Questions tagged [history]

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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6k views

Did the Japanese have a word for surrender before WWII?

I had always thought that the Japanese didn't have a word for surrender before WWII. It seemed to be plausible given their culture. However, I can't seem to find any solid evidence of this. Is it just ...
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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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Why is する considered irregular?

Yes, this sounds like a really confusing question. But I suddenly realized that する seemed to be a perfectly regular 上二段活用 (kami nidan; upper bigrade) verb with a stem of s-: 未然形: し (as in しない) 連用形: し ...
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Historical Precursor to な?

Prior to the development of the な particle (presumably from なる) several hundred years ago, what constructions were used where な-construtions are currently used? E.g. in the phase きれいな女, would that ...
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Are 万葉仮名 (man'yōgana) chosen consistently?

This answer got me wondering how relevant the presentation in 万葉仮名 is to finding a 漢字 for a given word. As far as I understand, 万葉仮名 are used largely for phonetic value. Knowing that some word was ...
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Why is an anachronistic modern conjugation thrown into the lyrics of 軍艦行進曲?

軍艦行進曲 seems to be written mostly using Classical Japanese grammar. Here's the first stanza: 守るも攻むるも黒鐵{くろがね}の 浮かべる城{しろ}ぞ頼{たの}みなる 浮かべるその城{しろ}日{ひ}の本{もと}の 皇國{みくに}の四方{よも}を守{まも}るべし 眞鐵{まがね}のその艦{ふね}日の本に 仇{あだ}...
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What do we know about the phonetic distinctions between the 甲類 and 乙類 syllables in 上代特殊仮名遣い? [closed]

上代特殊仮名遣い【じょうだいとくしゅかなづかい】 is a Nara-period practice in which two distinct versions of certain syllables (called 甲類【こうるい】 and 乙類【おつるい】, and denoted by subscript 1 and 2 in Latin script) were ...
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Was the の particle sometimes written in katakana?

In "Maiko Haaaan!!!", a bridge going over Yumekawa (a fictional river in Kyoto) apparently has "夢ノ橋" written on it, rather than "夢の橋". I had two theories about why that may be the case. One was that ...
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On “おてもと” and its many variants for “chopsticks”

I've always known the Japanese word for "chopsticks" to be (お)箸{はし}. Today in my usual practice of reading everything around me I looked up what was written on the wrapper of the disposable ...
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Why are こんにちは and こんばんは used for greetings?

If they are translated literally it gives "today is" and "tonight is". Is it some sentence that got shortened ? (Also not sure how to classify this question so forgive me if I used the wrong tags......
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Why does Japanese TV News and magazine programs have “mandatory” subtitles/legend?

(I never thought I would ask one of these questions and even considered if it was off topic but this is a very distinct feature of the language as it is really used. Is it due to some characteristic ...
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What are the reasons for the huge amount of loanwords in Japanese?

It seems that Japanese has far more loanwords than any other language I've heard spoken. I understand that English is far-reaching and a global language, but are there many known reasons that English ...
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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 ...
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483 views

Is “琉語解釋” Japanese?

Today I bought a hundred year old book in a secondhand bookshop in Naha, Okinawa. It's a handbook of the Ryukyuan language in Japanese, though it has both Japanese and English titles there is no ...
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Differences between なし and あらず?

At some point in history, ない replaced *あらない as the negative of ある, at least in the Kantō dialect (Kansai seems to have あらへん; あらん is also apparently attested in some dialects). When did this happen? ...
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When did 全然 get restricted to the negative?

全然 means "completely" in Chinese, and also in Classical Chinese. Why does 全然 only go with negative conjugations in Japanese? My teacher also says that you cannot say とても with negative things in ...
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How to say Populations and Civilizations when talking about history?

Dealing with historical matters for a certain urban area, one would like to say the following: In this city we had many populations here: Normans, Greeks and French... So what is the right term ...
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relationship between 'b' and 'm' sounds

There are several words that have a common etymological origin but are sometimes pronounced with a 'b' and sometimes with an 'm'. Here are some examples: おもえる、おぼえる (思える、覚える) さむらい、さぶらい (侍) ぶ、む (無) ...
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history of learning japanese

Now, we have lots of resources for learning Japanese - tons of textbooks, dictionaries, audio and video recordings, educational software etc. But in the past - How did Europeans first approach ...
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Is there any relationship between the verb 死{し}ぬ and the 音読み 死{し}?

I noticed that both 死ぬ and the 音読み of 死 share a し sound. Is this a huge coincidence between Japanese and Chinese, or is there some sort of relation? I guess the former, because I don't know any ...
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When and where did 丁寧語 emerge?

I've been reading some old text recently and I find that everybody seems to use plain forms even in polite contexts (like proclamations from the Emperor). When did the modern ます and です come from? I ...
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263 views

Is it possible to write anything long completely in 和語?

I sometimes wonder how feasible is it to completely avoid loanwords, i.e. 漢語 and 外来語, but still using Modern Japanese (i.e. not simply just using Old/Classical Japanese vocabulary). Is the 和語 ...
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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 ...
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What was the base for Japanese numbers?

I'm curious what the numerical base the Japanese used before their introduction to the wider western world. I've been taught in my Japanese language classes that they move the comma to a different ...
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「はは」(母) and ハ行転呼

It occurred to me the other day that if ハ行転呼 had affected all applicable environments without exception, 母 /haha/ (or I guess properly it was /ɸaɸa/, right?)should have become /hawa/. The Japanese ...
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402 views

Why do days of the week use on-yomi kanji readings?

I would like to know if there is detailed information as to why days of the week use on-yomi readings, for example 月 in 月曜日 【げつようび】 Were these readings (as spoken) imported from the Chinese?...
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Can kanji-heavy Japanese be easily translated into Chinese?

How much is changed or lost in translating (say) an old Japanese text that's mainly written in kanji into hanzi? How does it compare to translating into a completely foreign language like English? I'm ...
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Plural in ancient Japanese?

It is known to Japanese learners that the Japanese verb isn't affected by the subject (number or gender). Today, a linguistics professor of my university told me he heard from his teacher that ancient ...
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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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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 ...
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729 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 ...
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286 views

Is ruby text essential?

I am trying to understand whether the ruby text in ancient scripture is essential to the meaning of a verse, or if the scripture can be understood without it. For instance, can this verse: be ...
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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 ...
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バカヤロウ to バゲロ [mature content]

Note: This question may contain wordings that may be considered rude to some, so proceed with open mind and caution. One of the legacies of Japanese colonization in my country during WW2 is a rude ...
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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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For how long has Japanese been the official language of Japan?

That is to say, in Japan, at which point in time, was it declared that official documents had to be written in the Japanese language? I am also looking for any additional information like where it ...
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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 ...
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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 ...
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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 ...
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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 ...
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Were women unable to learn kanji during the Heian era?

I've read that The Tale of Genji, and similar Heian-era novels such as The Pillow Book, and The Gossamer Years were predominantly or exclusively hiragana, which is also called "women's writing" (女手). ...
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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 ...
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271 views

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 ...
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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 ...
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525 views

Mukashi-banashi. Do they borrow from other current dialects in addition to older Japanese?

At my schools 日本語クラブ, we studied a 昔話 (舌切り雀), which like most of the others I've read, had some nonstandard grammatical constructions. I've heard that many of these constructions are archaic forms ...
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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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Was desu and masu originally geisha-speak?

Nihonjin no Shiranai Nihongo (The Japanese language the Japanese people don't know) seems to be claiming, at around 6:20 of this YouTube clip of language-specific portions of episode 4 of the show, ...
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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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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?
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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 ...