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)

ばく、まく (幕)

ば (馬)

There are many more examples. For 馬, I'm almost certain it is pronounced with an 'm' initial in every dialect of Chinese but its onyomi has a 'b'.

Is there a reason why these two similar, yet definitely distinct, consonants are related in this way?

  • 1
    can be pronounced with an 'm'. One of my Japanese teacher's name is 門馬【もん・ま】(もん・ま). – istrasci Sep 27 '13 at 17:44

There are two different reasons.

For native words - the historical pronunciation of Japanese voiced consonants involved prenasalisation (so /d/ was more like [ⁿd]). While in most cases the prenasalisation has been lost, in a few instances the voiced stop was the part that was dropped.

This is also the reason for the modern language's [ɡ]~[ŋ] variation.

For Sino-Japanese words - Japanese has multiple sets of on'yomi that were borrowed from Chinese at different times. The variety they were borrowed from underwent an initial denasalisation ([n]>[d]) between times when Japanese borrowed, so for example, one word which was borrowed as まく before the change was later reborrowed as ばく after the change.

| improve this answer | |
  • It's worth pointing out that denasalisation also happens in some varieties of Min Chinese. – Zhen Lin Sep 27 '13 at 20:19

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.