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Kotoba Asobi: Goroawase

Date Published: Traditional Culture ,

Goroawase (語呂合わせ) is a form of Japanese wordplay whereby homophonous words are associated with a given series of letters, numbers or symbols, in order to associate a new meaning with that series. The new words can be used to express a superstition about certain letters or numbers. More commonly, however, goroawase is used as a mnemonic technique, especially in the memorization of numbers such as dates in history, scientific constants, and phone numbers.

Substituting Number Pronunciations

Because there are many ways to read every number in Japanese, you can make words out of them. Moreover, each digit also has a set of possible phonetic values due to the variety of valid Japanese (kunyomi and onyomi) and English-origin pronunciations of numbers.

1. On’yomi reading – the original Chinese reading. example: 0 – rei, 1 – ichi

2. Kun’yomi reading – the Japanese reading. example: 0 – maru, 1 – hito(tsu)

3. English reading – example: 0 – zero, 1 – wan (one)

Goroawase substitutions are well known as mnemonics, notably in the selection of memorable telephone numbers for commercial services, and in the memorization of numbers such as years in the study of history.

Mnemonics are formed by selecting a suitable reading for a given number; the tables below list the most common readings, though other readings are also possible. Variants of readings may be produced through consonant voicing or gemination, vowel lengthening, and the insertion of the nasal mora n (ん).

Number Pronunciations

Number Japanese kunyomi readings Japanese onyomi readings Transliterations from English readings
0 maru, ma, wa rei, re ō, zero, ze
1 hitotsu, hito, hi ichi, i wan
2 futatsu, fu, futa ni, ji tsu, tsū, tū
3 mitsu, mi san, sa, za su, surī
4 yon, yo, yotsu shi fō, ho
5 itsutsu, itsu, i go, ko faibu, faivu
6 mutsu, mu roku, ro shikkusu
7 nana, nanatsu, na shichi sebun, sevun
8 yatsu, ya hachi, ha, ba eito
9 kokonotsu, ko kyu, ku nain
10 tō, to ju, ji ten

There are other common variations on the above chart. Often readings are created by taking the standard reading and retaining only the first syllable (for example roku becomes ro). The idea is that you can basically use any of these sounds associated with any of these letters to create mnemonics to help someone to remember a phone number. The words above can be combined, changed around, and so on in order to create a sentence or phrase that makes sense.

In the next post, we will learn more about Goroawase by learning some examples.

Related Posts:

1. Kotoba Asobi – Kaibun

2. Kotoba Asobi – Dajare

3. Kotoba Asobi – Shiritori

4. Kotoba Asobi – Nazonazo

References:

1. Japanese Wordplay. Wikipedia.

2. Goroawase: Japanese Numbers Wordplay (i.e. How To Remember Japanese Telephone Numbers). Tofugu.

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