In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Japanese Word Accent

  • Introduction
  • Textbooks
  • Reference Works
  • Accent Dictionaries
  • Edited Collections
  • Bibliographies
  • Journals
  • Word Accent in Tokyo Japanese
  • Diachronic Studies

Linguistics Japanese Word Accent
Haruo Kubozono
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 August 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 October 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199772810-0103


Word accent is one of the most popular research topics in Japanese phonology and has contributed to the theory of accent in general linguistics. Among various dialects of the language, standard Tokyo Japanese (henceforth Tokyo Japanese) has attracted by far the most serious attention in the literature, where one finds a variety of research areas ranging from the phonetic analyses of word accent to formal analyses pertaining to its representations and derivations, its interactions with various word-formation processes and sentence-level prosody, and its historical developments. While the accent system of Tokyo Japanese itself appears quite complex, it represents only one type of pitch accent system of the language in terms of prosodic organization. In fact, many regional dialects, many of which are endangered now, have accent systems that are strikingly different from that of Tokyo Japanese. Some systems show striking similarities to the tone systems of Bantu languages in Africa, while others look like the stress accent systems of English. Moreover, one and the same dialect may exhibit phenomena that are commonly observed in English and other stress accent languages, while showing some features that are characteristic of tone languages. Japanese accent is hence a highly interesting field of research that can shed new light on the major issues of general phonetics and phonology. Hence, it has a great potential to contribute to the development of various theories of language including, but not restricted to, phonological theory, phonetic theory, and the theories of language typology and acquisition. In the past, a number of important studies have been reported on the various issues on Japanese word accent, but many of them are written in Japanese and are, unfortunately, not easily accessible to the general reader of linguistics. With this background, this article provides a summary sketch of the main areas in the field as well as major works in each area including those that are available only in Japanese.


There are many textbooks that discuss Japanese word accent, but very few are devoted entirely to the subject. There is no textbook written in English. Not surprisingly, a majority of the textbooks on Japanese accent sketch the pitch accent system of standard Tokyo Japanese, including Akinaga 2001; Kawakami 1973; and Matsumori, et al. 2012. Of these, Matsumori, et al. 2012 is the most comprehensive and also pays attention to other pitch accent systems of the language. Hattori 1933 is a traditional textbook that compared the pitch accent systems of several Japanese dialects. Kubozono 2006 discusses Tokyo and Kagoshima Japanese with focus on their accent rules and patterns. In addition to these, there are many textbooks on Japanese phonetics and phonology most of which have one or two chapters on word accent. Some of them are written in English, including the standard textbook Vance 2008 and the new, challenging work, Labrune 2012. Other textbooks are published in Japanese, including Kawakami 1977 and Saito 1997, among others.

  • Akinaga, Kazue. 2001. Tōkyō akusento no shūtoku hōsoku. In Shin-meikai nihongo akusento jiten. Edited by Haruhiko Kindaichi, 10–106. Tokyo: Sanseidō.

    Attached as an appendix to the accent dictionary, this article describes many accent rules of Tokyo Japanese for learners of this dialect.

  • Hattori, Shiro. 1933. Akusento to hōgen. Tokyo: Meiji Shoin.

    This booklet sketches Japanese accent with special reference to the description of accent in Japanese dialects. It was used as a textbook of Japanese dialectology, also.

  • Kawakami, Shin. 1973. Kokugo akusento hō. Tokyo: Gaku-shobō.

    A small booklet on the pitch accent system of Tokyo Japanese, it provides the basics of pitch accent in Japanese with reference to the mora/syllable distinction, syllable structure, vowel devoicing, and intonation.

  • Kawakami, Shin. 1977. Nihongo onsei gaisetsu. Tokyo: Ōfūsha.

    This work is one of the textbooks on Japanese phonetics most often cited in the literature. It has a few sections at the end on word accent and intonation.

  • Kubozono, Haruo. 2006. Akusento no hōsoku. Tokyo: Iwanami.

    This book describes the basic accent systems and generalized rules of two distinct pitch accent systems, Tokyo and Kagoshima Japanese. It presents a simple picture of how the so-called “unaccented” pattern came about in Tokyo Japanese and how the accent system of Kagoshima Japanese is changing under the strong influence of the standard Tokyo dialect.

  • Labrune, Laurence. 2012. The phonology of Japanese. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199545834.001.0001

    Although rather difficult as a textbook, this book provides an overview of the sound system of modern Tokyo Japanese. It has a chapter (chapter 7, pp. 178–266) entirely devoted for the accent system and rules of the dialect.

  • Matsumori, Akiko, Tetsuo Nitta, Nobuko Kibe, and Yukihiko Nakai, eds. 2012. Nihongo akusento nyūmon. Tokyo: Sanseidō.

    Consisting of thirteen chapters, this textbook provides a comprehensive description of Japanese word accent. It describes not only the basic notions and accent rules of Tokyo Japanese but also the major features of several other dialects and the historical development of pitch accent systems of the language.

  • Saito, Yoshio. 1997. Nihongo onseigaku nyūmon. Tokyo: Sanseidō.

    This work is an orthodox introductory textbook for college students that describes the segmental and suprasegmental features of modern Tokyo Japanese. It has an independent chapter on word accent (chapter 4, pp. 105–123) where the basic characteristics of Tokyo accent are sketched.

  • Vance, Timothy J. 2008. The sounds of Japanese. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    This textbook provides the basics of Japanese phonetics and phonology especially for those interested in becoming teachers of Japanese as a foreign language. It has a chapter for prosody, that is, word accent and intonation (chapter 7, pp. 142–205), in which accent rules are given for different types of words (e.g., nouns, verbs, adjectives).

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.