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歴史. The origins and changes over time of the features and characteristics of Japanese in its spoken and written forms.

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60
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4k views

Why were ゐ and ゑ eliminated?

Sometime in the early 20th century, usage of the now-historical kana ゐ and ゑ (and their katakana equivalents) dropped off, being replaced with い and え in modern Japanese. What exactly happened here ...
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How did “little tsu” become a lengthener?

How did it come about historically that っ preceding a sound would geminate it? Is it really a little つ or are they just near homomorphs?
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Why was both katakana and hiragana created?

Nowadays, katakana tends to be used for gairaigo and onomatopoeia, while hiragana tends to be used for native Japanese words. This is a slight simplification - more information is available here. ...
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Why is は pronounced as わ when used as a topic particle?

The particle は is pronounced similarly to わ (unlike the rest of the ハ行 kana) when used as a particle; why is this? What historical shifts went on to cause this irregularity?
35
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Where does “もしもし” (moshimoshi) for answering the telephone come from?

Does the term "もしもし" (moshimoshi) predate the telephone? Does it have any use besides answering the phone? Where does it come from, is it just a reduplication of "もし" (moshi) "if", and if so how does ...
32
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4answers
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What are the origins of ヶ?

The ヶ in e.g. 一ヶ月 is a bit of an odd character - it looks a lot like a small version of the katakana ケ, but is it derived from that katakana originally? Or is it a normal kanji? Or is it something ...
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Origin of the circle in ぬ, ね, and る

When looking at the hiragana ぬ (nu), ね (ne), and る (ru) one notices a small circle in the symbols. In fact that circle is the only difference when comparing them with the hiragana め (me), れ (re) and ろ ...
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Kanji for native Japanese concepts: Kun'yomi spanning multiple morphemes

There are a few words, which are written with Kanji imported from China, but where the intended native Japanese meaning would prefer a different choice of Kanji. My favourite examples are 雷 vs. 神鳴り (...
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5answers
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Are there any old loanwords from Korean, especially any not written in katakana?

Given the close proximity and long history of interaction of various kinds within East Asia, the great influence of Chinese in both Japanese and Korean, and the similar structures of Japanese and ...
23
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8answers
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Is there an objective source of the origins of kanji?

Is there an authoritative source that explains where the different kanji come from and what the radicals mean? I think it's hard to tell from most of the textbooks/other sources whether a shown kanji'...
23
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1answer
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Can someone identify this stamp in a Bible that allowed my roommate's Grandpa to keep it in a POW camp in WW2?

Can someone identify this stamp in a Bible that allowed my roommate's Grandpa to keep it in a POW camp in WW2? Normally Bibles would have been forbidden but apparently this stamp that was inspected ...
23
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What's the original Japanese word for door, other than the loanword ドア?

I assume that ドア is a loanword from English, unless it's a big coincidence, yet, it's in the top 200 most used Japanese words by frequency in a Japanese words by frequency list. What's the original ...
22
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2answers
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Why is the Japanese currency pronounced “yen” in English?

I'm wondering what the reason for the mispronunciation of 円 in English came to be "yen". I can understand how some words like 東京 became "Tokyo", but "en" to "yen" seems strange. On a side note, why is ...
21
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Recent creation or adoption of hanzi characters into Japanese kanji

According to Wikipedia, kanji was introduced and imported from chinese hanzi long time ago before Japanese language even had a writing system. From there, Japanese kanji has transformed and evolved ...
21
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2answers
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When did the “wu” character drop out of use?

In the last century, the ゐ and ゑ characters were eliminated from common use. But it seems like there used to also be a "wu" character that has since been lost. Given that it's a lot harder to find ...
18
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2answers
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When and how did USA and UK come to be written as [米]{べい}[国]{こく} and [英]{えい}[国]{こく}?

I know of four countries with a specific kanji besides Japan: China, the Netherlands, the USA and UK. The last two must be quite recent (I presume 19th century) but I wonder on the details and context ...
17
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3answers
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About writing numbers using Japanese numerals vs using Arabic numerals

I noticed that even though Japanese language has kanji characters for numbers (e.g. 十、百、千、万 etc), there are many places where Arabic numerals are used instead, for example, prices for shop items are ...
17
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2answers
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How close was the Japanese writing system from becoming abolished after World War II?

