There are two readings of 人, as in these two examples: 恋人【こいびと】 and 素人【しろうと】

Why is 素人 (among others) the way it is and not しろひと or しろびと?

Furthermore, 狩人 is かりゅうど. Why is the final mora voiced here?

  • 9
    Other words with this sound change: 仲人{なこうど}, 素人{しろうと}, 狩人{かりゅうど}, 若人{わこうど}, 玄人{くろうと}, 蔵人{くろうど}, 客人{まろうど}, 妹{いもうと} and 弟{おとうと}. 商人{あきんど} is similar, too.
    – user1478
    Jan 6 '14 at 6:54
  • It is not implausible that we had /karibito/ → /kaributo/ → /kariũto/ → /kariudo/ → /karju:do/.
    – Zhen Lin
    Jan 6 '14 at 14:55
  • What's the question? Phonetics know no law ;) Jan 13 '14 at 7:58

This phenomenon is called onbin “euphonic sound change”, specifically u-onbin, ウ音便, and in this case consists of ひと → うと (hitouto), or びと → うど (bitoudo) with rendaku, in some cases combined with vowel changes (these are the same you see in modern forms of historic kana spellings).

The basic native reading (kun'yomi) is hito (there’s also ri, as in [一]{ひと}[人]{り} hito-ri, [二]{ふた}[人]{り} futa-ri); with rendaku this may become bito.

In the case of [素人]{しろうと}, originally [白人]{しろひと} (white person, for “inexperieced”), this underwent しろひと → しろうと, shirohitoshiroutoshirōto (note that ouō is not reflected as a change in kana).

In the case of [狩人]{かりゅうど}, this underwent かりびと → かりうど → かりゅうど, karibitokariudokaryuudokaryūdo – note the additional vowel change.

An example that includes a familiar sound change is [仲人]{なこうど} “matchmaker”, from なかびと → なかうど → なこうど (nakabitonakaudonakoudonakōdo). This underwent the あう → おう (auouō) sound change you’re familiar with in [お早う]{おはよう} (from hayakuhayauhayouhayō).

There are many more details at Wikipedia, both in English and Japanese!

  • 1
    Very interesting info. Is 海原 also an example of 音便?
    – kandyman
    Nov 11 '18 at 15:16
  • @kandyman, no, the うな in [海]{うな}[原]{ばら} is not considered 音便; it's considered idiosyncratic (irregular), and listed in 難読 in 広辞苑; the うな reading is shared only with [海]{うな}[路]{じ}. The ancient reading is うなはら; it's likely that うな is related to うみ, perhaps a prehistorical contraction of うみ-な, but there's no evidence, and there are many words for "sea" in Japanese for which 海 was used: kotobank, 知恵袋. Nov 14 '18 at 4:38

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