accents. This trend is called “flattening accents” (アクセントの平板化 akusento no heibanka.) Some words added a new meaning by altering the traditional accents (Table 1).

Table 1

Vocabulary Original Accents Original Meaning(s) New Accents New Meaning
クラブ(club) ク\ラブ – an organization that is created by people with a common interest

– an expensive drinking venue catered to corporate executives
クラブ¯ a hip dance club popular among hip young people
ネット(net) ネ\ット a device to catch fish etc ネット¯ internet
ライン(line) ラ\イン a straight one- dimensional figure ライン¯ The largest SNS in Japan

While Table 2 shows vocabularies that young people simply changed the traditional accents without altering or adding meanings.

(Table 2)

Vocabulary Original Accents New Accents Meaning
ショップ(shoppu) ショ\ップ ショップ¯ shop
モデル(moderu) モ\デル モデル¯ model
グーグル(guuguru) グ\ーグル グーグル¯ google
彼氏(kareshi) か\れし かれし¯ boyfriend
図書館(toshokan) としょ\かん としょかん¯ library

NHK Broadcasting Culture Research Institute, a research arm established by NHK (Japanese public broadcaster,) added acceptable accents of 3300 words in 2016 based on “appropriateness” in broadcasting instead of correct/incorrect.

Not surprisingly, the flattening accents are more prevailed and accepted among young people. As a former sociolinguistics student, I have no problem accepting changes in language especially the changes that involve more than accents as in Table 1. However, some changes in accents are hard even to say! レ\タス(lettus retasu) isレタス¯ and <span …continue reading