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[易]{やさ}しい and -[易]{やす}い use the same kanji for essentially the same meaning. Why is the reading different? Is this just chance or this is due (historically) to grammar (ありがとうございます comes from ありがたい for instance).

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Japanese as an oral language existed before Kanji was introduced (and subsequently Kana formed out of it), and it has morphed over years, so there are words and phrases that mean the same things but sound differently. When this happens, though Kanji is applied to them, they retain their sound. It's not that words receive a reading based on the Kanji used, but more correctly, Kanji "wraps" around the sound of a word to provide it meaning.

Therefore, it has much more to do with specific phrasing and words available, and how those separate words mean the same things. In this case, やさしい as a general adjective and -やすい as a suffix have a similar shared meaning of "easy, simple, plain" but are used slightly differently.

Let's take, for example, 分かる. To say that something is easy to understand, the same idea can be expressed two ways. Consider these simple sentences:

分かるのは易しいです。
It's easy to understand.

分かり易いです。
It's easy to understand.

However, while very similar, both constructions exist because they don't completely intersect like this. For some expressions, it's easier to use 易しい, the adjective word, and for other expressions, the verb suffix -易い is easier.

Consider these examples:

易しい言葉で話してください。
Please speak with easy words.

分かり易い言葉で話してください。
Please speak with words that are easy to understand.

This second example could now go different ways. For example:

書き易い言葉で話してください。
Please speak with words that are easy to write.

訳し易い言葉で話してください。
Please speak with words that are easy to translate.

繰り返し易い言葉で話してください。
Please speak with words that are easy to repeat.

To do the same with 易しい in use is more grammatically complex and not nearly as common.

EDIT: Adding a note: Both of these commonly forgo the Kanji and use just Kana when written, by the way. So, it's fairly inconsequential.

  • I was not challenging the existence of 易しい and -易い, just asking about the difference of reading. – Mathieu Bouville Apr 29 at 17:37
  • Your question asked if it came from a historical perspective, so in a sense, while it's not challenging the existence of the words, it is important to know why they exist separate from one another, and how related they are to affix the same kanji. It is similar to ask this of, say, why the kanji 生 has a reading of い when it's 生きる and う when it's 生まれる. This happens a lot. When it comes to the 訓読み of a Kanji, the Kanji is approximating a word that existed before the Kanji was in use. – psosuna Apr 30 at 21:36

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