Related topics

Nagano Pronunciation Befuddles

December 25, 1997

TOKYO (AP) _ NAH-gah-no or Nah-GAH-no?

That’s the befuddling question leading to the Feb. 7-22 Nagano Olympics.

What do Nagano officials say? They don’t know either.

Conductors on Nagano train platforms stress the first syllable, announcing: ``The bullet train will soon arrive at NAH-gah-no station.″

Residents in the southern part of the prefecture refer to their home as ``Nah-GAH-no.″

And national broadcaster NHK, considered the arbiter of Japanese pronunciation, hedges by reporting on the ``NAH-GAH-NO″ Games, giving equal emphasis to each syllable in line with standard diction.

The only consensus is that Nah-gah-NO is a definite no-no.

``It is difficult to say for sure what the correct way of pronouncing it is,″ Masanori Moriya, a city official in Nagano, which literally means ``long field,″ said Wednesday.

The quandary probably stems from the rich variety of regional accents and dialects that have persisted in Japan for centuries. A Tokyoite is likely to have trouble understanding a resident of the northern Yamagata prefecture speaking in dialect.

There are even theories that some Japanese dialects developed hundreds of years ago as a way to confound the activities of government spies sent from the capital.

So, although there will be an official Nagano Olympic bean curd, wristwatch and apple, there will be no official pronunciation of the host city.

So there will be little cause for worry. Be it Nah-GAH-no, NAH-gah-no or NAH-GAH-NO, visitors can rest assured they won’t get it wrong whatever they say.

Update hourly