Pronunciation of が
I often try listening to the sentences without simultaneously reading them, to train my ear. Doing that, I noticed that the が in ハガキ (postcard) sounds more like a "na" than a "ga" - so much so that I thought this was a sentence about はな (flowers).
Is there a rule, i.e. are there certain sound combinations that cause this change? Or do different people pronounce it differently?
There is a rule. What you're hearing is a feature of Kantou dialects, and especially the Tokyo dialect, the prestige dialect of Japanese. However, this feature is also increasingly generational, and the current trend is for younger speakers always pronounce /g/ as [g].
Given that this feature is limited to the older generation of a specific region, you do not have to learn it aside from recognition. That said, I often use nasalized g in my Japanese, and if you want to learn it that way, here is the rule:
Word-initial /g/ is ALWAYS pronounced [g], as in the English word gas [gæs]. e.g. がんばる /gaɴbaɾu/ → [gambaɾu]
All other non-word initial /g/ sounds become realized as a velar nasal sound [ŋ] like found at the end of the English word sing [sɪŋ]
Generally [ŋ] is not found syllable-initial in English, but it can occasionally be found between vowels, such as in most(?) English pronunciations of Singapore. Say Singapore, remove the Si- and the -pore, and that's your non-word initial が [ŋa] sound. (If you speak any Cantonese, you are likely very familiar with this sound, found in 我 /ŋɔː˩˧/.)
しょうがく /ʃoːgaku/ → [ʃoːŋaku]
かぎ /kagi/ → [kaŋi]
がいらいご /gaiɾaigo/ → [gaiɾaiŋo] (note: only the second /g/ changes)
Under these rules が will almost always become [ŋa], such as in これが /koɾega/ → [koɾeŋa]. This is because particles like が are treated like part of the word they modify for the purposes of pronunciation rules. This is true of other pronunciation rules as well. For example, it is often impossible to hear the difference in accent between words that would otherwise be homophones without a particle to hear the final pitch value. (e.g. はし can mean end/tip, chopsticks or bridge depending whether the accent is L-H-H, H-L-L or L-H-L, respectively. Note: Accents vary with dialect.)
Ota, Norio. Introductory Lecture 03. AS/JP1000 Elementary Modern Japanese. York University. Toronto, Canada. Unknown date in September 2004. (Updated version of lecture notes available online. Video of 2016 lecture on same topic available here.)
はし (accent key). 現代国語例解辞典, 第二版. 林 巨樹 (Ed.) Tokyo: Shogakukan, 1993.
Thank you - that is a very helpful explanation. (Btw, I still go back to your notes on んです from time to time - one of these days I will get it!)
lol, thanks! I'm glad you find it useful. Would you believe I failed Ota Norio-sensei's JP3000 course at York University twice?
I'm far from being an expert but I have been following some courses (not on Duolingo) and was told that the g-kanas are often pronounced nasally. This results to what sounds like an "n" or an "m" to most westerners. It's kind of accent dependent from what I understood though.
Yes, it is pronounced nasally. It depends of type of word. But there are two variants of pronouncing "g". が as a particle is always pronounce in nasal variant. The same goes some examples: tamago, kagami, oyogu.
Others (not nasal) are: gomi, goro, guru-guru, gohan.
Even if I read in textbook about that I don't notice the difference most of the time ;p But particle ga is far different for me.
Nasal is also ん, but な, に, ぬ, ね and の aren't nasal. Probably you've already noticed it.
Thanks all. I wanted to know a bit more, so I finally did a google search. This thread, from Japanese Stack Exchange, is very informative:
In short, more older people tend to use "nga" but both are possible. But there is a lot more. Btw, Japanese Stack Exchange also has a weekly newsletter, and one of these days I will understand more than 2% of the issues discussed there. #goals
So [ŋ] like in English words ending with -ng. Interesting. Didn't know that is the same character in IPA.
Thanks for link to this website!
My college Japanese teachers always pronounced が very clearly as "ga" in my experience. It could be preference or maybe just a slight difference in dialect or even just a slight mistake in the programming.