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I noticed that both 死ぬ and the 音読み of 死 share a し sound. Is this a huge coincidence between Japanese and Chinese, or is there some sort of relation? I guess the former, because I don't know any function ぬ may have after a borrowed noun, but I don't know much about etymology.

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1 Answer 1

up vote 6 down vote accepted

It is a tempting identification, but the 〜ぬ suffix is inexplicable. In fact, there are only two n-stem verbs in Old Japanese – 死ぬ and 去【い】ぬ – plus one auxiliary (the perfective 〜ぬ), all of which are conjecturally related. Linguistic coincidences are not unheard of: one well-known example concerns the word "dog" in English and in Mbabaram.

For what it's worth, the 日本語国語大辞典 records the following etymological theories:







By contrast, it is generally accepted that words like 馬【うま】 and 梅【うめ】 are ancient loanwords from Chinese.

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There's also a theory of 死に去ぬ>死ぬ. –  Sjiveru Sep 5 '13 at 19:17
Re: 馬{うま}, while likely arriving in Japanese via Chinese, that word probably originated in some central Asian language, given the proliferation of related terms throughout many otherwise-unrelated languages. See also 馬#Japanese on Wiktionary and mark (Proto-Indo-European) on Wiktionary. –  Eiríkr Útlendi May 19 '14 at 17:28
Re: Japanese and Chinese 死, I also recall somewhere running into the theory that this might well have been some such linguistic accident, where a native proto-Japanese word for "death" just happened to sound like the Chinese word, hence the し overlap in both on'yomi and kun'yomi. (That said, at the moment I can't remember which resource I found that in.) –  Eiríkr Útlendi May 19 '14 at 17:32

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