Does anyone give me a hint about the origin of Japanese language?

When I was a university student long time ago, I attended a lecture of Tibetan language. I was surprised to learn that some numbers in the language is very similar to Japanese, for example, they pronounce numbers 11, 12, 13, 14..(juchi,juni,jusan,juchi..) in Tibetan language, and juuichi,juuni,juusan, juushi in Japanese. Almost the same pronunciations in four numbers continuously. Probably there are naturally some linguistic or cultural relations between these languages.

October 4, 2018


Hint ... It came from Japan. ;)

Early Japanese is considered a language isolate and shares very few clear ties to other languages or language groups. With the possible exception of Ryukyuan languages, spoken on small islands in the southern most part of the Japanese archipelago.

However, after its early development, Japanese borrowed a great deal from Chinese (just look at all the kanji!). Part of that borrowing included the pronunciation of the number words that you mentioned. So, I'd say that the relationship is between the Tibetan language and early Chinese. Not with native Japanese. Which makes perfect sense, both from a geographic and historical perspective. As countries, China and Tibet share a land border and a great deal of history. As a language, Chinese is part of the Sino-Tibetan language group and shares roots with various Tibeto-Burman languages.

When you learn to count in Japanese, you are generally taught the on'yomi readings of the various characters. These are readings that originally came from Chinese. The kun'yomi readings (native Japanese) are actually quite a bit different.

Number - on/kun
一 (one) - ichi / hito
二 (two) - ni / futa
三 (three)- san / mi
四 (four) - shi/ yon
五 (five) - go / itsu
六 (six) - roku / mu
七 (seven) - shichi / nana
八 (eight) - hachi/ ya
九 (nine) - kuu / kokono
十 (ten) - juu/to

As you can see, the native Japanese pronunciation is not similar to Tibetan numbers at all.

One fun fact I came across .... it is estimated that roughly 50% of Japanese vocabulary originally came from various stages of ancient Chinese. When you consider all the on'yomi readings you have to learn to read Japanese perhaps it isn't that surprising, but still ... that's a lot of loanwords.

October 4, 2018

Your theoritical explanation is very comprehensible to the average mind just like me. Actually there are kun'yomi and on'yomi, two ways of readings to each kanji character. When we think of the origin of this language, I think we should take kun'yomi, which possibly might show ancient Japanese pronunciations(倭語=wago)into consideration. As you said over 50% of Japanese vocabulary originally came from Chinese, such as 現在("genzai"in Japanese, but "shienzai" in Chinese) and 図書館("toshokan"in Japanese, but "tushukuan"in Chinese). Probably we can see the similar situations between English and French from a historical and geographical points of view. By the way when I read your Number-on/kun, I remember one of the Thai students learning Japanese enthusiastically at that time. She said to me once she didn't get the gut feelings when she used the Japanese numbers "in the real world". As she said, when she rode an elevator and told others which floor she wanted to go, she was always confused which pronunciation she should take, 4階(yon-kai or shi-kai), 7階(nana-kai or shichi-kai), and they never said ya-kai(8階=hachi-kai correctly)or itsu-kai(5階=go-kai correctly)!!! It was very interesting for me to realize the actual usage of their own language among Japanese people in their daily life. Shall we visit the real world? (敬)

October 5, 2018


October 9, 2018

Japanese vocabulary is heavily influenced by the Chinese languages. That includes Japanese numbers. Tibetan seems to be a similar case.

(14 is read juuyon in JP)

October 4, 2018

Regarding 14, technically juushi and juuyon are both correct. Although, juuyon is far more common and a much more natural choice.

The numbers 4 and 7 tend to use kun-readings (yon and nana), except in certain circumstances, while the majority of other numbers are read using on-readings ... except for when they aren't.

Don't you just love learning Japanese :D

October 4, 2018

Thank you, Heioqei. I really think so,too. So when we think about the origin of it , I think I should go deep into the consideration of its historical side.

October 5, 2018

If you find out, you'll have let the world know :-)

Like DestinyCall said, it's considered a language isolate because no one has found the answer to that question, but there are a lot of interesting commonalities between Japanese and other languages that have led some people to believe that Japanese is a 'pidgin' language. That is, a language that is a composite of other languages. Probably a union of Korean and Austronesian. When you consider how fast Japanese people adopt new concepts, customs and words from other cultures, this makes perfect sense. I would even argue that Japan is more open to foreign cultures than any other in the world, even the U.S. Especially the U.S.!

November 3, 2018
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