Japanese, as I imagine most (if not all) of you are aware, has a pitch accent system, which essentially means that the pitch pattern of a word can be and is often a very important factor in determining its meaning1. As this site grows, I can foresee the number of pitch-accent-related questions increasing, as it is a notoriously difficult concept for many foreigners (especially those coming from non-tonal language -- such as English -- backgrounds).

There are many different methods for showing the pitch accent of a word, from capitalization in romaji (HAshi vs. haSHI) to something which uses some kind of special markup (はし HL vs. はし LH). Of course, the reality of the situation is a little bit more complicated than either of these example systems can really represent without becoming exceedingly unwieldy.

In my speaking and listening classes in Japan, we used one of several formats, two of which are shown in the picture below. The second is one used with several understandings about pitch accent patterns. For example in 標準語: the second mora is always the opposite of the first; and once the pitch accent has dropped in a word, it does not rise again. Please excuse my sloppy handwriting.

Pitch accent pattern marking

How can we best notate pitch accent? Personally, I would prefer some type of markup in Japanese which is easily understood at a glance, but I don't know how possible this is using text.

1 Please see How important is one's pitch when speaking Japanese? for reference.

Related: Deciding on an "officially recommended" format for furigana on JLU

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This website has quite a good description of word intonation patterns in Japanese for anyone that would like a more detailed description. –  rintaun Jul 16 '11 at 8:16
    
I'm not sure Unicode provides what is needed for the formats you've shown. I have a Japanese-English dictionary that indicates this with an acute accent which is possible with Unicode. There are some IPA symbols in Unicode that are intended for tonal languages but maybe can be repurposed to work with Japanese pitch. –  hippietrail Jul 16 '11 at 8:31
    
@hippietrail For the first one, you're almost certainly correct. The second could use modifier letter end high tone and the combining macron, but inputting these can be difficult, and I don't seem to have a font that displays the former. –  rintaun Jul 16 '11 at 8:44
    
U+0305 COMBINING OVERLINE and U+0332 COMBINING LOW LINE (underline) are what you'd want. Hard to input, though. –  Mechanical snail Jul 17 '11 at 22:00
    
Hmm, for some reason I don't like any of these methods, I prefer a link to an audio/video file. –  Pacerier May 30 '12 at 12:33
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This site marks accents much like in your image, using some simple CSS: accent.u-biq.org It'd probably be easy to implement here, though I don't know if there is an obvious choice of markup to let people enter it. –  snailboat Oct 6 '12 at 4:44
    
@snailplane Can you leave that as an answer? I like it! –  rintaun Nov 26 '12 at 2:00
    
@rintaun Okay, done! –  snailboat Nov 26 '12 at 4:33

4 Answers 4

You can use red lines to show pitch accent! It's easy. Just type this in:

ありがとう​{LHLLL}

And it turns into this:

ありがとう{LHLLL}

L stands for low, and H stands for high. Thanks to @cypher for implementing this idea!

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By the way, don't copy and paste the text from the top of this answer. It has a zero-width space in it to prevent it from working. I had to do that so you could see how to type it :-) So if you copy and paste it, it won't work! You have to type it. –  snailboat Sep 25 '13 at 5:47

Downstep

I suggest using the IPA downstep symbol ().

Example: omosiroꜜi

Advantages:

  • It's fairly intuitive that a down arrow indicates a fall in pitch at the location of the ꜜ (as opposed to using the stress mark ˈ before the syllable).
  • It's a standard linguistic notation.
  • It doesn't use combining characters, which are difficult to input and edit on some platforms.

Circumflex

Another option is to place a circumflex accent on the accented syllable nucleus. This is the IPA falling-pitch diacritic; it's a slight abuse of notation since the pitch prototypically falls after the accented syllable.

Example: omosirôi

Advantages:

  • The mark is placed directly on the perceived accented nucleus, rather than following it.
  • Typographically well-supported, since the circumflex is a common accent, and the basic vowels + circumflex are available as precomposed characters.
  • Similar to its meaning in the IPA
  • This notation has been used before, e.g. in Ladefoged's phonetics textbook: example

Advantages of both over the line or "HL" systems

  • Some other systems force you to mark pitch on each syllable, which can be misleading since that is not phonemic in Japanese.
  • The over/underline system and "HL" system give a binary pitch, which is misleading because the pitch really varies continuously.
  • Also, only marking the accent position reduces visual clutter.

Misc

Both of these can easily be adapted for other dialects. For example, Kansai accent also distinguishes initial pitch, so it can be marked using acute/grave accents (the IPA pitch symbols) on the first syllable nucleus, e.g. ómôroi.

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Note that while knowing the point of downstep is sufficient to determine the pitch pattern of a word in 東京式アクセント, it is not sufficient in 京阪式アクセント. –  Tsuyoshi Ito Jul 17 '11 at 4:51
    
For the Kyoto-Osaka accent system, we'd probably just have to use combining acute/grave accents. (The Japanese article uses an overline, which is difficult to use.) –  Mechanical snail Jul 17 '11 at 21:58
    
The downstep symbol also doesn't fit the Kagoshima system very well, though it might be sufficient nevertheless. –  Mechanical snail Jul 17 '11 at 21:59
    
(1) Not sure what you mean in your second comment. It might be sufficient for what? (2) I have never understood how to use acute/grave accents in IPA. The use of them in this Wikipedia article seems arbitrary to me. Why is 端に (はしに LHH) written as [hàɕīní] instead of [hàɕíní]? –  Tsuyoshi Ito Jul 17 '11 at 22:14
    
Wikipedia is using a macron (middle tone) as an approximation to the pitch steadily rising over several moras. –  Mechanical snail Jul 17 '11 at 22:18
    
I agree with this notation, but I'd also like to mention that boldface is quick and easy and less problematic than unicode diacritics which can pile up into a mess if you have two or more of them. –  taylor Nov 22 '12 at 4:34
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I'm not sure of the practicality of this method, both from the perspective of input and from that of easy readability. For example, the downstep does not appear on Chrome for Android. –  rintaun Nov 26 '12 at 10:20

I think the capitalization method is easy to type, and is intuitive.

