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If Japanese is Altaic, How Can It Be So Simple

If Japanese is Altaic, How Can It Be So Simple

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1. Introduction
The origin and classification of the Japanese language is one of the hot
spots in historical linguistics today.
The most plausible hypothesis is that
Japanese is relatedtoKoreanandthe Altaic languages. However, linguistic
literature reflects a wide range of opinions on the Altaic question for
Japanese, ranging from a negative stance (Doerfer 1963-1975, 1974; Unger
1990; Nichols 1992; Janhunen1992: 1994; Kiyose 2002; Shgaito2002; Vovin
2003b) to an agnostic attitude (Lewin etc. 1989: 114; Shibatani 1990: 118;
Comrie 1990: 856; Lyovin 1997: 114; Johanson 1999: 2; Trask 2000: 16; Lee
and Ramsey 2000: 5) to a positive stance (Ramstedt 1924; Murayama 1958;
Miller 1971; Menges 1975; Miller & Street 1975; Street 1977; Finch 1987;
Starostin 1991; Vovin 1994; Kortlandt 1993: 1997; Ho-min Sohn 1999: 22;
Wang 1999; Itabashi 2001; Starostin, Dybo & Mudrak 2003; Robbeets 2003,
One of the obstacles that prevents us from reaching a consensus about
the genetic aliation of Japanese is its syllabic structure. The occurrence
of consonant clusters in medial position is a phonological feature that is
shared by Korean and the Altaic languages, but, on the face of it, not by
Japanese. Japanese is a textbook example of a language with a relatively
simple syllable structure, and the structure of Old Japanese was even
simpler. All Old Japanese syllables had a (C)V structure and V syllables
were restricted to word-initial position. In his survey of the languages of
Japan, Shibatani (1990: 101) refers to this problem by saying: “The most
embarrassing problem for anyone attempting to relate Japanese to the
Altaic family or to Korean is the phonological discrepancy between the
former andthe latter. Japanese, especially OldJapanese, basically has a CV
syllable structure, whereas Altaic languages and Korean abound in closed
syllables with a variety of syllable-final consonants”. In a manuscript
dealing with Altaic elements in Old Japanese, the same problem was
The cover term Altaic will be used in reference to the the Tungusic, Mongolic and
Turkic languages. It refers to a group of North-East Asian languages that share a number
of phonological, morphological and structural similarities without necessarily presup-
posing that these similarities are due to common ancestorship.
Ividence and Counler-Ividence, Ieslschrifl Irederik KorlIandl, VoIume 2
SSGL 33, Amslerdam - Nev York: Rodo¡i, 2008, 337-367
pointed out by Miller and Street (1975: 146): “The most serious problem
encountered thus far in developing these statements involves possible OJ
reflexes of pA consonant clusters. J is basically a CV-CV- language; pA
had rather CV(C)-CV(C). If J derives from pA as presently reconstructed,
it has either simplified older clusters or added vowels. (...) hence it will
take a great amount of further investigation to determine what the normal
J reflex was in each case where pA indicates a cluster”.
The so-called phonological discrepancy has the eect of making
researchers turn their attention to other languages and language fam-
ilies with relatively simple phonological systems like Austronesian. The
fact that Japanese typically has open syllables and an uncomplicated
consonant system also leads to the assumption that Japanese has an Aus-
tronesian substratum . It further leads to a number of Austronesian-Altaic
hybrid or mixed language hypotheses, describing Japanese as a mixture
of elements originating from two dierent language families, Altaic and
A serious problem is that the assumption of a linguistic
connection between Japanese and Austronesian is not compatible with
the archeological record because there is no evidence that a substantial
number of Austronesian speakers reached Japan in prehistory.
In the present paper I intend to compare Japanese etyma with a medial
voiced stop to Korean, Tungusic, Mongolic and Turkic forms that reflect
a medial consonant cluster. Tracing back the voiced series in contempo-
rary Japanese to original nasal clusters, an attempt will be made to show
that the so-called phonological discrepancy between Japanese, Korean
and Altaic is only a superficial one. First, I will make a number of obser-
vations relevant for the reconstruction of consonant clusters in the indi-
vidual proto-languages. Next, I will briefly reflect upon the methodology
that I wish to adopt when comparing the languages involved. Finally, I
will gather and evaluate etymologies relating proto-Japanese forms with
medial nasal clusters to forms withmedial sonorant andobstruent clusters
in Korean and Altaic. For the purpose of the present paper, I will restrict
myself to etymologies for contemporary Japanese forms with medial -b-
It concerns exactly the kind of “mixed language” that Meillet in 1925 declared not
to have found. Meillet 1925: 82-83: “Dans tous les cas observés jusqu’à présent, il y a
une tradition continue d’une langue. [...] Si l’on a pu arriver à faire, par la comparaison,
l’histoire de quelques langues, c’est que l’on était sûr que chaque système nouveau devait
s’expliquer en partant d’un système unique.” Illustrating his theory with the example of
Russenorsk, a so-called mixed language, Kortlandt (2000) demonstrates that the concept
of mixed language is a misconception for language shift through imperfect learning.
Hudson 1996: 267-279 argues that archeology provides no support for Austronesian
population movements to Japan.
(<pJ -*np-), -d- (< pJ *-nt-) and -g- (< pJ *-nk-). The investigation of Japan-
ese forms with medial -s(i)- (< pJ *-s(i)-) and -z- (< pJ *-ns-) that reflect
lateral clusters in Korean and Altaic and require some refinement in the
reconstruction of pA *-l- would lead us too far.
2. Consonant clusters in the individual proto-languages
2.1 Japanese
The dierence between the proto-Japanese and Old Japanese consonant
system lies in the appearance of a voiced obstruent series b, d, g, z. There
is good reason to argue that the voiced obstruents were prenasalized in
Old Japanese.
Old Japanese prenasalization can be described as a nasal
onglide preceding a medial voiced obstruent. Phonetically, the prenasal-
ized obstruents are usually transcribed as [b], [d], [g], [z].
The first indication that prenasalization has developed into voice dis-
tinctioncomes fromthe observationthat OldJapanese voiceless obstruents
develop into voiced obstruents in a prenasalized environment. From the
ninth century on, a heterogeneous group of phonological changes known
collectivelyas onbinalteredthe OldJapanese phonological patternina way
that a syllable-final nasal was allowed. Japanese verb morphology shows
the eects of onbin changes clearly. Contemporary Japanese gerunds such
as yonde ‘read’, tonde ‘fly’ and sinde ‘die’ have developed from the Old
Japanese forms yomite ‘read’, tobite ‘fly’ and sinite ‘die’. In the formation of
the verb gerund -mite, -bite, and -nite all become -nde by vowel elision and
in the new prenasalized environment, the obstruent -t- becomes voiced
The second indication is that morphological and etymological bound-
aries sometimes occur on a voiced obstruent, evidencing the contraction
of a morpheme with a final nasal syllable and a morpheme with an initial
obstruent. Examples can be found in internal derivations such as hude
‘writing brush, painting brush, pen’ from humi ‘writing’ and te ‘hand’;
OJ kabi ‘sprout, unhusked ear of grain’ from OJ kami ‘top, head, upper
part’ and OJ ipi ‘rice’; kabuto ‘helmet, headpiece’ from kami ‘top, head,
upper part’ and huta, OJ puta ‘lid’, nazo ∼ nanzo ‘riddle, why’ from nani
‘what’ and -so ‘thing’, nado ‘or something’ from nani ‘what’ and -to ‘place’,
uzi ‘clan, lineage’ from umi, the deverbal noun of umu ‘give birth to, bring
For a treatment of Japanese reflexes of the proto-Altaic lateral, I refer to Street 1980 and
Unger 1973: 8; 2000: 666; Whitman 1985: 7-13; Vance 1987: 108-109, 135, 140; Martin
1987: 20-25; Miyake 1999: 150.
forth’ and ti ‘blood; line’, yagate ‘before long’ fromyami, the deverbal noun
of yamu ‘stop’ and the adjective stem kata- ‘hard’, yugake ‘archer’s glove’
fromOJ yumi-kake ‘archer’s glove’ and originally fromyumi ‘bow’ and the
deverbal noun of kakeru ‘cover with (cloth), spread over, veil’.
Third, a number of modern dialects, notably those of northern Honsh,
southern Shikoku and some Ryky dialects have retained prenasaliza-
tion to some extent. Sendai in northeast Honsh, for example, pronounces
mado ‘window’ as [mãdo] with nasality on the preceding vowel. The
Kobama dialect in the Rykys has kandu for standard kado ‘corner’ and
pangun for hagu ‘strip o, tear o’. In many other dialects, including stan-
dard Tokyo, prenasalization has been lost. However in Tokyo dialect there
is a residue of the prenasalized velar, like in the pronunciation of kagi ‘key’
as [kai] or the nominative case marker ga as [a], with tendency of [g]
to absorb the nasality and to become [].
