Why is the あ-series in demonstratives irregular like the following:

ここ  そこ  あ そこ      どこ
       (expected あこ)
こう  そう  あ        どう
       (expected あう)

Is it related to the fact that , , all end with the vowel "o", and ends with the vowel "a"?

  • I always thought the second sequence was formed by lengthening the vowel, rather than by adding a う... (It seems like the only one in the series with a historical antecedent is こう ← 斯く.) – Zhen Lin Feb 25 '12 at 22:40
  • @ZhenLin Lengthening may be one possibility, but then, you would have to admit that such morpheme as /:/ exists in Japanese, and that seems to be an adhoc solution unless there in independent evidence that the morpheme /:/ exists. – user458 Feb 25 '12 at 23:24
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    @sawa Not necessarily... To play Devil's Advocate, it seems that ああ is relatively recent (I can't find any pre-18C citation), and if it was recent enough to postdate こう and そう being pronounced with long vowels ([kɔː], [sɔː]), it doesn't seem that improbable that Japanese speakers would have reinterpreted the pattern as "lengthen final vowel of morpheme" and applied it to /a/, even if there was no /:/ morpheme "naturally" in the language before then. – Matt Feb 27 '12 at 1:11
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    @Matt It is always okay to assume language change. But, there is no other place in (present) Japanese where you can observe that. That makes it look adhoc. And It would be a suprasegmental morpheme. – user458 Feb 27 '12 at 2:23
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    @sawa Right, the "ad hoc" aspect is still suspicious. My argument is just that we can tell a story which gives us reasons (restricted domain, phonetic change, etc.) for the unique nature of the rule; we don't need to worry about whether there is evidence for /:/ in other cases, because the argument is that it was created for this case alone. We could argue that our historical explanation solves the "sui generis" problem, but we must admit that the "ad hoc" problem remains. – Matt Feb 27 '12 at 3:03

あそこ (expected あこ)

There was an ako. From the 1775 text 物類称呼 (Iwanami Bunko ISBN4-00-302691-8 p. 146):

あそこ こゝといふを 西國にて・あんなけ こんなけと云 肥前にて・そこねい こゝねいと云 尾州にて・あそこなて こゝなてと云 京にて・あこと云

However, there are ample usages of asoko in much earlier works from the 13th century and on, so this is likely an abbreviation of asoko > ako.

Historically, in Old Japanese there was the ko/so/ka system. The ka form are the ancestor of modern a-forms, with the initial /k/ dropping out leaving only /a/. However, in the Old Japanese corpus, the ka forms are extremely rare and of those few that exist, they are all attributed to an eastern dialect. As such, it is thought that the distal (遠称) series had not been fully developed until yet early middle Japanese. It was a two-way system of speaker vs. non-speaker rather than priximal/mesial/distal. So that is one reason to not expect regularity in the [k]a-series. Further, the early signs of the [k]a- series are found in eastern dialects, so yo can expect variation when it merges with the western dialects.

Also, you seem to expect *あう based on こう, そう, and どう. However, I must take issue with こう and そう. The etymology of こう is kaku > kau > kɔː > koː, with a once medial -k-. For そう, it is sau > sɔː > soː. These two do not share a common etymology, so you cannot draw any conclusions from this alone for a ああ vs. あう. Besides, if it were あう, this would have regularly developed into au > ɔː > oː (おう).

As explained above, I think the question is based on a false premise so it cannot be answered satisfactorily.

  • Under the assumption of 柳田国男's 方言週圏論, which claims the origin of new forms to be Kyoto, it makes sense to think that 京にてあこと云 is indicating asoko > ako as you wrote. I see your explanation that (k)a appeared later in the East, but at that time, weren't there the counterparts to the ko and so series as well in the East? If so, why didn't the newly appeared form made to match the rest of the paradigm in the East? Also, is the dropping of k somehow related to イ音便 of verbs? Regarding the second part of my question, I completely agree with your explanation. I am ashamed to have not realized it. – user458 Feb 26 '12 at 6:38
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    I have read in a few places the theory that "asoko" = "[new distal morpheme] + [soko]", which would mean it was built on top of the existing paradigm rather than interlocking with it. (In other words, etymologically the series would be "here, there, distant 'there'".) I have never seen a really rigorous evidence-based attempt to prove this etymology, though. – Matt Feb 27 '12 at 0:53
  • @dono-Would you please point me to the Old Japanese corpus? – Nate Glenn Feb 28 '12 at 21:03
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    @Nate I have my own private corpus built over a decade of research. For public, online resources, Oxford University provides an Old Japanese corpus here: vsarpj.orinst.ox.ac.uk/corpus – Dono Feb 28 '12 at 22:17

The historical answer to this still appears to be somewhat of a mystery. However, there is speculation on why the あ (of the こそあど) appears to be irregular.

