The origins and changes over time of the features and characteristics of Japanese in its spoken and written forms.

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What do we know about the phonetic distinctions between the 甲類 and 乙類 syllables in 上代特殊仮名遣い?

上代特殊仮名遣い【じょうだいとくしゅかなづかい】 is a Nara-period practice in which two distinct versions of certain syllables (called 甲類【こうるい】 and 乙類【おつるい】, and denoted by subscript 1 and 2 in Latin script) were ...
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93 views

Are 万葉仮名 (man'yōgana) chosen consistently?

This answer got me wondering how relevant the presentation in 万葉仮名 is to finding a 漢字 for a given word. As far as I understand, 万葉仮名 are used largely for phonetic value. Knowing that some word was ...
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102 views

On “おてもと” and its many variants for “chopsticks”

I've always known the Japanese word for "chopsticks" to be (お)箸{はし}. Today in my usual practice of reading everything around me I looked up what was written on the wrapper of the disposable ...
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211 views

If 校 is the kanji for school, why do I need 学 to actually say school?

Perhaps a dumb question, but something that I was wondering and couldn't find a clear answer via search. Since 校 is the kanji for school, why do we also need the kanji for learning 学 to say "school" ...
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159 views

Why does Japanese TV News and magazine programs have “mandatory” subtitles/legend?

(I never thought I would ask one of these questions and even considered if it was off topic but this is a very distinct feature of the language as it is really used. Is it due to some characteristic ...
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85 views

What are the reasons for the huge amount of loanwords in Japanese?

It seems that Japanese has far more loanwords than any other language I've heard spoken. I understand that English is far-reaching and a global language, but are there many known reasons that English ...
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217 views

Orthography at the turn of the previous century

A couple of days ago I purchased an old book published in 1908. It uses a strange orthography I haven't encountered before. Everything that is not in kanji is written in katakana, including ...
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126 views

Is “琉語解釋” Japanese?

Today I bought a hundred year old book in a secondhand bookshop in Naha, Okinawa. It's a handbook of the Ryukyuan language in Japanese, though it has both Japanese and English titles there is no ...
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127 views

Historical Precursor to な?

Prior to the development of the な particle (presumably from なる) several hundred years ago, what constructions were used where な-construtions are currently used? E.g. in the phase きれいな女, would that ...
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89 views

What's the relationship between 'e' and 'wa' in some words?

Can someone explain how 'e' and 'wa' are related in some words / 音便? Presumably the 'e' was originally the obsolete ゑ since it's in the ワ行. Some examples: 上(うえ) ←→ 上着(うわ・ぎ) 声(こえ) ←→ ...
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149 views

Differences between なし and あらず?

At some point in history, ない replaced *あらない as the negative of ある, at least in the Kantō dialect (Kansai seems to have あらへん; あらん is also apparently attested in some dialects). When did this happen? ...
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2answers
141 views

Why is する considered irregular?

Yes, this sounds like a really confusing question. But I suddenly realized that する seemed to be a perfectly regular 上二段活用 (kami nidan; upper bigrade) verb with a stem of s-: 未然形: し (as in しない) 連用形: し ...
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182 views

Haphazard usage of katakana and hiragana for particles and okurigana

I'm looking at this picture of the 日米和親条約 (Kanagawa convention) from the late Edo period and it seems rather strange: It looks like the non-kanji parts are rather haphazardly written in katakana ...
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305 views

名前, does it have English Roots?

I know it's a stretch, and I'm pretty sure it's not, but is 名前 related to name? I always thought it was weird that they were so similar in pronunciation.
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281 views

Why is katakana /va/ normally written ヴァ rather than ヷ?

Even though there is a katakana character ヷ, most of the time when I see something that is transcribed into Japanese as /va/, it is in the form ヴァ (say, for example, in the title of the anime series ...
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248 views

Does なんて = なんと (いう)?