Finally, foreign written sources suggest that the voiced obstruent series
inLate Middle Japanese (1192-1602) andModernJapanese (1603-1867) was
still prenasalizedto a certainextent. Inthe Japanese-Portuguese dictionary
of 1604 -nd- and -ng- is observed for -d- and -g- in the speech of Kysh at
that time. An 18th-century Korean glossary of Japanese, the Wago-ruikai,
writes Hang˘ ul digraphs equivalent of -mp-, -nt- and -k- for the medial
voiced stops -b-, -d- and -g-. And the Nihon Kan-yakugo, a 15th century
Chinese language guide transcribes Japanese syllables preceding a voiced
stop with a final nasal.
On the basis of morphological, etymological, dialectal and textual evi-
dence it is safe to assume that the Old Japanese obstruents OJ b, d, g, z
resulted from the rephonologization of prenasalized obstruents pJ *np,
pJ *nt, pJ *nk, pJ *ns. Reminiscent of how the Altaic languages do not
allow for consonant clusters in initial position, Old Japanese did not per-
mit word-initial voiced obstruents except in mimetic adverbs. From the
ninth century on, as loans from Chinese began to have a major impact,
the restriction was relaxed and initial voiced obstruents began to appear
in borrowings and in contracted native forms.
2.2 Korean
The modern reinforced consonants (pp, tt, cc, kk, ss) all result from Middle
Korean consonant clusters. At the time the Korean alphabet was intro-
duced (1446) the newly recorded stage of the language, usually referred
to as Late Middle Korean, was characterized by a richer inventory of
consonant clusters than Korean is today. Changes in the clusters were
already setting in and within a century many clusters had developed into
reinforced consonants. The tensity which now distinguishes reinforced
consonants from their plain counterparts (p, t, c, k, s) was still phono-
logically predictable in the 15th century. It was only after the obstruents
which preceded them in the consonant clusters were lost, that tensity
became a distinctive feature. This is why we find MK kaska ˙Wi for K
kakkai ‘nearby’, MK ¨yetcop- for K yeccwup- ‘tell, inform’, MK ˙psol for K
ssal ‘rice’.
The creators of the Korean alphabet did not provide distinct
symbols for the reinforced consonants because at that time they were not
distinct phonemes yet.
The aspirated obstruents (ph, th, ch, kh), however, were perceived as
unit phonemes and were attributed distinct graphemes when the Korean
alphabet was introduced. The aspirated obstruents contrasted with the
plainobstruents (p, t, c, k, s, h), but inoriginthe aspirates were alsocomplex.
In a morphophonemic sense, the aspirated obstruents can be considered
clusters of C + h, but a voiceless fricative *h may not be reconstructable
for proto-Korean. One source for MK h is pK *s, but another source is pK
Nevertheless, it appears that the source of aspiration in Ch clusters
is pK *Ck rather than pK *Cs. Whitman (1999) has presented internal
evidence, restricting the development pK *s > MK h to a special vocalic
environment when pK *s is followed by *-i- and the requirements for
breaking of the *i are fulfilled. From Chinese donorwords corresponding
to Korean loanwords (e.g. OCh. *mrak ‘wheat’ is probably borrowed as
pK *milk > MK ˙milh ‘wheat’), phonogram readings in the Kyelim Yusa
(e.g. ¨hwalq-huy for MK holk ‘earth’), elements in Paekcke placenames (e.g.
tin-qak for ¨twolh ‘stone’), dialectal forms (e.g. dial. tolk for MK ¨twolh
‘stone’), and internal doublets (MK siphu- versus MK sikpu- ‘want’ ) it
can be understood that velar lenition (*Ck > *Ch) has taken place in *Ck
clusters at an early stage in Korean. Other evidence for the reconstruction
of pK *Ck comes from Ramsey’s (1991: 230) distributional observation that
obstruent clusters with k such as pk, tk or ck do not exist in Middle Korean,
except for sk andpsk. Since Middle Koreanhas noaspiratedsilibant (sh), the
aspirated obstruents ph, th, ch, kh and the sk-clusters are in complementary
For Middle Korean the Yale romanization is modified to allow for the now obsolete
vowel written o, and for the obsolete consonants -W- , -G-, and -- . The Middle-Korean
orthographic convention is represented as such in order to avoid taking an a priori
position about its still debated phonetic value. The dots in the Middle Korean words
represent the pitch of the following syllable: one dot for high, two dots for rising and
unmarked syllables are treated as low.
Ramstedt 1939: 17; Yi 1977: 83-84; Ramsey 1978: 51-52; 1991: 230-31; Martin 1996: 36-37;
distribution. Fromsome materials preservedfromthe Silla periodit can be
understood that Old Korean had aspiration distinctions only in the dental
stop *th and the aricate *ch. It is thus safe to assume that the development
of aspiration is an internal Korean process andthat the aspiratedobstruent
series developed out of the reduction of pK *Ck consonant clusters.
Although some medial clusters are probably reconstructable for proto-
Korean, others may be the result of an internal Korean development.
Ramsey has shown that unaccented minimal vowels o and u rarely occur
between voiceless obstruents in Middle Korean.
Therefore it seems prob-
able that some of the Korean consonant clusters arose through minimal
vowel syncope. (e.g. K pakk, MK pask ‘outside’ < *pasok or K aph, MK alph
< alpok with *-u/ok place sux). Other medial clusters were morpholog-
ically generated through the insertion of the genitive marker MK s, e.g.
MK twuystari ‘hind leg’ (< MK twuy ‘behind’ +s+ tari ‘leg’) or through
compounding, e.g. MK ˙han ¨wum ‘deep breath’ (< ˙han ‘big’ + ¨swum
Cross-linguistically clusters are relatively unstable and Korean is no
exception to that observation. Cluster metathesis like in MK siphu- ver-
sus MK sikpu- ‘want’ can occur and the regressive assimilation of aspi-
ration discussed below is a special kind of cluster metathesis. The liquid
phoneme in lateral clusters sporadically drops, as can be observed in the
development from MK ˙alph to K aph ‘front’ and MK polk- to K pak- ‘be
Contrary to the distribution of proto-Japanese and Altaic clusters, aspi-
rates and obstruent clusters do appear in initial position in Korean. Inter-
nal evidence, however, indicates that complex initials are secondary, inter-
nally generated through phonological or morphological developments.
Korean forms with initial s-clusters are often derivations with the inten-
sive prefix pK *su- ∼*so- . The initial s- in MK spolo- ‘be fast’, for example is
a trace of this prefix as is indicated by MK polo- ‘early’ that occurs without
the intensive sux. In contemporary Korean both ‘early’ and ‘fast’ are
represented by the reinforced adjective pparu-.
One phonological cause of complex initials can be vowel syncope.
Words with initial consonant clusters or aspirates are often accompanied
by other phonological pecularities such as an exceptional pitch pattern, an
unusual syllable structure or a special vocalism. Following Ramsey (1993:
438; 1997) verb stems with complex initials that are tonic andmonosyllabic
Ramsey 1991: 221-222; 1997: 137.
For other examples of verbs that include the Korean intensive prefix, I refer to Ramsey
1977 and 1997.
andhave minimal vowels (MKo, u, i) are thought to be createdthrough the
loss of a first-syllable vowel. For MK ˙tho- ‘ride’ and MK ˙khu- ‘be big’, for
example, there are additional phonogram interpretations in the Kyeylim
Yusa that suggest the reconstruction *hoto- ‘ride’ and *hoko- ‘be big’.
Another phonological cause of initial aspirates is regressive assimilation
of the aspiration or h-metathesis. It is the kind of assimilation that can be
seen in the development from MK ˙kwoh to K kho ‘nose’, MK polh to K phal
‘arm’, MKkalh to Kkhal ‘sword’ etc. Making internal andexternal evidence
working in tandem, I assume that sporadic assimilation of aspiration is an
ongoing process in Korean and that it has taken place in the development
from pK *cwumk to MK ˙chwum ‘spittle’(under J tuba ‘spittle’), pK *twopk
‘claw, nail’to MK thwop ‘claw, nail’ (under J tume ‘claw’), pK *konkol to MK
˙ko ˙nolh, ˙ku ˙nulh ‘shadow’ (under J kage ‘shadow’).
2.3 Altaic
It is commonplace in linguistic literature to use the cover term “Tun-
gusic” in reference to both the Manchu and Tungusic subgroups. With
Cincius’ (1949) extensive study of comparative Tungusic phonology and
Benzing’s (1955) revisions, the reconstruction of proto-Tungusic is fairly
clear for plain consonants, but in case of consonant clusters it becomes
more involved because processes of original vowel loss, assimilation and
metathesis can obscure the reconstructions. Proto-Tungusic is particularly
rich in sonorant clusters, consisting of a sonorant (r, l, n and m before a
labial stop) followed by a stop P (b/p), T (t/d) or K (k/g) such as *lp, *lb,
*lt, *ld, *lk, *lg ; *rp, *rb,*rk, *rg; and *mb, *nt, *nd, *nk, *ng (or *). Obstruent
clusters consisting of a stop p, T (t/d) or K (k/g) followed by a dental (t/d)
or velar stop (k/g), such as *pk, *pt, *tk, *dk, *gd, *kt can also occur.
