Can one differentiate by pronunciation between [父]{ちち} and [乳]{ちち} (as for 雨 and 飴)?

If not, does anyone have a reasonable explanation for why 父 and 乳 have the same pronunciation? It seems unlikely that they stem from the same word, which was assigned two different characters, when 漢字 were imported from China...

  • Often a man becomes a 父 because of 乳.
    – istrasci
    Aug 30, 2012 at 14:09
  • +1 I found this puzzling, as it's the the 母 that has 乳. But I thought it'd be safer to ask on lang-8 instead of JLU. lang-8.com/424295/journals/1590094 On that site, KimuraShinichi makes some interesting claims, but I don't know how accurate they are.
    – Golden Cuy
    Aug 30, 2012 at 23:19
  • @istrasci san, "Often a man becomes a 父 because of 乳" ってどゆ意味?
    – user1016
    Apr 21, 2013 at 0:50
  • @Chocolate san: 明らかのじゃない?ちょっとも考えとったらわかると思う。冗談なんだ。
    – istrasci
    Apr 21, 2013 at 20:55
  • @istrasci あ、やっぱり・・・しもねた?えっちなこと?
    – user1016
    Apr 21, 2013 at 21:14

3 Answers 3


父 and 乳 cannot be differentiated by pronunciation (including accentation).

While the word titi "father" is attested in Old Japanese (8th century), titi "breasts" is not extant until the 17th century. However, it is more complicated than that. titi "breasts" is a reduplication of ti "breasts" which is extant in OJ. Also, titi "father" seems to be a reduplication of ti, a suffix attached to men. This can be seen in ooZI, hikoZI, and maro ga TI. The last one hints that ti may function as "father" on its own as well.

One possible motivation for ti > titi "father" is due to regularization with haha "mother", which repeats the same syllable twice. The ultimate etymology of both ti are unknown. Perhaps ti "father" is related to ti "blood" (血) as in what links a family. Other speculation is possible.

  • Thanks for your answer. What suffix are you talking about? Could you write ooZI, hikoZI and marogaTI with 漢字. I am guessing hiko is 彦 (and oo 大?), but I am not sure of the others...
    – Earthliŋ
    Aug 30, 2012 at 11:53
  • 2
    The suffix ti which is found in male words. Three examples are ooZI (voiced), hikoZI (voiced), and maro ga TI. Following are the spellings given in the original (texts). ooZI: 於保知 (新撰字鏡), 於保遅 (令集解) hikoZI: 比古遅 (古事記), marogaTI: 麻呂賀知 (古事記).
    – Dono
    Aug 30, 2012 at 12:13
  • Did ち used to sound like "ti"? So the slang for breasts used to sound like the English slang for nipple?
    – Golden Cuy
    Aug 30, 2012 at 23:25
  • I think the claim that ち was once [ti] and ぢ was once [di] is not too controversial. There's no way to be sure, though.
    – Zhen Lin
    Aug 31, 2012 at 0:43

If not, does anyone have a reasonable explanation for why 父 and 乳 have the same pronunciation

I do have one: the relatively limited number of words than can be made from composing the sounds of kanas. You are doomed to have either a lot of homophones, or a lot of very long words… I believe that evolution led to having shorter words with collisions rather than extra long words…

  • Notice that, in English for example, you even have homophones with opposite meanings (eg, "to raise/raze a building"). There must be some in Japanese as well, but can't think of any.
    – Axioplase
    Aug 30, 2012 at 7:19
  • 1
    So, your answer is "coincidence".
    – Earthliŋ
    Aug 30, 2012 at 8:34
  • Well, "evolution-driven coincidence" yes.
    – Axioplase
    Aug 30, 2012 at 9:03

The pronunciation is the same, so no, you cannot differentiate it from there. Context is the key in this case, and in many other cases.

The fact is that Japanese is a language with only a few sounds at its disposal, so homophones are to be expected. This is especially true considering that Japanese works with syllables, while other languages work with single letters, and this allows more combinations, because consonants are not necessarily attached to vowels: Japanese cannot have consonant clusters.

Things like br, pr, etc, are achieved by using the う (U) vowel, which is half-muted, and it makes the syllables look (and above all, sound) like consonant clusters.

I don't know about the etymology since I cannot understand Japanese well and I don't think I could check an Etymology dictionary... Unless there are in English.

  • Uhm, is there a reason for this downvote? I don't see any mistakes.
    – Alenanno
    Sep 2, 2012 at 14:46
  • 2
    Maybe it's because it's an etymology question and you are answering from a none-etymology point of view.
    – Pacerier
    Feb 5, 2014 at 5:15

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