I remember hearing that the Japanese government planned on abolishing the use of Chinese characters entirely after World War II. I also remember hearing that there was a movement by the American ...
17
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2answers
585 views

Exceptional compounding forms

There are a number of Japanese words which have distinct compounding forms: -a/-e alternation: 天・雨、酒、上、風、目 — many examples. -u/-i alternation: 神([神]{かむ}[集]{つど}ふ)、月([月]{つく}[読]{よみ}) -o/-i alternation: ...
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History of 十干(じっかん)and modern uses

As I was studying vocabulary today, I happened to come across the titular 十干 which are as follows: 甲(こう)• 乙(おつ)• 丙(へい)• 丁(てい) •戊(ぼ)• 己(き)• 庚(こう)• 辛(しん)• 壬(じん)• 癸(き) There's a somewhat lengthy ...
14
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Haphazard usage of katakana and hiragana for particles and okurigana

I'm looking at this picture of the 日米和親条約 (Kanagawa convention) from the late Edo period and it seems rather strange: It looks like the non-kanji parts are rather haphazardly written in katakana and ...
14
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1answer
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Origin of ~なければ ならない

The expression ~なければ ならない if I learned correctly means "must not not do ..." as in: 日本語を勉強しなければなりません。 You must not not learn Japanese. (i.e. you need to learn Japanese) However, taken on face value ...
14
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Why are phone calls cylindrical?

何本か重要な電話をかけ、... He made several important phone calls and ... Originally part of this question but separated due to popular? demand. Why is the counter 本 used in reference to phone calls?
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Why has を been spared but ゐ and ゑ been deemed obsolete?

According to When is the katakana form of wo (ヲ) used?, を is almost always used only for the particle, and is usually pronounced o (お). There are some dialects where を is pronounced with a "w", but ...
14
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1answer
713 views

Japanese/Chinese numbers usage timeline

Japanese uses both native and Chinese numbering numbering systems, the Sino-Japanese pronunciations being いち, に, さん, etc. and the native being ひと, ふた, み, etc. For the most part they are used for ...
14
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2answers
615 views

Nouns exhibiting vowel fronting

As touched upon in another thread, there are several nouns that exhibit a kind of vowel shift in older forms, where the ending vowel is fronted when the noun is used on its own to become /i/ or /e/, ...
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3answers
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No word for “time” until 1871?

In a German newspaper article an interviewed professor says: For a long time the Japanese didn't have any interest in clocks: Until 1871, there hadn't even been a word for time and therefore no ...
13
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3answers
506 views

Why is this katakana not reversed?

Just saw this image about Nintendo on Kotaku: Clearly the company name, description, and location are written in traditional right-to-left orientation. Even かるた is right-to-left. So why is トランプ ...
13
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2answers
726 views

What is the breakdown of countries where loan words originate?

Is there any general idea of what percentage of loan words come from which languages? I always thought the majority of them came from English, but I keep seeing more and more that originated in ...
13
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1answer
445 views

Why do we believe that 神 is likely to be a loan from Ainu?

I recently read the document "Old Japanese Loanwords" by Frellesvig, where he states: OJ kamwi ~ kamu- 'spirit, deity' may well be borrowed from an ancestor of Ainu kamuy 'bear; deity'. Ever since ...
12
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3answers
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Native Japanese word for フリー

I wonder why all the translation engines show only the word フリー as a translation for the word "free". Why Japanese people had to borrow an english word? Wasn't there anything for free in Japanese ...
12
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3answers
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When/why did 電話する replace 電話をかける?

In some older learning material I came across, they use 「電話をかける」 for "to make a telephone call". When/why did this come to be replaced by 「電話する」 in popular usage?
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1answer
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Ancient practise of sneaking into women's bedrooms…?

I was looking up the meaning of スマ婚{こん}, when my mouse happened to roll over the kanji 婚{こん}, and this definition popped up in Rikaichan: 婚 よばい ancient practice of creeping at night into a woman's ...
12
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2answers
463 views

Does the etymology of 星 suggest the japanese/chinese knew the sun was a star?

