I've been thinking recently about patterns between onyomi and their respective Chinese counterparts (as presumably existed in middle Chinese and are now reflected across modern Chinese dialects). Japanese certainly does reflect a lot of the consonant endings that existed in middle Chinese that have been lost in some dialects (particularly Mandarin, which only preserves -r, -n and -ng as consonant finals) (cf. 六 - Mandarin liù, Cantonese luk6, Japanese roku) (cf. 七 - Mandarin qī, Cantonese cat1, Japanese shichi)

I was wondering in particular about the phenomenon regarding the -p final and the -ng final, both of which seem to be widely represented in modern Japanese by the elongation of the vowel sound (cf. 十 - Mandarin shí, Cantonese sap6, Japanese jū) (cf. 零 - Mandarin líng, Cantonese ling4, Japanese rē/rei). Is there any evidence of earlier Japanese having -ng as a valid phoneme, and if not, is there any particular reason why Japanese would have borrowed these elongated-vowel readings as substitutes for the -ng and the -p finals (especially in the case of the latter, which seems like it would be replicable by Japanese phonology)

1 Answer 1


It's actually due to a couple of things.

For *-p, Japanese actually did originally borrow it as *-pu. Subsequent sound changes have turned Old Japanese *p into /w/ between vowels, and the resulting -(w)u has combined with the vowel before it. (Note that Modern Japanese /p/ is actually a Middle Japanese reintroduction from Chinese; where Old Japanese *p isn't modern /w/ it's /h/.)

十 is an example - MC *dʑip > OJ *dʑipu > MJ *dʑiwu > *dʑiu > *dʑuu > NJ /dʑuu/

For *-ŋ, Japanese originally borrowed it as *-u, because Old Japanese didn't have anything like Modern Japanese's /N/ phoneme (which is new from Middle Japanese). Again, this -u has undergone additional interactions with the vowel before it.

名 is an example - MC *mjᴇŋ > OJ *mijau > MJ *mjɔɔ > NJ /mjoo/

Japanese later borrowed a different set of pronunciations (漢音, as opposed to the above 呉音), where MC *-jᴇŋ finals were borrowed as *-ee instead of *-jau. This is why 名 can also be read /mee/.

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