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

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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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3answers
192 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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1answer
212 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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1answer
99 views

Help for this expression: 猿は人間に毛が三筋足らぬ

I read this expression in a text. It seems to be an old proverb about monkeys. But I am not sure about its meaning. Why 筋, for instance? Does it means muscle? reasoning faculty? Why would they be ...
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1answer
140 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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745 views

Can anyone explain the obsolete, non-phonetic use of hiragana from pre war times?

At university our most learned lecturer in Japanese once mentioned there were non-phonetic usages of hiragana at the end of kanji verbs and adjectives pre WWII. Apparently books printed prewar used ...
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3k views

バカヤロウ to バゲロ [mature content]

Note: This question may contain wordings that may be considered rude to some, so proceed with open mind and caution. One of the legacies of Japanese colonization in my country during WW2 is a rude ...
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193 views

Development of なんか?

Is there anymore to the usage of なんか that isn't saying "something", but rather something like, or along the lines of? I know the two are very similar, but using なんか at the end of a sentence seems to ...
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271 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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1answer
400 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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466 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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138 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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381 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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165 views

In 君が代, what's the function of の?

I've got a question about the two instances of の in 君が代: さざれ石の巌となりて 苔の生すまで First, is さざれ石の巌 to be interpreted as a boulder made of pebbles (analogous to, say, 木製の槍)? Second, is the の in 苔の生すまで ...
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80 views

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? [closed]

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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400 views

How were hiragana/katakana influenced by syllabary writing systems?

Today, I was in English class, and I learned about language families and then writing systems. Of course, there is kanji, and ideographic system, but hiragana and katakana are both syllabary systems. ...
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1answer
110 views

Why is an anachronistic modern conjugation thrown into the lyrics of 軍艦行進曲?

軍艦行進曲 seems to be written mostly using Classical Japanese grammar. Here's the first stanza: 守るも攻むるも黒鐵{くろがね}の 浮かべる城{しろ}ぞ頼{たの}みなる 浮かべるその城{しろ}日{ひ}の本{もと}の 皇國{みくに}の四方{よも}を守{まも}るべし ...
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274 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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326 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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2answers
271 views

Why is the kanji for luck the same as to carry?

Why is the kanji for うん(運) the same as the kanji for 運ぶ? Did the kanji just somehow end up being the same, or were the two meanings related somehow? All I can think of is some kind of "carrying luck", ...
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161 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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207 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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368 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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133 views

Iterative / repetitive る evolving from classical 連体形【れんたいけい】

This is somewhat related to the discussion of classical auxiliary verb ふ, mentioned in the answer to snailboat's question, What is the わ in 忌まわしい and 嘆かわしい?. Another apparent iterative / repetitive ...
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220 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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190 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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247 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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327 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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237 views

What was the origin for the term 水色 to be associated with youth, adolescence and puberty?

I am particularly interested in the phrase 「水色時代」. Did it come from the old manga that used the phrase as its title, or has the phrase been carrying that particular cultural connotation long before ...
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2answers
176 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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1answer
234 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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1answer
279 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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2answers
174 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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1answer
230 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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1answer
176 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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1answer
157 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
143 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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2answers
1k 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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1answer
117 views

What are the origins of the names of tanuki and kitsune noodle dishes?

Two of Japan's native wild animals are the きつね fox and たぬき raccoon dog. Interestingly there are also noodle dishes apparently named after each. (Not containing the meat of those animals!) The terms ...
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1answer
144 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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102 views

When did LOC adopt modified Hepburn?

If I look in Google Ngrams, I see that the transliteration "honbu", meaning HQ, basically didn't exist until 1964. But it didn't surpass "hombu" until 1976. I believe Modified Hepburn was introduced ...
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138 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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140 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 ...