EVERYTHING, Whole - Zenbu - 全部

Issue No. 2: Intersections + Zenbu - September 2021 -------

Word of the Month


Inspired by our AMPLIFy artist ZEMBU, our word of the month is ZENBU.


Japanese has many words that are spelled the same, or nearly the same, phonetically, but have very different meanings. In addition to context, small details and differences in pronunciation help to define and clarify homonyms and homophones in spoken Japanese. Unlike English (which is a stress accent language), Japanese is a pitch accent language. Aki from Japan’s video explains some differences between Pitch & Stress Accent Languages.

Inspiration for this month's word

Originally a pen name used by her father on his drawings, ZEMBU is music producer and artist Sarah Pumpian’s AKA. Based upon zenbu, the Japanese word for everything/whole, she explains the origin story.


Zenbu, z-e-N-b-u: that exact translation in Japanese is everything, all, whole. I really love that word in general in Japanese. When my mom and dad got together, my dad made these drawings and my mom gave him an artist name to sign his drawings with. And we don’t know which story [of] what happened--where the N turned into the M--whether it was my dad’s misinterpretation or my mom’s translation not going exactly through. It feels really close and intimate and also whole and huge.--ZEMBU (aka Sarah Pumpian)


Everything, Whole - Zenbu - 全部


Everything, eve-ry-thing, /ˈevrēˌTHiNG/, (pronoun): (1) all things; (2) the current situation; (3) life in general


Whole, whole, /hōl/, (noun, adjective): (1) a thing that is complete in itself; (2) all of something


全部 - Zenbu - ze-n-bu, /zembu/, (noun, no adjective, pronoun): all, entire portion, whole, altogether, complete elements, everything.


The Japanese word for everything--zenbu--combines the kanji for zen (which means whole, entire, all, complete, fulfill) with the kanji for bu (which means part, section, portion, element, something). The kanji recognizes both the sum AND its parts in this definition.


Synonyms: subete (all of it), minna (everybody/everything), kotogoto (all the things), issai (the whole, one and only, the entirety, without exception).

Zenbu v. Zembu - A Note about Pronunciation and Accent:

DISCLAIMER & ACKNOWLEDGEMENT - Please note that I am about to nerd-out on one of my favorite topics diction and pronunciation. Back in my academic days, some of my research and writing centered around Japanese lyric diction. Many thanks to Dr. Mutsumi Moteki for the publication of a concise diction manual within her Anthology of Japanese Art Song series.

In hiragana, the character that represents the sound /n/ may be pronounced differently in different words. When learning Japanese as a kid, I was instructed to pronounce zenbu as /zembu/. Because /bu/ follows the /n/ sound, the B is formed with the lips and transfers the sound to the lips to recreate an M sound and/or the tongue and lips to create an M/N sound. Differences in pronunciation are described in depth in this video (and there’s actually more details in a Part 2 video!).


Accent is identity. In the US, defining features of an individual’s speechways share details about where they come from (regional accents), what they do (styles of speaking). Comedian Fred Armisen has perfected this--check it out. Japanese also has dozens of dialects by prefecture. This video compares some differences in pronunciation and expression of Standard (Tokyo) and Kansai dialects. The style of speech by television news anchors working for NHK network acts as a current standardized guide and these details are defined in the NHK Pronunciation Dictionary, which provides analysis of both pitch accent and of pronunciation.


Article written by Margaret Ozaki-Graves