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I have noticed that there are a number of verbs in Japanese which have common alternative forms, especially potential form, but these forms have identical meanings.

One of these is 焼く, which appears to have similar if not identical meaning to its potential form 焼ける, although burning down and being able to burn down seem to be very different things from an English perspective.

Words which behave similarly include 続く/ 続ける, 入る/入れる, 受く/受ける, and I'm sure there are many more examples I've seen that don't come to mind right now.

What is the reason for these words having unchanged meanings despite seemingly changed forms? Are they even really etymologically related?

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These are transitive and intransitive forms of verbs. English has them too, but often they're identical. Transitive verbs take "direct" objects, intransitive ones don't.

I raise my hand vs My hand rises

In English, raise is transitive, and rise is intransitive. Similarly,

何かを入れる vs 何かが入る

入れる is transitive, 入る is intransitive. Case markings make it pretty easy to find if there's an object.

Without context you can guess. Typically intransitive ends in ~consonant+ある or ~consonant+う. Transitive might end in ~える or ~す.

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    This covers most of the cases the OP is talking about, but not 受く/ 受ける. It seems like there are some verb pairs where the potential form subsumed the original. No other such pair is coming to mind, but I know I've run across them. Does this sound right to anyone else? There's 分ける/分かつ, which doesn't look like a t/i pair but fits the description: one common, one relegated to idiomatic expressions or archaic, same meaning. – mamster Oct 27 '17 at 4:06
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    分ける・分かる is that not transitive and intransitive? Similarly, with 受ける is 受かる. The intransitive ones here are idiomatic, I think so too. About the etymology, I figured 受く was irrelevant here given the other examples... I don't know much about that word – requiredandshown Oct 27 '17 at 18:44

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