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It does go against our otherwise avoiding romaji however. (I don't mind romaji but some other contributors seemed to be against it in the early days of the site) –  hippietrail Jul 17 '11 at 7:31
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@hippietrail If you use kanji, you cannot describe pronounciation. Especially when a single kanji does not correspond to a particular portion of the pronounciation of a word (熟字訓読み), you have no clue how to match that with pronounciation. You will need some kind of transcription anyway (such as hiragana, katakana, romanization, IPA). Maintaining the orginary Japanese writing and describing the pronounciation fully (up to the accent) do not go together. –  sawa Jul 17 '11 at 11:56
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You have to be careful to choose the right romanization system. For example, we must avoid using vowels with macrons (ā, ī, ū, ē, ō) when denoting pitch patterns. I tend to avoid romaji because I do not want to think which romanization system I should use for each purpose (and that is why I tend to use the LH notation), but it should not be a problem if we are careful enough to choose a suitable system for each purpose. –  Tsuyoshi Ito Jul 17 '11 at 15:11
    
@Tsuyoshi_Ito Unless you need to express the structure of a word, Hepburn system shall suffice. It is close to the pronounciation. –  sawa Jul 17 '11 at 15:34
    
How do you write the pitch pattern of the word 高速道路 in the Tokyo dialect (こうそくどうろ LHHHHLL) by using capitalization in the Hepburn romanization “kōsoku-dōro”? –  Tsuyoshi Ito Jul 17 '11 at 22:01
    
@Tsuyoshi_Ito koOSOKUDOoro. I used the version that writes ou as oo (and ei as ee). –  sawa Jul 17 '11 at 22:23
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I hope that you are aware that that is not the Hepburn system. –  Tsuyoshi Ito Jul 17 '11 at 22:27
    
@Tsuyoshi_Ito I don't understand what you mean. –  sawa Jul 17 '11 at 22:37
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高速道路 becomes “kōsoku-dōro” in the Hepburn system. The point is that you chose the romanization “koosokudooro” instead of “kōsoku-dōro” for the explanation of accent, and I do not want to bother choosing the right system for each purpose. As I said, if you are careful enough to choose the right system for each purpose, it is fine for you to use romaji. I am too lazy to do that. (By the way, just in case you do not know it, “@Tsuyoshi_Ito” does not notify me because of the excessive underscore.) –  Tsuyoshi Ito Aug 18 '11 at 1:41
    
@Tsuyoshi There are some variants to the Hepburn system, and mine is indeed one of them. I consistently use this system. Yours is another variant. Your understanding of the Hepburn system is wrong. Thanks for notifying me about the @, but how should I deal with user names that have a space in it? –  sawa Aug 18 '11 at 1:46
    
(1) I did not know that “koosokudooro” is called the Hepburn system. Then my point is that you have to choose the right variant for each purpose. (2) As for @, you can leave out the space (@TsuyoshiIto) or just use the first name (@Tsuyoshi). Some people write “@Tsuyoshi Ito”, in which case the system recognizes it as a first name and therefore it also works. –  Tsuyoshi Ito Aug 18 '11 at 2:53
    
@TsuyoshiIto Thanks. –  sawa Aug 18 '11 at 3:07
    
You are welcome. And yes, you did it right. :) –  Tsuyoshi Ito Aug 18 '11 at 3:12

One way might be to use the <sub> (subscript) and <sup> (superscript) html tags.

Some tests (I've put them in <code> tags as it's otherwise hard to see where each character is vertically):

  • <code><sub>ha</sub><sup>shi</sup><sub>ga</sub></code>

    hashiga

  • <code><sup>ha</sup><sub>shiga</sub></code>

    hashiga

  • <code><sub>ko</sub><sup>usokudo</sup><sub>uro</sub></code> or <code><sub>ko</sub><sup>osokudo</sup><sub>oro</sub></code>

    kousokudouro or koosokudooro

  • <code><sub>は</sub><sup>し</sup><sub>が</sub></code>

  • <code><sup>は</sup><sub>しが</sub></code>

    しが

  • <code><sub>こ</sub><sup>うそくど</sup><sub>うろ</sub></code>

    うそくどうろ

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You don't need the "code tags"... Just use the backticks ` before and after the word/expression... :) for example like this. –  Alenanno Nov 26 '12 at 10:54
    
@Alenanno you do need the code tags, as when you use backticks it escapes < and > into &lt; and &gt;, so it'd display as e.g. <sup>ha</sup><sub>shiga</sub> not as superscript/subscript. (I think I'll leave this here as proof-of-concept, but I'd actually prefer snailplane's solution or maybe what I said in my comment as they're less work to type without all the HTML tags :P) –  cypher Nov 26 '12 at 11:10
    
Oh you're right, it escapes those characters... Forget my comment. :P –  Alenanno Nov 26 '12 at 11:12

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