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Can someone explain how 'e' and 'wa' are related in some words / 音便? Presumably the 'e' was originally the obsolete since it's in the ワ行.

Some examples:

  • 上(う) ←→ 上着(う・ぎ)
  • 声(こ) ←→ 声色(こ・いろ)
  • る ←→ 終

(Bonus question: How do you type in the IME? I had to copy it from somewhere else.)

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ゑ=we for me, at least in google and i believe it was the same in microsoft. it would probably come up as an option for e as well.. –  ssb Jan 27 at 15:54
@ssb: FYI, in OSX Kotoeri IME, "we" does not give in the conversion list. "e" did not give it either. –  istrasci Jan 27 at 15:56
You should be able to get it by typing wye. –  snailboat Jan 27 at 16:02
Thank you @snailplane! ;D –  istrasci Jan 27 at 16:05
FYI, your first two cases are part of a more general phenomenen, e.g. 目{め} vs 目{ま}の当たり, 木{き} vs 木{こ}漏れ日. –  dainichi Jan 28 at 3:49
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1 Answer

At some point far in the past (before Old Japanese, at least) these words probably had a single form with a diphthong:

上: *upai

声: *kəpai

The diphthong turned into a single vowel differently in different contexts: word-finally it became /e/, and word-medially the /i/ was deleted. (The *p subsequently turned to /ɸ/, which then became /w/ between vowels and later /h/ elsewhere except before /u/ - this is why you have 原 /hara/ and 藤原 /ɸuʥiwara/.)

The 終わる・終える question is a bit different, and has to do with some transitivity-flipping morphology that no one really understands well.

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This explanation differs slightly from others I've heard before, which say that the -i was some kind of suffix, maybe a nominative one. I'd be interested to know if you know anything about such competing theories, or if they're really the same, and I'm misunderstanding. –  dainichi Jan 28 at 3:53
I think that's the sort of 'standard' story, but it honestly doesn't make too much sense - if it was an affix, what did it mean; why did it appear on -every- non-compound use of a noun, even with following particles; and why in the world is it restricted to such a small set of words? I think just saying that there were different deletion strategies makes more sense, especially considering that both strategies are used elsewhere in the history of Japonic. (though honestly this is original research on my part :P) –  Sjiveru Jan 28 at 16:18
There is an actual visible suffix -i in kanbun and a few other places, but I seriously doubt it's the same as whatever's visible in these alternations. It never coöccurs with any other particle; and ultimately it doesn't make any sense for it to have merged in some places and not others. This theory of differing deletion strategies also nicely accounts for alternations like shiroi/shira-, though it assumes that the adjective morphology was added later (which makes sense for a few other reasons - one, it's a mess; and two, there's some examples from OJ of bare adjective stems modifying nouns). –  Sjiveru Jan 28 at 16:22
@Sjiveru Why does -us appear on -every- non-compound use of a first-declension Latin noun? The -i could well have been a "null affix". –  user54609 Jan 29 at 20:00
True, and that's another possibility, but this /i/ appears rather more inconsistently than Latin /-us/. –  Sjiveru Jan 29 at 21:08
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