Saturday, May 28, 2011

Subway Phonaesthetics

Out of all the subway systems I have travelled on (Calcutta, Delhi, London, Istanbul, Tokyo, Kyoto), I think Tokyo Metro has by far the nicest sounding announcements. My favourite is the announcement for Aoyama-itchōme. I love the gliding vowels of Aoyama flowing into the geminate ch of itchōme, the ‘long vowelō and the gentle, abbreviated me.

I made a recording today, and if it doesn’t sound as nice as I just made it out to be, you can blame it on the audio recording on my camera.


This is the romaji text of the announcement:
Tsugi wa Aoyama-itchōme. Aoyama-itchōme desu. Norikae no go annai desu. Hanzōmon-sen, Toei Ōedo-sen wa onorikae kudasai.
A literal translation would be as follows:
The next one is Aoyama-itchōme. It’s Aoyama-itchōme. Transfer information: please change here for the Hanzōmon line and the Toei Ōedo line.
Of course, the translation fails to convey some information, especially the level of politeness and formality expressed in the Japanese announcement. Politeness can translate in interesting ways. There is a (possibly apocryphal) story about a Japanese maths professor who used to tell his students, “Please let n be an integer.”

A ploy to encourage reader participation: What is your favourite subway announcement? And do you like it for the sound, the associations, or something else?

9 comments:

Ravis said...

WV: latuat

I know I have nothing to contribute, but that doesn't mean I won't comment!

Kaushik Krishnan said...

From Feynman's book (Surely you're joking);

While in Kyoto I tried to learn Japanese with a vengeance. I worked much harder at it, and got to a point where I could go around in taxis and do things. I took lessons from a Japanese man every day for an hour. One day he was teaching me the word for "see." "All right," he said. "You want to say, 'May I see your garden?' What do you say?" I made up a sentence with the word that I had just learned. "No, no!" he said. "When you say to someone, 'Would you like to see my garden? you use the first 'see.' But when you want to see someone else's garden, you must use another 'see,' which is more polite." "Would you like to glance at my lousy garden?" is essentially what you're saying in the first case, but when you want to look at the other fella's garden, you have to say something like, "May I observe your gorgeous garden?" So there's two different words you have to use. Then he gave me another one: "You go to a temple, and you want to look at the gardens..." I made up a sentence, this time with the polite "see." "No, no!" he said. "In the temple, the gardens are much more elegant. So you have to say something that would be equivalent to 'May I hang my eyes on your most exquisite gardens?" Three or four different words for one idea, because when I'm doing it, it's miserable; when you're doing it, it's elegant. I was learning Japanese mainly for technical things, so I decided to check if this same problem existed among the scientists. At the institute the next day, I said to the guys in the office, "How would I say in Japanese, 'I solve the Dirac Equation'?" They said such-and-so. "OK. Now I want to say, 'Would you solve the Dirac Equation?' -- how do I say that?" "Well, you have to use a different word for 'solve,' " they say. "Why?" I protested. "When I solve it, I do the same damn thing as when you solve it!" "Well, yes, but it's a different word -- it's more polite." I gave up. I decided that wasn't the language for me, and stopped learning Japanese.

Anasua said...

firstly, the video was cool.. however it didnt seem like a "sub"way.. more like a surface transport, it seemed.

my favorite announcement was the one by the "metro" subways/surface transport at houston.. the sight of the magnificient fountain walls of the MD Anderson building was closely associated with the enthraling announcement on board: station texas medical centre. station for M D Anderson hospital, Baylor College of medicine, texas childrens hospital... The accent in which it was spoken made it sound like "aim de anderson hospital, texus medical centr, baylo'r college of medicine, texus childrens hospital".. two months in houston and i am still in awe with this particular phonaesthetics.
Poor me! if only i had a camera to record things i would have shared it!

Tommy said...

"You can switch to the A train across the platform. However, I would much rather you stay on this train."

I only wish I could say I heard it myself. I found it here.

The Reluctant Rebel said...

London Tube on a Saturday Night: "Please remember to take all the people you have bought with you. If you do not you will be in big trouble when you get home."

Shrabasti Banerjee said...

"Please let n be an integer." :D

And very nice stories above, hahaha.

Kaushik, I was reminded of that too, as I read the post. :)

Indecision Personified said...

Haha.. fantastic post and even better comments. My favourite announcement was always 'Lower Parel' on Mumbai's western line. For some reason the accent and intonation would change only for that announcement. All the time. It was fun to hear but I suspect, not half as fun to read about. :)

Sowmya Rao said...

I read this somwhere re the London Tube. You know how some trains don't stop at certain stations because of maintenance work? Well once, this tube driver announced:

"The next station is []. We wont be stopping there. My mother-in-law lives there."

Sroyon said...

Thanks to all who contributed!

IP: I will overlook the fact that the Western Line is not in fact a subway. :)