星 contains the radical 日 meaning sun/day. This makes sense from a modern understanding, as it is well known that the sun was a star. However, it appears this has only been known since the 19th century,...
12
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1answer
272 views

What is the significance of a large く character in literary texts?

I am currently reading an early story by Tanizaki Junichiro in Japanese. I have come across both the hiragana く and ぐ written twice the size they usually are, taking up the same amount of space on the ...
12
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1answer
316 views

Was there a single word/concept もの which was later split into two (now distinct) kanji 者 and 物?

Given that もの has a rather similar usage as a generic modifier for turning a property into a thing with that property (as 物) or turning a property into a person with that property (as 者) -- it seems ...
12
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0answers
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Iterative / repetitive る evolving from classical 連体形【れんたいけい】

This is somewhat related to the discussion of classical auxiliary verb ふ, mentioned in the answer to snailboat's question, What is the わ in 忌まわしい and 嘆かわしい?. Another apparent iterative / repetitive ...
11
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2answers
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Did any writing systems exist before kanji was imported?

Did any writing systems, or even failed attempts at them, exist for Japanese before kanji was imported from China?
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1answer
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How can [数]{す}[寄]{き}[者]{しゃ} both mean a tea ceremony master and a “lewd man, a lecher”?

I would like to understand better the etymology or the cultural context surrounding 数寄者 If I believe wwwjdic, this compound is used to denote a tea ceremony master (with a reference to a style ...
11
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1answer
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History of だ、です、 and である

Historically where did all of these different forms arise, and when are they used? I noticed that だ and である both have their place in different 文法形, what is the difference in their meaning? I know that ...
11
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1answer
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Reading fractions

In Japanese (and other East Asian languages), the denominator of a fraction is read as a part of the modifier to the numerator: 3分の5 'five that was divided by three' 'five thirds' This ...
11
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1answer
658 views

Are Japanese counter words still being created?

That is, are counters (助数詞) an open class of words? If yes: Is there an example of a counter that was added recently (say, post-Taishō) and is now in current use by a community of speakers (i.e. not ...
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If I wanted to sound more like a Samurai, what words and phrases should I learn?

Having watched jidai-geki for a long time, I have come across many Samurai-isms, but I can recall only a few. I would like to be able to do this more believably the next time I'm at the Izakaya. What ...
10
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2answers
652 views

Why is there a difference between the hand drawn 道 and the pc font one?

I was studying this kanji and looked at the strokes order to figure out how to write it, only to realize the difference between the pc font one and the diagram. Why is the 3 look-alike only on hand ...
10
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3answers
395 views

How is Japanese regulated by the Japanese government and any other organizations?

Some languages, but not English, have regulators such as the Académie française (French Academy). Amongst other things, it decides whether or not English words such as email, software and ウォークマン ought ...
10
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2answers
745 views

Where does “gold day” originate from?

Recently I learned what the days of the week are and noticed "kinyobi" 金曜日. I'd like to know where the term "gold" relates to. Were people in ancient Japan paid at Friday each week?
10
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1answer
526 views

Orthography at the turn of the previous century

A couple of days ago I purchased an old book published in 1908. It uses a strange orthography I haven't encountered before. Everything that is not in kanji is written in katakana, including particles,...
10
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1answer
295 views

Was “乎” the man'yōgana spelling of the accusative/object particle “を”?

In the English Wiktionary entry for "を" there is a quote or example sentence using the character "乎" with no explanation seemingly where the particle "を" would normally occur. Now I couldn't find ...
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1answer
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Left (ひだり) and right (みぎ) as cardinal directions

In many Indo-European ancient languages, there used to be a strong connection between the words for right and left on one side and the words for south and north1 (respectively) on the other side. This ...
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2answers
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Is the kanji/kokuji “taito” (たいと) with 84 strokes legitimate and ever used?

Taito is mentioned as the kanji/kokuji with the highest stroke count consisting of 84 strokes in Wikipedia. Taito is composed of two kanji ("cloud" (雲) and "dragon" (龍) repeated three times each ...