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姉 is pronounced ane, but お姉さん is pronounced oneesan. What happened to the initial a?

Likewise, 兄 is pronounced ani, but お兄さん is pronounced oniisan.

What is the rule governing the change in the pronunciation for the same kanji in these compound words? Or are these just exceptions one simply needs to remember?

  • 4
    兄さん and 姉さん, with no お honorifics, are pronounced NIIsan and NEEsan. – Chocolate Apr 17 '15 at 6:22
  • I see, so it's nothing to do with honorifics. But still - what the rule governing the pronunciations or just something to be remembered? – Bouken Apr 17 '15 at 6:30
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    There are some instances of 兄様【あにさま】, 兄【あに】さん, 姉様【あねさま】, 姉【あね】さん on 青空文庫, all from authors around 1900. So it might be just a sound change, perhaps to parallel お母さん, お父さん, おば(あ)さん, おじ(い)さん.. – blutorange Apr 17 '15 at 6:49
  • The initial "a" could be an old word for "me" or "my". – user4092 Apr 17 '15 at 23:56
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There is no simple rule

First of all, let us take a look whether variant pronunciations exist.

There are some instances of 兄様【あにさま】, 兄【あに】さん, 姉様【あねさま】, 姉【あね】さん found in several writings accessible on the free digital library 青空文庫, all from authors around 1900.

おみの (あたりを窺ひて。)子之介【ねのすけ】は厩にゐると御門で教へられたが、はて何處へ行つたことであらう。

(奧より子之介出づ。)

おみの おゝ、弟……。

子之介 姉樣【あねさま】か。(なつかしげに寄る。)ようたづねて來てくだされた。

――岡本綺堂【おかもときどう】(1914) 『佐々木高綱【さゝきたかつな】』

Also, in the movie もののけ姫, Kaya apparently calls Ashitaka, who is not her brother, あにさま, as an expression of her affection or reverence.

In fact, 姉様 is even listed in some dictionaries:

あね‐さま【姉様】

① 姉を敬っていう語。

② 若い女性を親しんでいう語。

③「姉様人形」の略。

――大辞林

The same dictionaries lists 姉【あね】さん and 兄さんas well, including sense ①, ie. (姉・兄) 姉を親しみ敬っていう語.

Note that there are also some compound words where あに and あね do not get shortened:

姉上【あねうえ】, 兄上, 姉貴【あねき】, 兄貴

Today the versions without the initial mora are more common. Considering that the longer versions did exist, it is simply a shortening of the compound words, perhaps because おねえさん sounds smoother or is more easily pronounced, or perhaps to parallel お母【かあ】さん, お父【とう】さん, おば(あ)さん, おじ(い)さん.

There do exists some regular phonetic changes such as あう→おう, but they don't seem to apply here.

To put it in a perspective, shortening words in compounds is not a new phenomenon:

  • 風の音【と】
  • 淡海【あふみ】 (←淡【あは】海【うみ】)
  • かわら (←河原【かわはら】)
  • 盥【たらい】 (←手洗い)
  • はとり(←機織り【はたおり】)
  • 鍛冶【かぬち】 (←金打ち【かねうち】)
  • 八咫【やた】 (←八【や】-咫【あた】)

And it's still being done:

  • アー写 (←アーティスト写真)
  • キー坊【ぼう】 (←キーア)
  • ゆーたん (eg. ←ゆきの)
  • テレくん (←テレフンケン)
  • パネェ (←半端ない)
  • ラノベ (←ライトノベル)
  • テレコ (←カセットープレコーダー)
  • ネカフェ (←インターネットカフェ)
  • So should these be considered as exceptions to just be remembered? – Bouken Apr 17 '15 at 20:28
  • Basically yes. But it might be easier to remember if you learn it together with お母さん etc; or if you try to pronounce both おあにさん and おにいさん a few times -- at least to me the latter feels easier to pronounce as it doesn't contain consecutive vowels. – blutorange Apr 17 '15 at 21:00
  • Thanks. Apparently I need 15 points to upvote an answer, so I will do so once I get a couple more points. – Bouken Apr 19 '15 at 1:02
  • No worries, take your time. This isn't about getting rep after all, but about sharing knowledge. – blutorange Apr 19 '15 at 1:10

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