For example, the word hikikomori (recluse in Japan).

Some sources use "an hikikomori," like this entry in IMDb.

And this article in the BBC uses "a hikikomori."

Are both usages acceptable? Or only one is correct?

  • 2
    It doesn't matter if the word is foreign, or is as English as the name "George". The answer is the same: it depends on the pronunciation of the word following the article.
    – J.R.
    Sep 16 '18 at 9:19

The consonant -n is added to the article 'a' exclusively for phonetic reasons: to avoid fusion of 'a' with a vowel in the beginning of the following word. That word is not necessarily the noun to which the article relates, it can be an adjective before that noun. So in your example 'an' is improperly used.

P. S. However, exceptions are possible. In case the speaker intentionally pronounces a foreign word with a vowel in the beginning (despite its English spelling and/or pronunciation), 'an' would fit that pronunciation.

  • My skepticism here is whether or not the speaker pronounces the h. If the speaker does not pronounce the h, then the "an" is justified. Do some English speakers really pronounce it that way? I don't know. And it's not the case that speakers strictly follow the original pronunciation, as foreign words are typically adapted to English pronunciation.
    – Em.
    Sep 16 '18 at 9:39
  • I agree. It's possible for a speaker to use original Japanese pronunciation to introduce a word, but unlikely 'h' is not pronounced here: coscom.co.jp/learnjapanese901/japanesename01.html (e. g. Hirata, #120). In English Japanese words like Hiroshima are typically pronounced with the consonant. However, I'll add a note about such a possibility in general.
    – Alex_ander
    Sep 16 '18 at 10:25
  • A consonant is pronunced in Hirata, and while it is not quite the same as the English H, it is similarly unvoiced fricative.
    – James K
    Sep 16 '18 at 21:15

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