Rendaku (連濁, lit. "sequential voicing") is a phenomenon in Japanese morphophonology that governs the voicing of the initial consonant of the non-initial portion of a compound or prefixed word. In modern Japanese, rendaku is common but at times unpredictable, with certain words unaffected by it.

While kanji do not indicate rendaku, they are marked in kana with dakuten (voicing mark).


Consonants (in Hepburn) undergoing rendaku[1]
Unvoiced Voiced
k g
s, sh z, j
t, ch, ts d, j, z
h, f b

Rendaku can be seen in the following words:

ひと + ひと → ひとびと
hito + hitohitobito ("person" + "person" → "people")
いけ + はな → いけばな
ike + hanaikebana ("keep alive" + "flower" → "flower arrangement")
とき + とき → ときどき
toki + tokitokidoki ("time" + "time" → "sometimes")
て + かみ → てがみ
te + kamitegami ("hand" + "paper" → "letter")
おり + かみ → おりがみ
ori + kamiorigami ("fold" + "paper" → "paperfolding")
ひら + かな → ひらがな
hira + kanahiragana ("plain" + "character", compare かたかな katakana, which does not undergo rendaku)
はな + ち → はなぢ
hana + chihanaji ("nose" + "blood" → "nosebleed")
まき + すし → まきずし
maki + sushimakizushi ("roll" + "sushi" → "nori-wrapped sushi") (Rendaku is prevalent with words that end in sushi)
やま + てら → やまでら
yama + teraYama-dera ("mountain" + "temple")
こころ + つかい → こころづかい
kokoro + tsukaikokorozukai ("heart" + "using" → "consideration" or "thoughtfulness")

In some cases, rendaku varies depending on syntax. For instance, the suffix tōri (〜通り, "road, following"), from tōru (通る, "to go, to follow"), is pronounced as -tōri (〜とおり) following the perfective verb tense, as in omotta-tōri (思った通り, "as I thought"), but is pronounced as -dōri (〜どおり, with rendaku) when following a noun, as in yotei-dōri (予定通り, "as planned, according to schedule") or, semantically differently – more concretely – Muromachi-dōri (室町通, "Muromachi Street").

Properties blocking rendaku

Research into defining the range of situations affected by rendaku has largely been limited to finding circumstances which cause the phenomenon not to manifest itself:

Lyman's Law

Lyman's Law states that there can be no more than one voiced obstruent (a consonant sound formed by obstructing airflow) within a morpheme.[2] Therefore, no rendaku can occur if the second element contains a voiced obstruent. This is considered to be one of the most fundamental of the rules governing rendaku.

yama + kado > Yamakado, not *Yamagado ("mountain" + "gate" > place name) (* indicates a non-existent form)
hitori + tabi > hitoritabi, not *hitoridabi ("one person" + "travel" > "traveling alone")
yama + kaji > yamakaji, not *yamagaji ("mountain" + "fire" > "mountain fire")
tsuno + tokage > tsunotokage, not *tsunodokage ("horn" + "lizard" > "horned lizard")

While this law is named after Benjamin Smith Lyman, who independently discovered it in 1894, it is really a re-discovery. The Edo period linguists Kamo no Mabuchi[3][4] (1765) and Motoori Norinaga[5][6] (1767–1798) separately and independently discovered the law during the 18th century.

Lexical properties

Similar to Lyman's Law, it has been found that for some lexical items, rendaku does not manifest itself if there is a voiced obstruent near the morphemic boundary, including preceding the boundary.

Some lexical items tend to resist rendaku voicing regardless of other conditions, while some tend to accept it.

Rendaku also occurs infrequently in Sino-Japanese words (Japanese words of Chinese origin) especially where the element undergoing rendaku is well integrated ("vulgarized").

kabushiki + kaisha > kabushiki-gaisha ("stock" + "company" > "corporation")
ao + shashin > aojashin ("blue" + "photo" > "blueprint")

It is even rarer to find rendaku among words of foreign origin, unless the loanword has become completely absorbed into Japanese:

ama + kappa > amagappa ("rain" + "coat" [a Portuguese loan, capa] > "raincoat").
aisu + kōhī > aisukōhī, not *aisugōhī ("ice" + "coffee" > "iced coffee")


Rendaku also tends not to manifest itself in compounds which have the semantic value of "X and Y" (so-called dvandva or copulative compounds):

yama + kawa > yamakawa "mountains and rivers"

Compare this to yama + kawa > yamagawa "mountain river".

Branching constraint

Rendaku is also blocked by what is called a "branching constraint".[7] In a right-branching compound, the process is blocked in the left-branching elements:

mon + (shiro + chō) > monshirochō, not *monjirochō ("family crest" + {"white" + "butterfly"} > "cabbage butterfly")


(o + shiro) + washi > ojirowashi ({"white" + "tail"} + "eagle" > "white-tailed eagle")

Further considerations

Despite a number of rules which have been formulated to help explain the distribution of the effect of rendaku, there still remain many examples of words in which rendaku manifests in ways currently unpredictable. Some instances are linked with a lexical property as noted above but others may obey laws yet to be discovered. Rendaku thus remains partially unpredictable, sometimes presenting a problem even to native speakers, particularly in Japanese names, where rendaku occurs or fails to occur often without obvious cause. In many cases, an identically written name may either have or not have rendaku, depending on the person. For example, 中田 may be read in a number of ways, including both Nakata and Nakada.

Voicing of preceding consonant

In some cases, voicing of preceding consonants also occurs, as in sazanami (細波, ripple), which was formerly sasa-nami. This is rare and irregular, however.

See also


  1. Low, James, 2009, Issues in Rendaku: Solving the Nasal Paradox and Reevaluating Current Theories of Sequential Voicing in Japanese. (Senior thesis in linguistics) Pomona College.
  3. Itō, 1928.
  4. Suzuki, 2004.
  5. Endō, 1981.
  6. Yamaguchi, 1988.
  7. Otsu, Yukio (1980). "Some aspects of rendaku in Japanese and related problems". MIT Working Papers in Linguistics: Theoretical Issues in Japanese Linguistics 2: 207–227.

Further reading

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