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The kanji compound 場所 is bugging me. For the longest time, I did not know how to pronounce it, oscillating between ばどころ and じょうしょ. The correct pronunciation, however, is ばしょ. This is weird to me, because it is a kun-on compound rather than the more typical on-on or kun-kun. In my experience, the most usual case when characters are read ‘weirdly’ is those readings being ateji. However, in most cases ateji are uniquely Japanese but in the case of 場所, a Chinese compound of the same meaning exists which usually points to an on-on reading (compare e.g. 交通, a wholly random example that I managed to think of immediately, that has a direct Chinese corresponding word).

So how did the word 場所 originate and how did it acquire its pronunciation?

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Not a real answer, but some facts to think about.

  1. According to the 日本国語大辞典, the word 場所 is attested in Japanese since the 17th century, and the first appearance ever (the 甲陽軍鑑 of 1616) actually reads it as ばところ (or probably ばどころ, I don't know how strict the denotation of 濁点 was in that particular source)! Only in a jōruri text 最明寺殿百人上臈 (1699) we find ばしょ (even though there is no furigana. Perhaps 場所 specifically told to be read ばしょ is even from Edo?)

  2. According to 漢語大詞典, 場所 in Chinese only starts appearing from the 20th century sources, which is normally a strong indication of a purely graphical Japanese borrowing. The existence of the same word in Korean points at the same.

With this being said, I can suggest that the word appeared first in Japanese, as a logical ばところ, but was irregularly altered to ばしょ, and the appearances in the remaining Sinosphere is a result of graphical post-Meiji borrowing.

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  • Another note: the Portuguese 日葡辞書 (1603) has no "batocoro," or "badocoro," or even "baxo." It still has "tocoro." – Alexander Z. Dec 17 '20 at 8:15
  • This is great to know! To be honest, I didn’t look up or try to find which coining is older so with Chinese (and Korean) likely borrowing the word from Japanese and not vice-versa it’s far less likely for the word to be on-on. – Jan Dec 19 '20 at 11:43

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