Two questions about Japanese borrowings from Middle Chinese

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[This is a guest post by Markus Mikjalson.]

I have a couple of questions about Sino-Japanese historical linguistics, which I have not been able to find an answer to elsewhere. If you have the time, I would greatly appreciate a response.
Modern Mandarin forms with the rhyme -ing regularly correspond to Sino-Japanese -you (formerly -yau) and -ei, the first being Go-on and the second Kan-on. Sometimes there is a Tou-on with -in. In the case of 京, the development of Middle Chinese seems to have been something like /kiaŋ/ > /kiŋ/. With Middle Chinese coda -ŋ regularly corresponding to -u/-i in Sino-Japanese, the Go-on lines up well with the earlier Middle Chinese form, and the Kan-on with the later form.

Two things puzzle me, though:
1. Why did Japanese ever borrow coda -ŋ as -u/-i, when the moraic nasal was an option? Of course, Tou-on and later borrowings follow that convention instead.
2. Sino-Japanese for 力 is riki (Go-on) and ryoku (Kan-on). The development of the word in Middle Chinese seems to have been something like /li̯ək/ > /lik/, similar to the development of the rhyme in 京. But the dating of the Japanese borrowings seems off. One would expect ryoku, the Kan-on, to correspond to the earlier Chinese form, and riki (Go-on) to correspond to the later Chinese. Did Japanese scholars mistakenly classify a later borrowing as Go-on? Or is something else going on here?


  1. David Marjanović said,

    November 24, 2020 @ 12:30 pm

    How old is the moraic nasal in Japanese?

    And if it is old enough, maybe it took a while for [ŋ]-like pronunciations to appear, so that the moraic nasal was considered a match for Sinitic /n/ but not for /ŋ/?

  2. Jim Unger said,

    November 24, 2020 @ 12:34 pm

    1. The mora nasal did not exist in Old Japanese. It was an innovation of Early Middle Japanese, after many go-on and kan-on forms had entered the language.

    2. My article "Chinese Final Stops: A Critique of Vance's Theory" in JAOS (1988) 4:627-631 might be a reasonable starting point for delving into the literature on Sino-Japanese borrowings.

  3. ~flow said,

    November 26, 2020 @ 9:05 am

    As for the observation that "力 is riki (Go-on) and ryoku (Kan-on)", this of course also raises the question how the choice between the -ki and -ku codas where made when the patterned language had just an (unreleased?) -k. I think it has been proposed that vowel harmony may have played a role, which sounds OK until one realizes that most readings don't follow that pattern (e.g. 陸 is りく riku) and some readings run against it (e.g. 喫 has kitsu (きつ) and kochi (こち).

    As concerns the final -ng that turned into a vowel in modern Japanese, I seem to remember that some (Roy Andrew Miller?) thought it derived from rendering it with a nasalized vowel at first, which then suffered denasalization.

  4. Rodger C said,

    November 27, 2020 @ 10:49 am

    What I remember Miller saying is that it was borrowed from a Middle Chinese dialect with a nasalized vowel instead of [ŋ]. I don't know what evidence he had for the existence of the dialect.

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