Dear Andrew,

> As many of you surely know, Japanese has a pitch
> accent and there are many words with identical
> pronunciation which are distinguished only by the
> accent. I am very interested in how dictionaries have
> illustrated this accent - especially Japanese
> monolingual dictionaries.
> It seems the vast majority don't show it at all. The
> only ones I've found so far have been a very few
> Japanese<->English dictionaries. The one I have shows
> just an acute accent on one syllable, only in the
> Romaji. The other system I have seen but do not have
> available to check. I seem to remember that it uses an
> acute to show where a word raises in pitch and a grave
> to show where it is lowered again - again only in the
> Romaji.
There are several different systems to accomplish this:

1. accent marks (acute, grave)
2. numbers (counting from the front or back)
3. using L for "low" and H for "high". (e.g. LHLL for "toshokan"); but
you'll find this mainly in linguistic papers rather than in dictionaries.
4. using a .... (how to describe it?) .... L-like shape rotated by 90
degrees when the pitch raises and the mirror-image of this when the pitch
comes down again.

Two links to illustrate number 4:

In different Japanese dialects, there are entirely different accent systems.
But in standard Japanese, there are the following rules:

- if the first syllable is L, then the second syllable must be H (and vice
versa). Seasaw-principle.
- the pitch stays high until you encounter an accented syllable, an accent
nucleus. After this, it drops.
- as soon as the pitch gets low, it stays low (up to the end of your

Because of these rules, you would just have to mark the accented syllable -
and you're done. The pitch of the other syllables can be determined by the
rules (i.e., you only have to mark where the pitch falls). That's why many
dictionaries (esp. Monolingual Japanese ones) just show some
innocent-looking numbers, but depending on the dictionary you use, they
either count from the front or from the back.
AFAIR, the NHK Pronouncing Dictionary counts from the front, which is a bit
inconvenient sometimes. (the ending -shii of adjectives always has the
accent on the "shi", so both "muzukashii" and "urayamashii" would be [2] if
counting from the back, but [4] resp. [5] when counting from the front ...)

If a word doesn't contain any accent nucleus, it is marked as [0]. Such a
word inherits the pitch of what came before of it. Only at the beginning of
a phrase, it's LH...... (and then staying H).

Typographically speaking, using numbers is certainly the most convenient and
most widely available method, for it can be used on all computer systems (in
contrast to accented characters or special marks).

Berthold Frommann