I know that なんて is a contraction of なんと, but has it also picked up the いう in its meaning? Because なんて means something, and I feel like 何という, which means "something called" (right?) could have just ...
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134 views

How to say Populations and Civilizations when talking about history?

Dealing with historical matters for a certain urban area, one would like to say the following: In this city we had many populations here: Normans, Greeks and French... So what is the right term ...
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104 views

relationship between 'b' and 'm' sounds

There are several words that have a common etymological origin but are sometimes pronounced with a 'b' and sometimes with an 'm'. Here are some examples: おもえる、おぼえる (思える、覚える) さむらい、さぶらい (侍) ぶ、む (無) ...
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290 views

Is Japanese one of the Buddhist canonical languages?

The languages of oriental Buddhist traditions, be it Theravada or Mahayana, do not always provide complete and entire canonical texts. Up to now, I am aware of Pali, Chinese and Tibetan versions of ...
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123 views

history of learning japanese

Now, we have lots of resources for learning Japanese - tons of textbooks, dictionaries, audio and video recordings, educational software etc. But in the past - How did Europeans first approach ...
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168 views

Is there any relationship between the verb 死{し}ぬ and the 音読み 死{し}?

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 ...
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179 views

When and where did 丁寧語 emerge?

I've been reading some old text recently and I find that everybody seems to use plain forms even in polite contexts (like proclamations from the Emperor). When did the modern ます and です come from? I ...
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187 views

When did 全然 get restricted to the negative?

全然 means "completely" in Chinese, and also in Classical Chinese. Why does 全然 only go with negative conjugations in Japanese? My teacher also says that you cannot say とても with negative things in ...
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142 views

Is there any reference material for the origins of kanji on-yomi?

I wanted to know if there is any reference source or authoritative material about kanji pronounciations and when they were first imported into Japanese? Any book or electronic source, English or ...
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1answer
190 views

Is it possible to write anything long completely in 和語?

I sometimes wonder how feasible is it to completely avoid loanwords, i.e. 漢語 and 外来語, but still using Modern Japanese (i.e. not simply just using Old/Classical Japanese vocabulary). Is the 和語 ...
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311 views

History of だ、です、 and である

Historically where did all of these different forms arise, and when are they used? I noticed that だ and である both have their place in different 文法形, what is the difference in their meaning? I know that ...
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252 views

Origin of ~なければ ならない

The expression ~なければ ならない if I learned correctly means "must not not do ..." as in: 日本語を勉強しなければなりません。 You must not not learn Japanese. (i.e. you need to learn Japanese) However, taken on face value ...
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268 views

Why are こんにちは and こんばんは used for greetings?

If they are translated literally it gives "today is" and "tonight is". Is it some sentence that got shortened ? (Also not sure how to classify this question so forgive me if I used the wrong ...
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206 views

What is the etymology of 〜ません(でした)?

I have always been interested in the negative polite (〜ません) and negative past-polite (〜ませんでした) inflections of verbs. My understanding is that ます is an inflectable function word (助動詞), so I'm ...
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208 views

What was the base for Japanese numbers?

I'm curious what the numerical base the Japanese used before their introduction to the wider western world. I've been taught in my Japanese language classes that they move the comma to a different ...
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164 views

「はは」(母) and ハ行転呼

It occurred to me the other day that if ハ行転呼 had affected all applicable environments without exception, 母 /haha/ (or I guess properly it was /ɸaɸa/, right?)should have become /hawa/. The Japanese ...
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153 views

Why do days of the week use on-yomi kanji readings?

I would like to know if there is detailed information as to why days of the week use on-yomi readings, for example 月 in 月曜日 【げつようび】 Were these readings (as spoken) imported from the ...
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812 views

Did the Japanese have a word for surrender before WWII?

I had always thought that the Japanese didn't have a word for surrender before WWII. It seemed to be plausible given their culture. However, I can't seem to find any solid evidence of this. Is it just ...
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448 views

Plural in ancient Japanese?