Although medial clusters are reconstructable for proto-Tungusic, some
result from internal Tungusic developments. Some clusters are secondary
due to the loss of a short vowel. Long vowels are relatively stable through-
out Tungusic, but short vowels tend to change or to drop. The consonant
sequence in Ma. nomxon ‘peaceful, friendly’ for example, does not reflect
an original consonant cluster, but it is the result of vowel syncope. The
original short vowel is still present in Na. nomoon and Ev. nomokn and
in the Mongolian loansource WMo. nomuan ‘peaceful’. That clusters also
arise on etymological boundaries can be illustrated by Neg. ejgen ‘breath,
soul’, Ma. ergen ‘breath, soul’, Ol. ersi ‘breath’, erge(n) ‘soul’, Na. erg
‘soul’, Oro. egge ‘soul’, Sol. erg ‘life’ that can be derived from the verb
Yi 1991: 17-18.
pTg *eri- ‘to breathe’ reflected in Ev. er-, Lam. eri-, Orok er(i)-, Na. erisi-
‘to breathe’, followed by a nominal sux pTg *-ken.
The instability of
clusters can be observed in cases of cluster metathesis (e.g. Ud. tegbese-
‘protect’ versus Ev. tepke- ‘encase, cover’), assimilation (e.g. Orok nette-
‘spread out’ versus Ev. nepte- ‘spread out’) and the sporadic drop of liquid
phonemes in lateral clusters (e.g. in Ma. dobo-ri ‘night’ corresponding to
Neg. dolbon, Na. dolbo, Ol. dolbo, Orok dolboni, Jur. dolwo, Ev. dolbon).
Initial consonant clusters are not reconstructable for proto-Tungusic.
Consonant clusters can occur in medial position, but there are no native
Mongolic words that possess the cluster word initially or word finally.
Proto-Mongolic is particularly richinsonorant clusters. Obstruent clusters
are also reconstructable. The sonorant clusters frequently consist of a
sonorant (r, l, n, m) followed by a stop P (b/p), T (t/d) or K (k/g) such
as *lp, *lb, *lt, *ld, *lk, *lg ; *rp, *rb, *rt, *rd, *rk, *rg; *nb, *nt, *nd, *nk, *ng
(or *(g)), *mb, *mt. The obstruent clusters consist of a stop P (p/b), T
(t/d) or K (k/g) followed by a dental (t/d) or velar stop (k/g) or sibilant
(s), such as *pk, *bk, *pt, *bt, *ps, *bs, *tk, *dk, *gd, *kt. Medial clusters
are sometimes formed through secondary developments such as vowel
syncope (e.g. WMo. aluqan ‘hammer’ > Khal. alxan, Bur. alxa, Kalm alx)
or they can develop on etymological or morphological boundaries (e.g.
WMo. ög- ‘give’ + -te- passive >WMo. ögte- ‘be given’). Consonant clusters
are prone to metathesis and assimilation (e.g. pMo *todka- ∼ *togta ‘stop,
fasten’ that is reflected in WMo. todqa- ‘hesitate’: WMo. toda-, Khal. totgor
‘fasten’, Kalm. totx- ‘snare, trap’ versus WMo. tota- ’to stop, establish’,
Khal. togta- ‘stop’, Kalm tokto- ‘stand firmly’) and sporadic elision of a
liquid (e.g. the Mongolian doublet kelbej- ∼kebüji- ‘lean, be inclined to one
The reconstruction of medial clusters in proto-Turkic is reminiscent
of that in Korean, Tungusic and Mongolic in the sense that its cluster
inventory consists mainly of sonorant clusters (r, l, n, j followed by an
obstruent) and that obstruent clusters can also occur. Clusters are not
possible in initial position and they tend to be unstable due to assimilation
(e.g. Karakh. üple- ‘rob’ versus Tuva üpte-‘rob’), metathesis and consonant
loss (e.g. OTk. qapqaq ∼ qapaq ‘a cover’). Although Old Turkic has final
clusters, ultimately they may be the result of secondary developments
such as final vowel loss.
The very existence of pTk *l yielding *l in Oghur Turkic and * in
Common Turkic (e.g. Chu. ul versus Tk. ta¯ ‘stone’) has been called into
Benzing 1955: 975.
Johanson & Csato 1998: 73; Poppe 1960: 83.
question by Street by what he calls ‘the lateral-cluster fusion theory’.
The theory is based on the derivation of Tk. from lateral clusters pTk
*lC, a soundchange that Ramstedt once peripherally mentioned.
evidence for such a derivation can be found in words like Tk. beük ‘cradle’
that derives from the verb bele- ‘swaddle’ and is borrowed in Hungarian
as bölö. The same historical explanation may account for semantically
related verb stems for which a verb with stem-final -- alternates with
stem-final -l-, like Tk. tl- ‘be filled’ versus to- ‘fill, be full’ and Tk. bul-
a- ‘confuse’ versus bu- ‘be irritated’. By reassigning pTk *l to early
clusters of pTk *l with a following consonant (*b, *c, *, *j) some puzzling
phonological doublets in Turkic can be explained. Street further presents
external evidence in the form of Mongolian or Tungusic words that have
an -lb- cluster where Turkic has --: Tk. qauq ‘spoon’ and Mo. qalbua
‘spoon’; Tk. qou ‘poem, song’ and Mo. qolbua¯n ‘verse, alliterative words
or phrase’; Tk. eü- ‘cover’ and Ev. elbe- ‘cover, roof a tent’ etc. Suggesting
that some of these words are early borrowings fromTurkic into Mongolian
and Tungusic or the other way around does not alter the ground of the
argument that pTk * developed from a labial cluster. The lateral cluster
theory for Turkic is only relevant for the etymology of yaburu ‘tear, break’.
The proposed cognates OTk. tel-, te-, Tk. del-, de-, Az. del-, de-, Tkm. de-,
Yak. tel-, tes-, lead to the reconstruction pTk *telC- ‘pierce, break through’.
The Turkic proto-form has been put between square brackets ([ ]) in the
table belowbecause its initial t- does not correspondregularlyandbecause
the -l- ∼ -- variation in OTk. tel- ∼ te- may be due to internal suxation,
like in the case of Tk. tl- ‘be filled’ and to- ‘fill, be full’.
Internal reconstructionleads to the observationthat all proto-languages
involved in the following comparison share the abscence of initial conso-
nant clusters and the occurence of medial consonant clusters as a struc-
tural feature. For proto-Japanese only nasal clusters(*np, *nt, *nk, *ns) are
reconstructable, while the other languages are particularly rich in reso-
nant clusters (*RP, *RT, *RK) and also have obstruent clusters (*PC, *TC,
*KC). Japanese, Korean, Turkic, Mongolian and Tungusic are no exception
to the observation that universally clusters tend to be relatively unstable
due to metathesis, assimilation, liquid loss etc. Since structural similarity
can be the result of genetic inheritance, but does not necessarily do so,
what remains to be done is to check whether regular correspondences can
be established for medial clusters. The only method at our disposal for
this purpose is the comparative method of historical linguistics.
Street 1980.
Ramstedt 1957: 122-123.
3. Comparative methodology
Agenetic argument is a negative argument, what in classical logic is called
a disjunctive syllogism. It means that our deductionprocess works byelim-
ination. One rules out all but one of the logically possible accounts of the
similarities holding between the languages compared, so that only inheri-
tance froma putative common ancestor remains. Thus, a genetic argument
consists not only in the presentation of a set of similarities holding over
the languages compared, it also consists in the demonstration that these
similarities are not likely to be the result of nature, borrowing or chance.
Applying this knowledge to the Japanese reflexes of Altaic proto-forms
with medial consonant clusters, it is essential to set up a methodological
framework for sifting the etymologies proposed by various authors in the
past. Of course, not all etymological proposals that have ever been made
reflecting Altaic consonant clusters are valid ones.
The sifting criteria that I have adopted in order to separate the stronger
etymological proposals from the weaker ones are the following. In con-
sideration of the space at my disposal, I will not go into the sifting details
for every single Japanese entry reflecting an Altaic cluster etymology that
I have eliminated. Rather, I will restrict myself to the illustration of the
sifting criteria with a few examples.
First I have omitted medial cluster etymologies in which the internal
analysis of the Japanese proto-form is in conflict with the external com-
parison. Martin (1966: 250) compares J nabe, OJ nabe ‘pan, pot, kettle’ (<
pJ *nanpa(C)i) with the word nambi in Korean that has exactly the same
meaning and displays a straightforward cluster correspondence. How-
ever, the internal morphology of the Japanese form tells another story.
In Japanese the word is morphologically complex since it can be derived
from na ‘greens, side-dish’ followed by a nasal genitive infix -n- and OJ pe
‘jar, pot’. The final morpheme underlies in a number of words for pots and
containers such as OJ itupe ‘jar for sacrificial wine’ (<OJ itu- ‘sacred’ + OJ
pe ‘jar’) and turube ‘well bucket’ (OJ tur- ‘hang, suspend’ + -n- genitive +
OJ pe ‘jar’). Because the word is situated in the cultural sphere of kitchen
terms it may well be a borrowing from Japanese into Korean. The nasal
cluster in Korean illustrates the still prenasalized pronunciation of OJ -b-
(< pJ *-np-) in the time the borrowing took place.
