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Consider these:

  • ~か:
  • 静か

  • 愚か

  • 厳か

  • ~やか:
  • 穏やか

  • 鮮やか

  • 賑やか

  • ~らか:
  • 柔らか

  • 滑らか

  • 明らか

There are many more that I've not listed.

The か/やか/らか at the end of these words seem to suggest that they stem from a common grammar construct. What is it? And does it mean anything?

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Good question! I've always wondered about those 〜らか・やか words. –  istrasci Jun 1 '12 at 17:29
1  
I might have found part of the answer. It seems that they are some form of onomatopoeic-mimetic word. ~らか means "being ~", and ~やか means "seeming very ~". I'm not entirely sure on what it is yet though. –  Flaw Jun 1 '12 at 17:42
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1 Answer

up vote 5 down vote accepted

In short, -raka and -yaka are compound of -ra + -ka and -ya + -ka, respectively. -ra, -ya, and -ka are all derivational suffixes that add a stative sense.

-ya is rather rare. In the Old Japanese corpus, I can only find three words: nikoya, nagoya, and fuwaya. This suggests that suffix was of only limited productivity then and explains why it was soon supplemented by -ka resulting in -yaka.

-ra attaches to adjective stems, nominals, and sounds. Ex: akara, mahora, simira, utura. During Old Japanese, more productive than -ya, but that declined as time when on. This too was supplemented by -ka resulting in -raka.

-ka Derivatives are often adverbial or the stem of 形容動詞. Ex: isasaka, oroka, sayaka, sizuka, niwaka, honoka. This same -ka is often attached to -ya and -ra.

Also note that there are two other related suffixes: -sa and -ma.

-ma: Attaches to adjectival stems, nominals, the irrealis form of verbs, negative -zu etc. awazuma ni, kaerama ni, kotosima, sakasima, futuma ni, yokosima.

-sa: Attaches to adjectival stems creating nouns. Still productive. Rarely also attaches to nouns as well: tatasa, yokosa. Also joins with -ma to create -sama, which suggests an intriguing etymology for 様 (sama).

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Is the -ra the same as the pluralising suffix e.g. ぼくら? –  Flaw Jun 2 '12 at 10:44
    
Yes, it is the same suffix. However, the plural sense is significantly different from the stative sense in this question that I chose not to include it. You may also recognize it from ikura, kokora(hen), korera etc, although again a different sense of the same suffix. –  Dono Jun 2 '12 at 11:08
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