I have came across an English book on Ancient Japanese languages. (Sorry I forgot the book name)

In the book, it says some Kun Yomi of Kanji actually come from early contact of Chinese languages. Take 竹 as example, it's Kun Yomi is take which is very close to ancient Chinese languages.

Are there more examples to support this?


Another example in book, 金 kane, it is very close to ancient Chinese languages.

  • The on'yomi is a lot closer to the OC pronunciation. It seems more likely that the Japanese had an indigenous word for bamboo long before they had contact with Chinese, and this is just a coincidence..
    – user1624
    May 4, 2017 at 17:14
  • Old Japanese is not well documented especially in early day. It may be a coincidence, it may be not. There are several hundred years between Three Kingdom Period and Tang dynasty in China. Trading between various kingdoms in China, Korean and Japan still frequent in those hundreds of years.
    – OmniBus
    May 4, 2017 at 17:38

1 Answer 1


Short answer: probably yes, but we don't know a lot about it.

We don't have enough documentation about the earliest stages of Japanese to be sure, but the consensus is that a bunch of the oldest words must have come from Chinese and other languages. It would be hard not to, since they were in contact all the time, and the original Japanese speakers came from the continent anyway. Linguist Bjarke Frellesvig, in A History of the Japanese Language, says that

It is beyond doubt that Old Japanese includes old loanwords from the languages around Japan—especially words relating to agriculture, seafaring, warfare, spiritual and religious life, government, and administration—but that we will not be able to identify many of them as loanwords on other than extra- linguistic grounds. It is for example a strong hypothesis that Japanese iraka 'roof, roof tile' is a loanword, but we do not know from where. In other cases we believe that a word must be borrowed and can come up with several likely sources but cannot choose between them. It is, for example, very likely that the Japanese word for 'horse', uma, is borrowed and there are indeed words in surrounding languages which mean 'horse' and which are similar to uma, e.g. Early Middle Chinese *maɨ', Middle Korean mol, Mongolian morin.

These older loanwords would already be felt as "Japanese" by the time the country adopted kanji, and therefore they were classified as "kun-yomi". Other examples include:

  • tae "cloth made from mulberry bark", which used to be tape, related to Austronesian tapa (same meaning).
  • kama "pot", Old Chinese 坩 *khaam.
  • kama "sickle", Old Chinese *gryam.
  • kinu "silk", Old Chinese *kwyans.
  • kuni "country", Old Chinese 郡 *guns.
  • ume "plum", Old Chinese *hmay.
  • zeni "money", Old Chinese *dzian.

"Bamboo" in ancient Chinese is thought to have been something like *truk > ṭuk, so I guess it does resemble take. But we can't be totally sure; some of these may be coincidences, some perhaps even borrowings from Japanese (or Korean or their ancestor, and so on).

  • 2
    Whose OC reconstruction are you using by the way? May 5, 2017 at 0:09
  • 2
    Are you using Zhengzhang-Pan, Baxter-Sagart, or something else?
    – xuq01
    May 5, 2017 at 0:27
  • 1
    The rest are copied directly from Frellesvig's list, who based them on Miyake (Old Japanese: A Phonetic Reconstruction "and p.c."). Miyake, in turn, bases himself on Sarostin & Pulleyblank, I believe. @broccoliforest May 5, 2017 at 4:11
  • 1
    @leoboiko Thanks. *khaam and *guns doesn't seem to be the reconstruction of characters 釜 and 国. (The latter is the one for 郡, right?) I also feel weird to see *hm- for 梅, but that could be theoretical difference between Starostin and those such as Baxter. May 5, 2017 at 4:45
  • 1
    @broccoliforest I believe you are right. I checked Zhengzhang and he gives *kʷɯːɡ for 国 and *gluns for 郡.
    – xuq01
    May 5, 2017 at 5:59

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