Second, I have omittedlook-alikes with medial cluster correspondences
that could be the result of universal tendencies in the structuring of lan-
guage. Whether it concerns real imitations of sounds or expressive words
describing the looks of a situation or one’s attitude towards a situation,
sound symbolic words are generally regarded as poor diagnostics of
genetic relatedness. One indication that a given Japanese root is mimetic
comes from the auxiliary -meku that is often found following sound sym-
bolic expressions, such as hatameku ‘flutter, flap’, kirameku ‘glitter, sparkle’,
OJ sosomek- ‘fidget, rush; whisper’, OJ sabamek- ‘murmur, buzz, clamor’,
sasameku ‘whisper, murmur’, sazameku ‘make an uproar’, OJ sosomek- ‘fid-
get, move nervously, rush’, sosomeku ‘whisper’, OJ tutumek- ‘murmur’,
wameku ‘scream, shriek’, zawameku ‘be noisy, rustle’ etc. Starostin, Dybo
and Mudrak (2003: 606) compare J ugoku ‘move, stir, swing’ (< pJ *unko-)
to Neg. ka-pk, Ma. ono-on, Na. n, Ol. nd, Orok ndon, Ev. ka¯n-,
pTg *k- ‘to fall face upwards’; WMo. ömkeri-, önkeri-, Khal. önxr-, Kalm.
ökr-, Mgr. gur-, pMo *ömkeri-, *önkeri- ‘to roll, fall’ and OTk. emgekle-,
Tk. emekle-, Tkm. imekle-, pTk *emgek- ‘to crawl’. The etymology including
a medial cluster reflex would look convincing, if we were not dealing with
sound imitative roots. In consideration of another Japanese verb, ugomeku
‘wriggle’ sharing the same root pJ *unko- and followed by the mimetic
auxiliary -meku, we are dealing with a sound symbolic expression here.
Third, I have attempted to rule out borrowing as an explanation of the
similarity sets. It is not an easy task to make the etymological proposals
free from loanwords. The strongest evidence for loanword identification
comes from the attestation of a plausible candidate for a loan source in a
language that does not belong to the hypothesized Altaic family. Taking
our knowledge of the historical and cultural context into account, the
first donor language that comes to mind is Chinese. During the period of
Han (206 BC-220 AD) and Wei (220-265 AD) economic expansion, many
Chinese artifacts flowed into the surrounding areas, particularly bronze
mirrors, iron, lacquerware, silks along with other bolts of cloths like ramie,
hemp, andkuzu, wine, salt, rice andgrain.
Consideringthe historical fact
of Chinese grain trade along with the reconstruction OCh. *mrak ‘wheat’,
I suspect that J mugi ‘wheat, barley, oats, rye’ (< pJ *munki) as well as its
Korean and Tungusic suggested cognates are borrowings from Chinese.
Therefore, the Korean cognate MK ˙milh ‘wheat’ (< pK *milk) and the
Tungusic cognates Ma. mui ‘wheat’, Na. mui ‘wheat’, Ol. mui ‘wheat’,
Sol. murgil ‘wheat’, Jur. mir-e-i ‘buckwheat’ (<pTg *murgi) mentioned by
Barnes 1993: 198: 202.
Miyake 1997: 205. Miyake considers this a weak case for borrowing since K mil and
OJ mugi1 have nothing in common with the Chinese donorword but initial m-, but in
consideration of the final consonant in MK milh and of the impermissible sequence *ml
that would trigger metathesis in Korean, it is only the vocalismthat remains problematic.
Considering the early borrowing MK salp ‘spade’ from MC *chrap, it can be observed that
Chinese *-r- is not always ignored in imitations.
Martin (1966: 251; 1996: 37), Starostin (1991: 69) and Starostin, Dybo and
Mudrak (2003: 935) will not be considered.
Finally, I have set up semantic constraints for the comparison of the
meanings. In the Altaic dictionary (Starostin, Dybo & Mudrak 2003: 1157-
1158) J hidari ‘left’ is compared to the Tungusic words for ‘west’, Jur.
fu-ri-si, Ol. perxi(n), Na. perxi (< pTg *perkin / *purkin) and to the Turkic
words for ‘back’, OTk. art ‘1 back, 2 mountain pass’, Karakh. art 1, 2,
MTk. art 1, 2, Tkm. a¯rt 1, etc. (< pTk *a¯rt ‘back’). However, the same
dictionary (2003: 535-536) argues for an early south-oriented system of
directions, comparing kita ‘north’ to the Tungusic, Mongolic and Turkic
words for ‘back’. This viewpoint is also taken by Miller (1985b: 143).
If ‘north’ is compared to ‘back’, then ‘left’ must be compared to ‘east’.
Even if the Ryukyu orientation term nisi ‘north’ preserves evidence for an
original west-orientedsystemof directions then ‘left’ must be comparedto
‘south’. Either way, the cluster etymology under hidari ‘left’ is semantically
After having sifted the evidence carefully according to the above guide-
lines, the data are open to phonological comparison. What remains to be
done in order to motivate the phonological similarity by genetic relation-
ship is the establishment of regular sound-correspondences. Although the
present paper examines the Japanese reflexes of medial consonant clus-
ters in Altaic, a regular correspondence of the consonant cluster alone is
not satisfactory. That is why evidence reflecting medial cluster correspon-
dences will only be admitted on the condition that the initial consonant
and the medial vowel of each proto-form correspond regularly as well.
For the sound correspondences required for the initial consonant and the
vowel I refer to the correspondence list in table 01 and table 02 below. The
phonological correspondences have been established by way of a regular-
ity test arranged in matrices in Robbeets (2005).
Given the fact that the large majority of the proto-Japanese roots are either mono-
syllabic or disyllabic in origin, the surviving cluster etymologies will show complete
phonological fits for the Japanese proto-forms, except for the final vowel of disyllabic
roots. Since Japanese linguistic scholarship in many cases, for example in case of the
reconstruction of verb roots, does not agree on the internal reconstruction of this root-
final vowel, a triple phoneme correspondence is often as far as we can get.
pJ pK pTg pMo pTk
*p- *p- *p- *p- *b-
*p-/ *w- *p- *b- *b- *b-
*t- *t- *t- *t- *t-
*t- /*y- *t- *d- *d- *j-
*t- *c- *- *- *-
*t- *c- *- *d- *t-
*k- *k-, h- *k-, x- *k- *k-
*k- *k- *g- *g- *k-
*s- *s- *s- *s- *s-
*m- *m- *m- *m- *b-
*n- *n- *n- *n- *j-
*n- *n- *- * *j-
Table 01. Initial consonant correspondences.
pJ pK pTg pMo pTk
*a- *a- *a- *a- *a-
*-a- *-a- *-a- *-a- *-a-
*a-/o- *e- *e- *e- *e-
*-a-/-o- *-e- *-e- *-e- *-e-
*o- *wo- *o- *a- *a-
*-o-/-u- *-wo- *-o- *-o- *-o- / --
*o- *Ø *u- *ü- / ö *-ü- / ö-
*-o- *-u- *-u- (/-gü) *-ü-/-ö- *-ü-/-ö-
*u- *wu- *u- *ü-/ ö- *ü-/ ö-
*-u- *-wu- *-u- (/-gü-) *-ü-/ -ö- *-ü-/ -ö-
*u- *Ø *u- *u- *u-
*-u- *-o- *-u- *-u- *-u-/ --
*-aCa- *-oCo- *-u- *-u- *-u-
*i- *i- *i- *i- *i-
*-i- *-i- *-i- *-i- *-i- / --
Table 02. Vowel correspondences
4. Japanese reflexes of Korean and Altaic clusters
4.1 pJ *-np- and labial clusters
4.1.1 Phonological distribution
pJ pK pTg pMo pTk
*-np- *-pC- *-PC- *-pC- *-pC-
*-np- *-Rp- -RP- *-RP- *-RP-
1. abunai ‘dangerous’ *anpu *abga *abga
2. kabau ‘shelter, protect’ *kanpa- *xapki- *kapka-
3. kobusi ‘fist’ *konpusi *kombo-
4. noberu ‘stretch’ *nonpa- *nelpu- *nepte- *nebse-
5. omoi ‘heavy, massive’ *onpo- [*amba-] *amban
6. sabiru ‘get rusty’ *sanpu- *septu- *sebte-
7. sabisii ‘lonely’ *sanpu- *sarba- *sarp
8. siboru ‘wring, squeeze’ *sinpor- *sipku- *sibkar- *sjpa-
9. soba ‘side, vicinity’ *sonpa *sepk
10. OJ sobap- ‘frolic, flirt’ *s(u)onpa- *sebe- [*sb]
11. dial. sobo ‘tree(s)’ *s(u)onpo *swupk
12. OJ tabap- ‘cover’ *tanpa- *tepk- *tepku *tebtr
13. tuba ‘spittle’ *tunpa [*cwumk]
14. tubura ‘round’ *tunpu *umbu-
15. tume ‘claw’ *tunpu *twopk [*tüpken *tubra *tubak]
16. yaburu ‘tear, break’ *yanpu- *telpu- *delpe- *delbe- [*telC-]
4.1.2 Underlying data
1. abunai ‘dangerous’ (< ? abu ‘safety’ + na- negative), pJ *anpu ‘safety’
In a small number of cases the sound correspondence is acceptable, but for a single
phoneme not completely regular. Cognates reflecting such a correspondence have been
put between square brackets ([ ]) in the following correspondence tables.