It is known to Japanese learners that the Japanese verb isn't affected by the subject (number or gender). Today, a linguistics professor of my university told me he heard from his teacher that ancient ...
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218 views

Was there a single word/concept もの which was later split into two (now distinct) kanji 者 and 物?

Given that もの has a rather similar usage as a generic modifier for turning a property into a thing with that property (as 物) or turning a property into a person with that property (as 者) -- it seems ...
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244 views

Was the の particle sometimes written in katakana?

In "Maiko Haaaan!!!", a bridge going over Yumekawa (a fictional river in Kyoto) apparently has "夢ノ橋" written on it, rather than "夢の橋". I had two theories about why that may be the case. One was that ...
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176 views

Was “乎” the manyogana spelling of the accusative/object particle “を”?

In the English Wiktionary entry for "を" there is a quote or example sentence using the character "乎" with no explanation seemingly where the particle "を" would normally occur. Now I couldn't find ...
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2answers
242 views

Is ruby text essential?

I am trying to understand whether the ruby text in ancient scripture is essential to the meaning of a verse, or if the scripture can be understood without it. For instance, can this verse: be ...
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2answers
331 views

What is the breakdown of countries where loan words originate?

Is there any general idea of what percentage of loan words come from which languages? I always thought the majority of them came from English, but I keep seeing more and more that originated in ...
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2answers
579 views

Can kanji-heavy Japanese be easily translated into Chinese?

How much is changed or lost in translating (say) an old Japanese text that's mainly written in kanji into hanzi? How does it compare to translating into a completely foreign language like English? I'm ...
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2answers
312 views

“Sunday this week” or “Sunday next week”

I am wondering about the history about the beginning of the week. Although some recent calendars start their week on Monday, "traditionally", the Japanese start their week on Sunday (so that 今週の日曜日 ...
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517 views

Kanji for native Japanese concepts: Kun'yomi spanning multiple morphemes

There are a few words, which are written with Kanji imported from China, but where the intended native Japanese meaning would prefer a different choice of Kanji. My favourite examples are 雷 vs. 神鳴り ...
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660 views

Did any writing systems exist before kanji was imported?

Did any writing systems, or even failed attempts at them, exist for Japanese before kanji was imported from China?
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1k views

Why is the Japanese currency pronounced “yen” in English?

I'm wondering what the reason for the mispronunciation of 円 in English came to be "yen". I can understand how some words like 東京 became "Tokyo", but "en" to "yen" seems strange. On a side note, why is ...
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492 views

For how long has Japanese been the official language of Japan?

That is to say, in Japan, at which point in time, was it declared that official documents had to be written in the Japanese language? I am also looking for any additional information like where it ...
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1answer
539 views

Ancient practise of sneaking into women's bedrooms…?

I was looking up the meaning of スマ婚{こん}, when my mouse happened to roll over the kanji 婚{こん}, and this definition popped up in Rikaichan: 婚 よばい ancient practice of creeping at night into a woman's ...
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189 views

What is the significance of a large く character in literary texts?

I am currently reading an early story by Tanizaki Junichiro in Japanese. I have come across both the hiragana く and ぐ written twice the size they usually are, taking up the same amount of space on the ...
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2answers
820 views

How close was the Japanese writing system from becoming abolished after World War II?

I remember hearing that the Japanese government planned on abolishing the use of Chinese characters entirely after World War II. I also remember hearing that there was a movement by the American ...
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181 views

How is Japanese regulated by the Japanese government and any other organizations?

Some languages, but not English, have regulators such as the Académie française (French Academy). Amongst other things, it decides whether or not English words such as email, software and ウォークマン ought ...
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338 views

Were women unable to learn kanji during the Heian era?

I've read that The Tale of Genji, and similar Heian-era novels such as The Pillow Book, and The Gossamer Years were predominantly or exclusively hiragana, which is also called "women's writing" (女手). ...