Teach Yourself Japanese
Subject: Re: palatalization and nasal sounds
Date: Tue, 30 Sep 2003 16:42:03 GMT
References: 1, 2, 3
> That's strange. I've read that the original Japanese language lacked ん and palatal sounds like きょぎょひょりょ etc., and was strictly a consonant-vowel language. Maybe I'm wrong. I thought all of that was imported with kanji.
万葉集 is one of the oldest anthology of Japanese poems (waka) that uses kanji purely for the purpose of conveying the phonetic sequence of these poems. The first song in the first volume of that anthology is attributed to Emperor Yûryaku (456-479) and contains the words 家吉閑 which is read as "ie kikan", which means that the pronunciation of ん existed at that time. It is also known that the word む (or 牟 as used in 万葉集) would have been pronounced as ん.
One example of yamato kotoba not now used is けうとい which meant "prone to react against surprises." Thus, けうとい馬 would mean a horse which is prone to react vehemently against surprises. This word would be pronounced as きょとい when used (see the entry of "Qiotoi" in "Vocabvlario da Lingoa de Iapan" published in 1603 by Pam da Companhia de Iesvs). Accordingly, merely because old Japanese, when written, might not have shown the actual pronunciation (like the example of 日本 I gave, which would be pronounced as nippon, but written as such because it did not have the means of showing the actual pronunciation), is not ultimately dispositive of the issue regarding what sounds ancient Japanese had or did not have, including the issue of what new sounds Japanese had acquired by importing Chinese characters.
Having said that, due primarily to the fact that Japanese imported a lot of foreign words and assimilated them into its vocabruary, the Japanese language now has a number of sounds it did not have before. For example, until sometime ago "body" was expressed in Japanese as ボデー and "party" as パーテー. Nowadays they are written and pronounced respectively as ボディ and パーティ because the Japanese language accommodated for the sound of ディ and ティ which did not exisit in the Japanese language before that.
I am therefore not claiming that the ancient Japanese had all of the nasal and platal sounds (and if my statement have led the readers to that impression, I must correct myself) but what I am saying is that you cannot categorically state that the ancient Japanese was strictly consonant-vowel language before the assimimilation of kanji into it.
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