The sources that are given for every etymology refer to the dierent Korean and
Altaic etymological proposals available for the Japanese entry in question. Although
these references often have contributed to the given etymology, they do not necessarily
reflect the same view as I advance here.
Ev. abgara, Sol. awgar (∼aggar), Lam. abgr (∼abgar, ∼abgor) ‘healthy’, Ma.
abgari ‘idle, free, unoccupied’, pTg *abga ‘health, safety’
WMo. auga, Khal. ga¯ ‘strength, force’, pMo *abga ‘strength’
(Poppe 1960: 89)
2. kabau ‘shelter, protect’: kabe ‘wall’, pJ *kanpa- ‘shelter’
Neg. apk, Na. aqp-, Ol. aqpal, Orok aqp ∼apq, pTg *xapki- ‘block’
OTk. qapaq, qapqaq ‘1 a cover’, qap ‘2 gate, door’, Tk. qap ‘2’, qapa- ‘3 to
close’, Az. qap ‘2’, qapa- ‘3’, Tkm. gapaq ‘1’, gap ‘2’, pTk *kapka- ‘cover,
(Starostin, Dybo & Mudrak 2003: 530)
3. kobusi, pJ *konpusi ‘fist’
Neg. kombox, Na. qombo, Orok qom, pTg *kombo- ‘wrist, hand, spoke-
(Starostin, Dybo & Mudrak 2003: 718)
4. noberu ‘stretch, spread, lengthen’, nobiru, nobasu ‘extend, lengthen,
strech, spread’, pJ *nonpa- > *nonpo- ‘make long and wide’
K nelp- ‘be wide’, MK nep- ‘be wide’, MK nelu- ‘be wide’, pK *nelpu- ‘be
Neg. nepte-nepte ‘even’, Na. nepte-nepte ‘even’, Ol. nepte-nepte ‘even’, Orok
nette- ‘spread out’, Ev. nepte- ‘spread out’ pTg *nepte- ‘spread out’
WMo. nebseji-, Khal. nevsij-, pMo *nebse- ‘be broad and long’.
(Martin 1966: 246; Whitman 1985: 242; Miller 1985a, 82; Starostin, Dybo &
Mudrak 2003: 971)
5. omoi ‘heavy, massive, serious’, Sr qnbu-san ‘heavy’, Yaeyama nbusaan
‘heavy’ (dialectal evidence for cluster), pJ *onpo- ‘heavy’
Sibe amE, Ma. amba, Na. amba(n), Ol. amba(n), Orok ambaram ‘very’, Jur.
ambanan, Jur. ambanlar ‘many’, pTg *amba- ‘big’.
WMo. amban, Khal. amban, pMo *amban ‘big, large, heavy’
(Martin 1966: 233; Whitman 1985: 238; Starostin 1991: 255, 268, 277; Finch
1987: 11; Starostin, Dybo & Mudrak 2003: 295)
6. sabiru ‘rust, get rusty’, sabi ‘rust, patina’, pJ *sanpi- ‘rust’
Neg. semti, Ma. sebden, Na. septu-e, Ol. septu-e, Orok septu, Ev. semtu,
pTg *septu ‘rust’
WMo sebte- ‘be stained, dirty, soiled’, sebti ‘defective, blemished’, pMo
*sebte- ‘stained’
(Miller 1985b, 151; Starostin, Dybo & Mudrak 2003: 1230)
7. sabisii ‘lonely’, OJ sabusi ∼ samusi ‘lonely’, pJ *sanpu-
WMo. sarbaa-du-, Khal. sarva¯da-, Mgr. sarba¯ ‘fever’, pMo *sarba-a ‘1 to be
exhausted, weak’
OTk. sarp, Tk. sarp, Az. sarp, Tkm. sarp, pTk *sarp ‘dicult’
(Finch 1987: 58; Starostin, Dybo & Mudrak 2003: 1215)
8. siboru ‘wring, squeeze’: pJ *sinpor- ‘squeeze’
Ma. sibere- ‘twist, squeeze’, Orok sipku- ‘wrap’, siperu- ‘squeeze’, Ev. sipku-
‘wrap’, pTg *sipku- ‘twist, squeeze’
WMo. sibqar-, Khal. avxra-, Kalm. awxr-, owxr-, Mgr. Gura¯-, pMo
*sibka-, *sibkar- ‘squeeze out, press’
MTk. sipa-, Uz. sijpa-, Uig. sipa-, Tkm. spa-, Bash. hjpa-, hpr-, Oyr. sjma-,
Tuva sujba-, pTk *sjpa- ‘knead, caress’
(Starostin, Dybo & Mudrak 2003: 1245)
9. soba ‘side, vicinity’, pJ *sonpa ‘side’
Knwunssep, MKsep ‘eyebrow’ (<nwun ‘eye’ + s genitive + sep(h)), Kkwoseph
‘right under one’s nose’ (< kwo ‘nose’+ seph), K kil sseph ‘road side’ (< kil
‘road’ + seph), pK *sepk ‘side’
(Martin 1966: 241; Starostin, Dybo & Mudrak 2003: 1233)
10. OJ sobap- ‘frolic, flirt’: asobu ‘play’, pJ *s(u)onpa- ‘play, frolic’
Neg. seben-, Ma. seben, Na. sebeni, Ol. sebeni, Orok seben, Ev. seben,
pTg *sebe- ‘have fun’
OTk. säb-, Tk. sev-, Tkm. sv-, Chuv. sav-, Yak. iäj-, pTk *sb - ‘love’
(Starostin 1997: 330; DB 303; Starostin, Dybo & Mudrak, 1221-22)
11. dial. sobo ‘tree(s)’ ∼ OJ soma ‘mountain forest’, MJ sobokor- ‘fell trees’,
pJ *sonpo ‘trees, forest’
K swuph, MK ˙swuph ‘woods, forest’, pK *swupk ‘forest’
(Martin 1987: 529; Starostin, Dybo & Mudrak 2003: 1318)
12. OJ tabap- ‘cover, protect, preserve’: pJ *tanpa- ‘cover, protect’
Kteph-, MKteph- ‘cover with; cover’, MKtep ˙key ‘a cover’, pK*tepk- ‘cover’
Ud. tegbese- ‘protect’, Lam. tepk- ‘conceal in a bag’, Ev. tepke, tepku ‘a case,
covers’, tepke- ‘encase, cover’, Neg. tepke, Orok tupo ‘sheath, cover, sack’,
pTg *tepke- ‘cover, protect’.
(Martin 1996: 99; Starostin, Dybo & Mudrak 2003: 1409)
13. OJ tu ‘spittle’; tuba ‘spittle’; tubaki ‘spittle’; tubaku ‘spit’, pJ *tunpa ‘spit-
K chim, MK ˙chwum ‘spittle’, pK *chwum <? *cwumk ‘spittle’
(Martin 1966: 242; Miller 1971: 98; Whitman 1985: 181-182, 194, 231;
Starostin, Dybo & Mudrak 2003: 1476)
14. tubura ‘round’, tubugin ‘small silver coin’, pJ *tunpu- ‘round, circular’
Ev. umbukte ‘globe, sphere’, Na. embu-embu ‘rounded, swollen’, pTg
*umbu- ‘round’.
(Starostin 1991: 284; Starostin,Dybo & Mudrak 2003: 1460-1461)
15. tume, OJ tume ‘claw’, OJ tubupusi ‘anklebone’ (< tubu ‘*hoof?’ + pusi
‘joint’, cfr. tapusi ‘wrist’< ta ‘hand’ + pusi ‘joint’), pJ *tunpu ‘claw, hoof’
K thop, MK ˙thwop ‘claw, nail’, pK *thwop < ? *twopk ‘claw, nail’
Neg. tipkn, Na. tukpe), Ol. tukpe(n), Orok tupke(n), tukpen, Ev. tipken, pTg
*tüpken ‘nail, peg’
WMo. turuu, taura, tuurai, tuur(a), MMo. turwun, Khal. tr, traj, tur,
Kalm. turn, tr, Dag. tor, pMo *tuwra, *tur(u)u ‘hoof, lower hard part
of hoof’
OTk. tuja, Tk. dujnak, Tat. tojaq, Uigh. tuwaq, Tkm. tojnaq, Yak. tujaq, Kirg.
tujak, pTk *tubnak ‘hoof’.