Nomichi Sumire gives a hint in this answer as to why あ is different. 「ここ・そこ・あそこ・どこ」 were all written in Kanji in the past, like this: 「此処・其処・彼処・何処」 When written out in Kanji, all of the words appear to be the same length of characters. But this doesn't really answer your question.

The interesting thing about 「彼処{あそこ}」 is that it can also be read as 彼処{あこ}. So, at least one point in time, あこ (itself) was used.

There is other speculation about why it's currently 「あそこ」 instead of 「あこ」 in an essay (labeled as fictional... so take it with a grain of salt,) on this page: The Mystery of ASOKO.

Namely, the focus point of this essay is in this paragraph:

場所を尋ねたのに対し、「ここ」「そこ」と、 近称・中称で断定するのは良いが、 遠称で答えては正確な場所を特定できず、 わからないのと同じである。 だから「あこ」は存在しない。 その代わり、遠称を断定するために、 「こそあど」の遠称である「あ」を中称の「そこ」に加えて、 「あそこ」と言う表現を用いたらしいのである。 これなら明確に場所を特定しながらも、 「そこ」より遠くを示すことを伝えられるからだ。

Basically, (and earlier in the article,) the writer is suggesting that 「ここ」and「そこ」are used when the locations being discussed are known locations (near or kind of near places.) But when the place is somewhere far away... (when the location is not completely known,) perhaps 「あそこ」is used because it's adding the 「あ」of the distal pronoun (遠称) and adding it to the「そこ」of the mesioproximal pronoun (中称) as a way of saying something to the effect of: "it's a place somewhere far over (あ+そこ)there".

Again, it's hard to know for sure when that idea seems to be just speculation by the writer. But it gives a better idea of why 「あそこ」came in to common usage. It could very well also have to do with the vowel idea of yours; with languages like Japanese and Pacific languages (like Hawaiian, for example,) keeping the consonant-vowel combination tends to be important.

For the second part of the example in your question: the「こう・そう・ああ・どう」, try thinking about it like this: each of those expected ones 「こう・そう・どう」 have a long "o" vowel sound. It's similar to when the 「ー」 sign is used for a long vowel sign. When you have a long vowel sound for 「あ」, what do you use? 「あー」, right? Which is a long「あ」sound.

  • Thank you for the answer, but I don't understand the explanation by "The Mystery of ASOKO" that you cite. In the first place, the notions 近称, 中称, 遠称 is descriptively wrong. What "ko-", "so-", and "a-" mean is actually "approximate to first person", "otherwise approximate to second person", and "otherwise". So both "so-" and "a-" mean non-approximate to the first person, and from this respect, there should be no difference. In fact, you can be talking with someone on the other side of the earth on the phone, and use "そこ". That is pretty much far. – user458 Feb 25 '12 at 23:38
  • I don't see any reason why "a-" cannot point to some specific thing while "so-" can. For the answer to the second part of my question, if you are going to assume the long vowel [:] as a morpheme, that seems quite adhoc, as it does not even appear in the inventory of Japanese phonemes, and I see no other instance where such thing appears. However, if it is something that is done in phonology instead or morphology, that might be a possibility. – user458 Feb 25 '12 at 23:38
  • Well, if you check this dictionary (rut.org/cgi-bin/j-e/euc/…) 近称・中称・遠称 do, indeed, approximate to the speaker. Not sure where the problem lies, here. There are also cases where「そこ」can be used besides a physical geographical location (i.e. when talking about the crux of a problem, etc.) – summea Feb 26 '12 at 0:04
  • A teacher did tell me, once, that words that start with 「あ」(from the 「こそあど」group,) can also mean something to which the speaker and listener are both familiar with... (for example: あのA先生はね・・・ Teacher A is kinda ... you know?) – summea Feb 26 '12 at 0:08
  • Also, for that second part of your question: if you think the 〜う is not a long vowel... then you are going to run into trouble with あう because that would indicate a verb (i.e. to meet.) – summea Feb 26 '12 at 0:11

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