The sokuon (促音) is a Japanese symbol in the form of a small hiragana or katakana tsu. In less formal language it is called chiisai tsu (小さいつ) or chiisana tsu (小さなつ), meaning "small tsu". It serves multiple purposes in Japanese writing.
In both hiragana and katakana, the sokuon appears as a tsu reduced in size:
Use in Japanese
The main use of the sokuon is to mark a geminate consonant, which is represented in rōmaji (romanized Japanese) by the doubling of the consonant (except when the following consonant is ch). It denotes the gemination of the initial consonant of the kana that follows it.
- Pocky, a Japanese snack food, is written in kana as ポッキー, which is
- ポ po
- ッ (sokuon)
- キ ki
- ー (chōonpu)
- In rōmaji, this is written pokkī, with the sokuon represented by the doubled k consonant.
- 待って (matte), the te form of the verb 待つ (matsu, "wait"), is composed of:
- 待 ma (kanji)
- っ (sokuon)
- て te
- In the rōmaji rendering, matte, the sokuon is represented by the doubling of the t consonant.
- こっち (kotchi), meaning "here", is composed of:
- こ ko
- っ (sokuon)
- ち chi
- In the rōmaji rendering, kotchi, the sokuon is represented by the t consonant, even though the following consonant is ch. This is because rōmaji ch actually represents [t͡ɕ] (Voiceless alveolo-palatal affricate), and the sokuon before it doubles the [t] sound.
The sokuon usually cannot appear at the beginning of a word, before a vowel kana (a, i, u, e, or o), or before kana that begin with the consonants n, m, r, w, or y (in words and loanwords that require geminating these consonants, ン, ム, ル, ウ, and イ are used respectively instead of the sokuon). In addition, it does not appear before voiced consonants (g, z, d, or b), or before h, except in loanwords, or distorted speech, or dialects. However, uncommon exceptions exist for stylistic reasons.
The sokuon is also used at the end of a sentence, to indicate a glottal stop (IPA [ʔ], a sharp or cut-off articulation), which may indicate angry or surprised speech. This pronunciation is also used for exceptions mentioned before (e.g. a sokuon before a vowel kana). There is no standard way of romanizing the sokuon that is at the end of a sentence. In English writing, this is often rendered as an em dash. Other conventions are to render it as t or as an apostrophe.
In the International Phonetic Alphabet, the sokuon is transcribed with either a colon-like length mark or a doubled consonant:
- kite (来て, "come") – /kite/
- kitte (切手, "postage stamp") – /kitːe/ or /kitte/
- asari (あさり, "clams") – /asaɾi/
- assari (あっさり, "easily") – /asːaɾi/ or /assaɾi/
The sokuon represents a mora, thus for example the word Nippon (Japan) consists of only two syllables, but four morae: ni-p-po-n.
Use in other languages
In addition to Japanese, sokuon is used in Okinawan katakana orthographies. Ainu katakana uses a small ッ both for a final t-sound and to represent a sokuon (there is no ambiguity however, as gemination is allophonic with syllable-final t).
There are several methods of entering the sokuon using a computer or word-processor, such as
ltsu, etc. Some systems, such as Kotoeri for macOS and the Microsoft IME, generate a sokuon if an applicable consonant letter is typed twice; for example
tta generates った.
- Kawahara, Shigeto. "The phonetics of obstruent geminates, sokuon" (PDF). Semantic Scholar. Retrieved 2019-06-28.
- The japanese name of the character Cramorant from the Pokémon-Franchise is ウッウ. The pronunciation is verifiable here: Nintendo Direct (September 5, 2019; 23 min 48 s). Retrieved 2019-09-05.
- "What is that small tsu at the end of a sentence?". sljfaq.org. Retrieved 2019-06-28.
- Nick Miller, Anja Lowit (2014). Motor Speech Disorders: A Cross-Language Perspective. Multilingual Matters. p. 223. ISBN 9781783092321.
- Fujihiko Kaneda, Rika Samidori (1989). Easy hiragana: first steps to reading and writing basic Japanese. Passport Books. pp. 74−78.