(Martin 1966: 228; Whitman 1985: 219; Starostin 1991: 96-97, 255, 268, 278;
Vovin 2003a: 22; Starostin-Dybo-Mudrak 2003: 1445-1446)
16. yaburu ‘tear, break’, yabureru ‘get torn, get burst, be worn out’, yabu
‘refuse heap, garbage dump’, yabo ‘unrefined’, pJ *yanpu- ‘tear, break,
MK ¨twulW- ‘pierce, bore’, MK ¨tulW- ‘pierce, bore’, MK ¨ptelW-, MK
¨phtelW- ‘be astringent, have a piercing taste’ (< ? *hu- intensive + *telpu-
‘pierce’), pK *telpu- ‘pierce’
Ma. delhe- ‘divide, separate’, Neg. detpejkin- ‘split’, Ev. delperge-, derbilge-,
delpem- ‘crack, burst, split’, pTg *delpe- ‘split, burst’
WMo. delbele- ‘1 break, crack (tr.)’, delbere- ‘2 burst, go to pieces (intr.)’,
Khal. delbe-le– 1, -re- 2, Kalm. delwl
-, pMo *delbe- ‘burst, break’
OTk. tel-, tes-, Tk. del-, des-, Az. del-, des-, Tkm. des-, Yak. tel-, tes-, pTk *tes-
< ? *telC- ‘pierce, break through’
(Street 1985: 643)
4.2 pJ *-nt- and dental clusters
4.2.1 Phonological distribution
pJ pK pTg pMo pTk
*-nt- *-c– *-TC- *-TC- *-TC-
*-nt- *-c– *-RT- *-RT- *-RT-
1. ada ‘enemy; revenge’ *anta [*acki] *anda *anda *a¯nt
2. OJ adi ‘Baikal teal’ *anti *andi
3. OJ ado ‘how’ *anto *ack
4. azi ‘taste’ *anti *amta- *amta
5. hazukasii ‘be ashamed’ *pantu- *pa¯le- [*bali-]
6. hidaku ‘crush’ *pinta *pine-
7. kudoku ‘persuade’ *kunto- *kwucit-
8. kuzira ‘whale’ *kuntira *kortu
9. OJ odasi- ‘calm, quiet’ *onta- *en
10. odokasu ‘frighten’ *onto- *ecul-
11. sadameru ‘decide’ *santama- *sedki-
12. tazuneru ‘investigate’ *tantu- *tai-
13. tizimeru ‘shorten’ *tinti- *ciculu-
14. toziru ‘shut, close’ *tonto- *tokto- *todka- *tokto-
15. uzu ‘eddy’ *untu *undu-
4.2.2 Underlying data
1. ada ‘foe, enemy, revenge’, pJ *anta ‘enemy’
MK a˙chyet-, inf. a˙chyele- ‘dislike,hate’(one of the four longer verbs with
-t/r- alternating stems and therefore suspect of being a compound:
< ?
achi ‘*enemy?’ + MK ¨et- ‘get’), pK *achi ‘enemy’
Neg. anda, Ma. anda, Na. anda, Ol. anda, Orok anda, Jur. ’án-ta¯h-hâi, Ev.
anda, pTg *anda ‘friend’
WMo. anda, Khal. and, Kalm. and, andn, pMo *anda ‘friend’
OTk. ant, Tk. ant (andi), Az. and, Tkm. ant, pTk *a¯nt ‘oath’
Martin 1996: 12.
(Starostin, Dybo & Mudrak 2003: 302)
2. OJ adi ‘Baikal teal’, pJ *anti ‘a kind of duck’
Neg. ani ‘scoter’, Na. a¯ni, ajgi ‘diver’, Ev. anni, andi, ende ‘scoter’, pTg *andi
‘a kind of duck’.
(Starostin, Dybo & Mudrak 2003: 304-305)
3. (Azuma) OJ ado ‘how, in what way’: pJ *anto ‘in what way’
MK ach ‘reason’, pK *ach ‘reason’
(Whitman 1985: 244)
4. azi ‘taste’, pJ *anti ‘taste’
Ev. amta-, Lam. amt-, Neg. amta-, pTg *amta- ‘to taste’
MMo. amtan, amta, Bur. amta(n), kalm. amtn, Ordos amta, Dag. anta- ‘to
taste’, anta, Dong. anta-tu ‘tasty’, Bao. amtg, pMo. amta ‘taste’
(Starostin 1991: 257, 272, 291; Starostin, Dybo & Mudrak 2003: 297)
5. hazukasii ‘be ashamed, be shy’, hazi ‘shame’, pJ *pantu- ‘be ashamed’
Neg. xal,a-, Ma. f´ani-x´asa-, Na. al,a-, Orok xal,-, Oro. xag,a-, Ud.
xag,a-, Ev. ha¯l,e-, Lam. hal,u-, pTg *pa¯l,e- ‘be ashamed’
WMo. balai-, Khal. bali-, Bur. balsisa bari-, pMo *bali- ‘shame somebody’
(Finch 1987: 17; Starostin, Dybo & Mudrak 2003: 1075)
6. hidaku ‘crush’: pJ *pinta(-)k- ‘crush’
Lam. hênik-, Neg. xijel-, pTg *pine- ‘crush’
(Starostin, Dybo & Mudrak 2003: 1149-1150)
7. kudoku ‘persuade, solicit, seduce’, kudoi ‘wordy, garrulous, fussy’, pJ
*kunto- ‘plead’
MK kwucic-, kwucit- ‘scold’, pK *kwucit-, *kwucic- ‘scold’
(Starostin, Dybo & Mudrak 2003: 702)
8. kuzira ‘whale’, pJ *kuntira ‘whale’
Tat. qurti ‘1 burbot’, qurtan ‘2 pike’, Kaz. qortpa ‘3 beluga’, Nog. qortpa
‘3’, Khak. xorti ‘1’, Shor qortu ‘1’, Oyr. qortu ‘1’, pTk *kortu ‘burbot, pike,
(Whitman 1985: 223; Starostin, Dybo & Mudrak 2003: 725)
9. OJ odasi- ‘calm, quiet, peaceful’, odayaka ‘calm, quiet, peace’, pJ *onta-
OTk. en, Tat. in,ik, Kalm. in,i-, Uig. ink, Az. in,i-, pTk *en ‘tranquil, at
(Starostin 1991: 254, 273, 297; Starostin, Dybo & Mudrak 2003: 302-03)
10. odokasu ‘threaten, frighten’: odosu ‘threaten, frighten, intimidate’, odor-
okasu ‘surprise, frighten’, odoroku ‘be surprised, be frightened’, pJ *onto-
‘frighten, confuse’
K eciru- ‘put in disorder’, ecirep- ‘bewildering, confused, disturbed’, MK
˙e˙ curep- ‘confused, disturbed’, pK *ecu- ‘put in disorder, confuse’
(Martin 1966: 236)
11. sadameru ‘decide, determine’: pJ *santama-, ‘decide’
WMo. sede-, sedki-, Khal. setge-, Kalm. sed-, setk-, Dag. serkin, Mgr. sgir,
pMo *sedki- ‘think of, care’
(Starostin, Dybo & Mudrak 2003: 1222)
12. tazuneru ‘investigate, search for’: OJ taduki ‘clue, track, trace’, pJ *tantu-
Ma. tai- ‘study, learn’, Lam. tatiga¯ ‘tame, make accustomed’, pTg *tai-
(Miller 1971: 99; Starostin, Dybo & Mudrak 2003: 1427)
13. tizimeru ‘shorten, shrink, reduce’: MJ tidike- ‘reduce’, pJ *tinti- ‘reduce’
MK ci ˙ cul- ‘press, squeeze’, pK *ciculu- ‘press, squeeze’.
14. toziru ‘shut, close’: toziru ‘bind, stitch, sew up’, todomeru ‘stop, cease’,
MJ todo ‘at last, finally, in the end’, pJ *tonto- ‘stop, close’
Ma. tokto-, Ev. toktc-, Lam. toktot-, oktot- ‘stop, standstill’, pTg *tokto- ‘stop’
WMo. toda- ‘hesitate‘, Khal. totgor ‘fasten’ Kalm. totx- ‘snare, trap’, WMo.
tota- ’to stop, establish’, MMo. (SH) tota-, Dag. torta-, Urdus dogto, Khal.
togta-, Bur. togto-, Kalm tokto- ‘stand firmly’, pMo *todka- ‘fasten’ ∼ *togta
MTk. toqta-, Yak. toxtc-, Dolg. toktc- ‘stop, end, cease’, pTk *tokto- ‘stop’
(Martin 1966: 228; Whitman 1985: 171: 217; Starostin 1991: 15, 71; Starostin,
Dybo & Mudrak 2003: 1478-79)
15. uzu ‘eddy’, pJ *untu ‘eddy’
WMo. undura- ‘1 to whirl’, Khal. undra- ‘1’, Bur. ondoli ‘ fountain, well’,
Kalm. undr- ‘1’, pMo *undu- ‘to whirl’.
