The small tsu

The small ‘tsu’

The role of the small ‘tsu’ (hir. っ, kat. ッ) we usually are exposed to is an indication to extend the duration of the consonant that follows it. However, if we follow such simple rule we are bound to the puzzled at finding the small ‘tsu’ at beginning and ending words, where it would not make sense. Here are some cases where we will find the small ‘tsu’ in other situations.

‘tsu’ as a consonant doubler

A ‘tsu’ before {s, z, sh, j} doubles their duration; this happens in both hiragana and katakana:

  • hiragana:
     

    English
    coffee shop
    straight

    magazine
    together


    romaji
    kissaten
    massugu

    zasshi
    isshio


    kana
    きっさてん
    まっすぐ

    ざっし
    いっしょ


    sounds…
    ki-s-sa-ten
    ma-s-su-gu

    za-sh-shi
    i-sh-sho


  • katakana:
     

    English
    massage
    lesson
    message

    goods
    pizzeria
    badge

    flash
    rush hour
    fashion


    romaji
    massaaji
    ressun
    messeeji

    guzzu
    pizzeria
    bajji

    furasshu
    rasshuawa
    fasshon


    kana
    マッサージ
    レッスン
    メッセージ

    グッズ
    ピッゼリア
    バッジ

    フラッシュ
    ラッシュアワー
    ファッション


    sounds…
    ma-s-sa-a-ji
    re-s-su-n
    me-s-se-e-ji

    gu-z-zu
    pi-z-ze-ri-a
    ba-j-ji

    fu-ra-sh-shu
    ra-sh-shu-a-wa-a
    fa-sh-sho-n


In romaji, there is no distinction of whether we are extending an ‘s-‘ or an ‘sh-‘; both are written as extending an ‘s’ but, obviously, we don’t extend a ‘sh’ with an ‘s’. Ideally, we would indicate a double ‘sh’ with another ‘sh’, but the convention is to write it as an ‘s’; hence, we write ざっし in romaji as ‘zasshi’ but we actually pronounce it as ‘za-sh-shi’, instead of ‘za-s-shi’.

‘tsu’ as a pause

We cannot extend the duration of consonants other than {s, z, sh, j} because they have explosive sounds. For example, we can hold an ‘s’ or a ‘z’ until we turn blue, but there is no way to hold, say, a ‘p’ or a ‘k’ or a ‘ch’. In these cases when we cannot extend the duration of a consonant, a ‘tsu’ before any of them indicates a small pause, which is technically called a glottal stop. In romaji we indicate this pause doubling the consonant that follows the ‘tsu’, e.g., っこ becomes ‘kko’, except in the case of っち that we write as ‘tch’.

  • hiragana:
     

    English
    it’s fine
    a little
    ticket


    romaji
    kekkou
    chotto
    kippu


    kana
    けっこう
    ちょっと
    きっぷ


    sounds…
    ke-()-ko-o
    cho-()-to
    ki-()-pu


  • katakana:
     

    English
    kitchen
    pocket
    cookie


    romaji
    kitchin
    poketto
    kukkii


    kana
    キッチン
    ポケット
    クッキー


    sounds…
    ki-()-chi-n
    po-ke-()-to
    ku-()-ki-i


っ as a sudden stop

We indicate an abrupt end of a word with a っ; this dynamic happens a lot in dialogs so we will find it often in mangas.

In the scene above, both the words ‘kudasai’ (‘Please, do for me’) and ‘hayaku’ (‘fast!’ or ‘hurry up!’) are finished abruptly, so they end with a small ‘tsu’: ‘ください‘ and ‘早く‘. In this case, the woman said the words as strong requests, i.e., as orders, so in English we could have expressed them as ‘Please!’ and ‘Hurry up!’, even though they are not actually exclamations. If the woman had been interrupted mid-word while she was saying ‘kudasai’, we would have written it in English as, say, ‘Plea-’ while, in Japanese, it would have been ‘くだ‘.

Below there is a second example that matches a dialog in a manga with its anime adaptation. In the scene, a girl appears suddenly on the other side of the classroom window and startles a second girl that was happily yawning, waiting for the class to start. Both the greeting and the surprise interjection end abruptly, so in the written dialog, we find both ending with a っ. In the anime, we can see that this っ actually is not spoken at all but, instead, it is simply a written indication of an abrupt ending.

なのさん!!! うあ!!!

っ as a word connector

Japanese are masters of abbreviation; many words are abbreviated using ‘tsu’ as a bridge to connect them to the next word. A common word with this trait is the word ‘いち’ (‘ichi’, one), which is often replaced by ‘いっ’, but the abbreviation is common for many other words too:


one + ‘week span’
one + ‘years old’
one + ‘cup counter’
eight + hundred
miscellaneous + magazine


ichi-shuukan → is-shuukan
ichi-sai → is-sai
ichi-pai → ip-pai
hachi-hyaku → hap-pyaku
zatsu-shi → zas-shi


しゅうかん
さい
ぱい
ぴゃく


って as a quote mark

In English, we use quotes to isolate words that become the ‘target’ of a comment; in Japanese, the particle ‘to’ and its casual version, ‘tte’, play the same role [Nilep, Fujimoto]. ‘tte’ looks particularly strange because it appears that it is beginning the word, while in reality it is just the follow up to the words that we are quoting. Let’s see this with an example:

What’s a “Blade Runner”?

 
The speaker is Elle, a replicant in the “Blade Runner: Black Lotus” series, who is trying to recover her lost memories, and is asking about people called “blade runners”. We write “Blade runner” between quotes because those are the words that Elle is isolating to become the target of her question. In Japanese there is a marker that isolates some words as a quote. The casual version of this marker is って, or ‘tte’, i.e., it is a glotal stop followed by ‘te’, as is ‘()-te’. In the clip above Elle is saying:


English
English lit.
romaji
kana


What’s a Blade Runner?
blade runner what-is?
bureedorannaa tte nani?
ブレードランナーって なに?


As we can see above, the Japanese って plays the same role in casual Japanese as the English quotes; we place this って at the location of the closing quote; we have to infer the location of the opening quote from context.

っ as the -る verb suffix

People speaking in casual form tend to replace the る ending of the casual verb form with っ, so basically they do a glotal stop before continuing with the sentence. The following are two examples from a manga, with the corresponding audio from the anime adaptation. In the first example, the manga dialog of ならあけど was, actually, pronunced without the glotal stop in the anime, as ならあけど; in the second example, the glotal stop in the manga of してくから, instead of してくから, was kept in the anime:


English
romaji
kana

English
romaji
kana


The closest we have is a home center, though
ホーマセンター なら あ けど
ホーマセンター なら あ けど

I’m going to get lunch ready
ひるメシのじゅんび して く から
ひるメシのじゅんび して く から


っす as です copula

In the same way that we can casually reduce いる to る, or ある to っる, we can reduce です to っす [Jisho].
I have ran across this usage in spoken dialog but I don’t have an example from a written dialog yet. I’ll update this section with an example when I find it. 😊 👍