(Starostin, Dybo & Mudrak 2003: 1501)
4.3 pJ *-nk- and velar clusters
4.3.1 Phonological distribution
pJ pK pTg pMo pTk
*-nk- *-kC- *-KC- [*-KC- *-KC-]
*-nk- *-Rk- -RK- *-RK- *-RK-
1. ago ‘jaw’ *anko *elkwul *ege *
2. hagi ‘leg, shin’ *panki *pal(k) *palgan [*balak]
3. hagu ‘strip o, tear o’ *panka- *pengul- *pegde-
4. kage ‘shadow’ *kanka *konkol
5. mogura ‘mole’ *munkura *muktu-
6. mugoi ‘cruel’ *munko- *mu *bu
7. nagai ‘be long’ *nanka- *nolk(o)-
8. nagu ‘calm down’ *nanku- *nalkwo- *aa
9. OJ ogiro ‘vast’ *onkiro *egdi
10. ogoru ‘be extravagant’ *onko- *ö *ö
11.suguru ‘choose, select’ *sunkur- *sogu- *sogra-
12. tagiru ‘boil, seethe’ *tanki- *alki- *dargil *talga
13. toga ‘fault, blame’ *tonka *dogud- *jo
14. toguro ‘coil’ *tonkuro *twong- *toal-
15. yogoreru ‘get dirty’ *yonko- *tesk-
4.3.2 Underlying data
1. ago ‘jaw, chin’, agi ‘jaw, gill’, pJ *anko ‘jaw, chin’
K elkwul, MK elkwul ‘face’, pK *elkwul ‘face’
Ma. ejge, pTg *ejge ‘beak’
Karakh. ej ‘cheeks’, ejek ‘jaw, chin’, Tk. enek, Az. äj, MTk. ejek, enek, Uzb.
engäk, Uig. ijäk, Tat. ijäk, Kirgh. k, Nog. ijek, Khak. ek, Shor ek, Oyr. k,
Chu. ana, Yak. ij, pTk *j ‘jaw, chin’
(Martin 1966: 234, 238; Miller 1985b, 149; Whitman 1985: 246; Starostin
1991: 256: 271, 282; Starostin, Dybo & Mudrak 2003: 510-11)
2. hagi ‘leg, shin’, pJ *panki ‘lower leg’
K pal, MK pal ‘foot‘, pK *pal ‘foot’ (perhaps related with K phal, MK polh
‘arm’ < ? pK *palk ‘(lower) limb’)
Ma. falanggu ‘palm of the hand’, Neg. xalgan, Na. palgã, Ol. pal,a(n), Orok
pal,a(n), Ev. xalgan, pTg *palgan ‘foot’.
MTk. balaq ‘2 trouser leg’, Tk. balaq ‘2’, Az. balaG ‘2’, Tkm. balaq ‘2’,Tat.
balaq ‘1 ankle, 2’, Bash. balaq ‘2’, Kaz. balaq ‘trouser leg from the knee
downwards; bird’s leg from knee to ankle; horse’s ankle’, KBalk. balaq ‘2,
foot sole’, pTk *balak ‘lower leg’.
(Martin 1966: 32 ; Miller 1971: 145; Whitman 1985: 158, 188, 209; Vovin
2003a: 23; Starostin 1991: 13, 43, 68, 96, 252, 270: 279-280; Starostin, Dybo
& Mudrak 2003: 1075-76)
3. hagu ‘strip o, tear o’, hageru ‘become bald, get stripped’, OJ pag- ‘strip
o, tear o’, pJ *panka- ‘tear o’
MK pengul- ‘be separated’ MK penguli- ˙Gwat ‘crack, split’ (MK ˙Gwat-
intensive auxiliary), pK *pengul- ‘separate, split’
Neg. xegde-l- ‘2 tear o’, Na. xoi- ‘1 cut o’, Ev. hc- ‘1’, hegde-li- ‘2’, pTg
*pegde- ‘cut o, tear o’
(Martin 1966: 229; Whitman 1985: 128, 212; Starostin, Dybo & Mudrak
2003: 1178)
4. kage ‘shadow’, OJ kage‘ shadow, reflection, radiance, light’, kagami, OJ
kagami ‘mirror’ (<? ‘reflection’ + ‘look’), kagari ‘bonfire’, kagati ‘Chinese
lantern plant’ (< ? ‘light’ + ‘thistle’), kagayaku ‘shine, reflect, sparkle’, pJ
*kanka ‘light, reflection, shade’
K kunul, MK ˙ko ˙nolh, ˙ku ˙nulh ‘shadow’, pK *konolk ‘shadow’ < ? *konkol
(Poppe 1960: 25; Whitman 1985: 183, 199, 222; Vovin 1993: 257; Starostin,
Dybo & Mudrak 2003: 720)
5. mogura ‘mole’, pJ *monkura ‘mole’
Neg. muktuj ‘short-tailed mouse’, Ma. muqdun, muqtun ‘short-tailed
mouse, mole’ Orok muktuli ‘short-tailed mouse, mole’, Na. muktur ‘mole’,
pTg *muktu- ‘mole’
(Starostin, Dybo & Mudrak 2003: 951)
6. mugoi ‘cruel’, pJ *munko- ‘cruel’
MMo. muj (SH) ‘diculty’, WMo. muj ‘diculty’, mujla- ‘be in need’,
Khal. munla- ‘be in need, be exhausted’, pMo *muj ‘distress’
OTk. buj (Orkhon), muj (Old Uighur), Tk. bun, Gag. bun, Yak. muj, Dolg.
muj, Kirg. muj, Tat. moj, Bash. moj, pTk *buj ‘suering’
(Starostin, Dybo & Mudrak 2003: 935)
7. nagai ‘be long’, OJ nagame- ‘prolong voice’, nagareru ‘flow, drain, run
down’, OJ nagarape- ‘live on, be long’, pJ *nanka- ‘extend in space and
K nalk-, MK nolk- ‘get old, age, be much used’, pK *nolk- ‘get old, extend
in time’
(Martin 1966: 235-36; Whitman 1985: 241; Starostin 1991: 109, 253, 266, 276;
Finch 1987: 11; Starostin, Dybo & Mudrak 2003: 1035-1036)
8. nagu ‘grow calm, calm down’: nagusameru ‘comfort, console’, OJ nagi-
‘(ocean waves) grow still, calm down’, nagi ‘calm, calmness’, pJ *nanku-
MK nalhwo- ‘slow, unhurried’, pK *nalkwo- ‘slow, calm’
Ev. na¯ja, Neg. na¯jakka¯n, Ol. nan-,a, Orok nandi, Sol. nandaxa¯n,, pTg *naja
‘quiet, slow, easy’.
(Whitman 1985: 241; Starostin, Dybo & Mudrak 2003: 987)
9. OJ ogiro ‘vast’, pJ *onkiro ‘vast’
Ev. ed ‘big’, Neg. egdi ‘1’, Na. egd’i ‘1’, Ol. egdi ‘1’, Orok eg,i ‘1’, Oro.
egdi ‘1’, Ud. egdi ‘1’, Sol. egdu ‘1’, pTg *egdi ‘many’
(Starostin, Dybo & Mudrak 2003: 495-96)
10. ogoru ‘be extravagant, be proud, give as a treat’, pJ *onkor- ‘behave
WMo. öj, Khal. ön(g), Kalm. öj, pMo *öj ‘abundant, plentiful’
OTk. öj, öji ‘all’, Yak. öj, Kirg. üjgü, Kaz. öjköj, pTk *öj ‘abundance’
(Starostin, Dybo & Mudrak 2003: 1056)
11. suguru ‘choose, select’, pJ *sunkur- ‘choose’
WMo. sojgu-, Khal. sojgo-, Bur. hunga-, Kalm. sun-, Ordos sujgu-, Dag.
sojgo-, Dong. sunu-, pMo *sojgu- ‘choose’
Karakh. sorut- ‘search’, MTk. sora- ‘search’, soraaq ‘search perquisition’,
Chuv. sira- ‘ask’, pTk *sogra- ‘search, ask’
(Starostin, Dybo & Mudrak 2003: 1303-1304)
12. tagiru ‘boil, seethe, foam’, OJ takit- ∼ tagit- ‘flow rapidly, seethe’, pJ
*tanki- ‘flow rapidly’
Ev. ,alki- ‘be agitated (sea), wave’ Lam. ,al-, ,alqab- ‘overflow (river)’, pTg
*,alki- ‘flow rapidly, overflow’
WMo. dargil, Khal. dargil, Kalm. dergl, pMo *dargil ‘rapid current’
MTk. tala ‘Wellenschlag’, talum, talqum ‘sea waves’, Tk. dalga ‘wave’, Az.
dala ‘wave’, pTk *talga ‘wave, sea undulation’
(Starostin, Dybo & Mudrak 2003: 404-405)
13. toga ‘fault, blame, oense’, pJ *tonka ‘blame, oense’
WMo. dojud-, Khal. dojgodo-, pMo *dojgud- to blame, rebuke’
OTk. joj, joja-, Yak. soj, pTk *joj ‘accusation, accuse’
(Starostin, Dybo & Mudrak 2003: 463)
14. toguro ‘coil’, pJ *tonkuro ‘coil’
K tongkul-, MK twongkul- ‘be round’ (< twong ‘round’ + kul- ‘be like that
(auxiliary)’, pK *twong ‘round’
Neg. tojgulikin ‘be round, Na. tojgokpiã ‘rotund’, Orok tojGolto ‘be round,
Ev. tojollo ‘rotund’, pTg *tojol- ‘round’
(Starostin, Dybo & Mudrak 2003: 1459)
15. yogoreru ‘get dirty, be stained’, yogosu ‘stain, soil, pollute’, pJ *yonko-
‘be stained’
K tekk- ‘be stained with dirt, become soiled’, pK *tesk- ‘be stained’.
(Martin 1966: 230; Miller 1971: 112)
5. Conclusion
Tracing back the voiced series in contemporary Japanese to original nasal
clusters, the following cluster correspondences appear from etymologies
for Japanese forms with medial -b- (<pJ -*np-), -d- (< pJ *-nt-) and -g- (<
pJ *-nk-).
pJ pK pTg pMo pTk
labial + obstruent *-np- *-pC- *-PC- *-pC- *-pC-
sonorant + labial *-np- *-Rp- *-RP- *-RP- *-RP-
dental + obstruent *-nt- *-c(k)- *-TC- *-TC- *-TC-
sonorant + dental *-nt- *-c(k)- *-RT- *-RT- *-RT-
velar + obstruent *-nk- *-kC- *-KC- *-KC- *-KC-
sonorant + velar *-nk- *-Rk- *-RK- *-RK- *-RK-
In the correspondence list above R represents a sonorant (or resonant),
i.e. any voiced speech sound that is not an obstruent, most frequently
n, m, l, r. Capital C represents any obstruent. Due to sporadic assimila-
tion, voice appears to be indistinctive in the original consonant clusters.
Archiphoneme P represents /p/ or /b/, T represents /t/ or /d/, K represents
/k/ or /g/. Metathesis is common in clusters in a way that a sonorant cluster
is a sequence of a sonorant and a stop or the other way around (RP = PR)
and an obstruent cluster is a sequence of a stop and an obstruent or the
other way around (PC = CP). A velar nasal *j is treated as an original plain
nasal followed by a velar stop (< *nK).
The etymological data presented here suggest that it is possible to
divide the medial cluster inventory of Korean, Tungusic, Mongolic and
Turkic into sonorant and obstruent clusters and that the medial clus-
ters correspondences follow this broad two-way division. In the present
paper we have focused on the Japanese reflexes of Altaic clusters. There
is evidence that Japanese has simplified all Altaic clusters, both sonorant
and obstruent clusters, to nasal clusters that subsequently developed into
voiced consonants.
Although the present work has considerably benefited from the mas-
sive opening of new data realized by Starostin, Dybo and Mudrak, the
findings presented here dier from the treatment of consonant clusters in
the Altaic dictionary (2003: 83-89) in a number of ways. First, the focus
of the attention is on Japanese and the ways it reflects Altaic consonant
clusters. Second, a dierent methodological approach is adopted in the
sense that the evidence is siftedmore severely, resulting in a lower number
of etymologies with higher stability in terms of internal reconstruction,
elimination of universals and borrowings, semantics and phonological
correspondence. Third, the cluster correspondence set established on the
basis of the hard core of evidence is straightforward, symmetrical and nat-
ural: the Altaic clusters regularly converge into the proto-Japanese nasal
clusters *-np-, *-nt-, *-nk- and contrary to the suggested reflexes in the
Altaic dictionary no other, more complicated clusters correspondences
appear with the plain stops pJ *p, t, k, with the sonorants pJ *n,*m, *r or
the glides pJ *w and *y. Fourth, the Korean data are scarce, but compatible
because they also reflect clusters. Fifth, I amunable to find indications that
prenazalization in Japanese can be explained in terms of an Austronesian
substratum (2003: 82) or in terms of prosodic factors on the proto-Altaic
level, correlated with voicing in Mongolian (2003: 76-78).
Are the etymological data presented here satisfactory in quality and
quantity? Let us turn to the quantitative question first. We find 16 ety-
mologies for Japanese etyma reflecting a labial cluster, 15 reflexes of a
dental cluster and 15 reflexes of a velar cluster. The numbers of cognates
in terms of individual proto-forms involved and the number of branches
that is covered per etymology is given in the table below.
total etymologies pK pTg pMo pTk
pJ *-np- 16 7 12 9 6
pJ *-nt- 15 6 8 5 4
pJ *-nk- 15 8 8 5 6
Table 03. Number of cognates involved
total etymologies 2 branches 3 branches 4 branches 5 branches
pJ *-np- 16 5 6 3 2
pJ *-nt- 15 11 2 1 1
pJ *-nk- 15 5 7 3 0
Table 04. Number of branches covered
Taking into consideration
(1) the fact that the etymologies reflecting a medial cluster correspon-
dence are only admitted on the phonological condition that the
medial vowel and the medial consonant of the proto-forms corre-
spond regularly as well;
(2) the relative infrequency of medial consonant clusters throughout
Japanese, Korean and Altaic;
(3) the instability of clusters due to sporadic developments such as liquid
loss and regressive assimilation, in a way that it is sometimes hard
to recognize original consonant clusters as such in the individual
(4) and finally that more evidence for the cluster correspondences may
be present in etymologies that do not have Japanese reflexes or for
which Japanese reflexes have not yet been proposed;
one can conclude that the number of etymologies underlying each corre-
spondence, the number of individual cognates per proto-language andthe
number of branches involved in the comparison is sucient to rule out,
with a considerable degree of probability, chance as an explanation for
the cluster correspondences. The quantity of the evidence is too striking
to be purely coincidental.
But what about the quality of the etymologies and the sound corre-
spondences they reflect? In consideration of
(1) the application of severe sifting criteria guaranteeing the stability
of the etymologies in terms of individual reconstruction, universal
tendencies in linguistic structuring, borrowing, and semantics;
(2) the fact that the cognates reflect regular correspondences for four
subsequent phonemes (CVCC-)
(3) the phonological symmetry between the labial, dental and velar clus-
ter correspondence series
(4) and finally, the dierent light thrown on the problemof phonological
discrepancy between Japanese, Korean and Altaic;
we can conclude that, instead of driving us to dierent solutions in other
language families, the Japanese reflexes of Korean and Altaic clusters,
anchor the roots of the Japanese language deeper into the Altaic family.
Whereas the evidence for the nasal labial clusters (pJ *-np-) and the nasal
velar clusters (pJ *-nk-) is relatively convincing, the evidence for nasal
dental clusters (pJ *-nt-) is rather weak because eleven out of fifteen ety-
mologies are binary comparisons and because the Korean cognates are
rather scarce. The Korean reflex of pJ *nt is an aricate pK *c. However
we cannot exclude the possibility that the aricate is ultimately derivable
from a dental cluster (< ? pK *ts). In the 15th century, /c/ was not palatal
as it is in Korean today, but merely an alveolar aricate [ts]. By the 16th
century MK disappeared from the language, a process that probably
made room for the palatalization of the aricate c.
That Korean cluster reflexes are underrepresented in general can per-
haps be explainedbythe frequent processes of liquidloss andh-metathesis
described above that had already set in by the time that the Korean lan-
guage was recorded in an unambiguous way. Probably many clusters
were already leveled when the Korean alphabet was introduced. Under
the etymologyof kuzira ‘whale’, pJ *kuntira ‘whale’ for example, MKkwolay
’whale’ would be an excellent fit on the condition that it preserved internal
evidence for a dental cluster. Liquid loss could also be the reason why a
consonant cluster is missing in the bracketed form pTk *sb - ‘love’ under
OJ sobap- ‘frolic, flirt’.
The mechanisms that made Japanese into a phonologically simple lan-
guage can be found in an ongoing process of cluster simplification. At an
initial stage a relatively rich inventory of sonorant clusters and a smaller
amount of obstruent clusters in Altaic was gradually simplified until
Sporadic instability of medial clusters in Japanese is perhaps the missing link to relate
ke, OJ ke ‘hair’ (< pJ *ka(C)i < *?kanki ) to K khal ‘hair’, K kalki, MK ¨kalki ‘horse’s mane’,
pK kalki ‘hair, horsehair’; Neg. ênnakta, Lit. Ma. ijGaa, Na. sijaqta, Ol. sinakta, Orok
sinaqta, Ev. injakta ‘hair’ (< pTg *xinga- ‘hair’ + pTg *-kta collective sux), WMo. kilasu,
Khal. x´algas, Kalm. kilsn
, kilsn
, Dag. kilga¯s, Mgr. c´irGa¯,. Mogh. qilasun, (< pMo
*kilga- ‘horsehair’ + pMo *-sun body part sux), OTk. qil, Tk. kil, Tat. kil, Uigh. qil, Az. gil,
Tkm. gil, Yak. kil, Kirg. kil, Chuv. xlx ‘hair, horsehair’ (< pTk *kilik< ? *kilki).
proto-Japanese was left with only a limited amount of nasal clusters. The
simplification of the word structure went on internally in Japanese, over
the prenasalized obstruents of Old Japanese to the voiced obstruents that
we find in Japanese today. This does not imply, however, that with the
elapse of time the phonology of the Japanese language became more and
more simple. There were competing phonological forces at work, like the
onbin sound changes that set in around the 9th century, once the nasal
clusters had simplified. Accelerated under the influence of Chinese bor-
rowings, room was left for other complex word structures involving a
syllable-final nasal.
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