The Influence of Arabic on Japanese

Discussion in 'Etymology, History of languages, and Linguistics (EHL)' started by, Aug 24, 2009.

  1. Senior Member

    Hmm, I don't think I'm saying something important here but I just wanted to share you what amazed me when I was learning Japanese 10 years ago.

    I noticed that some words in Japanese are very similar to some other words in Arabic. This actually made me think of an influence Arabic had on Japanese. That influence may be ignored because I haven't seen anyone talking about a kind of connection these languages might have in the past?
    I don't know, but let me tell you the vocabs I'm talking about =]

    They say 'anata' which means 'you.' It's used only when talking to a group of females. That means it is أنتن (antun) in Arabic, but y'know, أنتَ الذي قرأ مذكراتي.

    'Sake' is kind of alcohol. The cup-bearer in English is ساقي (saki), isn't it?

    'Sama' is used when calling someone in high position like a prince or princess. Accordingly, when I marry a prince, you will have to call me, "Mona-Sama." Or in Arabic, سمو الأميرة منى: You know the root of سمو is سما (sama).

    'Deki' means 'smart.' Don't you think it's so similar to ذكي (thaki) in Arabic?

    I was learning Japanese on my own and surprisingly some of the first words I learned were these. I'm sure there are some other Japanese words that interested me but unfortunately I think mum got rid of my 11-year-old notebooks the first time I flew to Uni.
  2. Kinan

    Kinan Senior Member

    Interesting, not very close to the Arabic words but they actually might have some connection.
    I ,however , can't think of how could Arabic influence Japanese as they had no real contact between them.
  3. Ghabi

    Ghabi AL/OL/Ar/Zh mod

    Hong Kong
    Jokes aside:D, pick two languages (provided that they have similar phonetic structures, e.g. polysyllabic) and you are almost bound to "discover" this kind of look-alikes ("false cognates", some might say).

    It's just a matter of probability (do the math if you feel like;)). The Mbabaram language (an aboriginal Australian language) is well known (if it's known at all) for having the word dog, which means, well what else, "dog".

    I bet that many here have wondered about the connection between "earth" and ارض. But the truth might be (as truth often is) a bit anti-climax: just a coincidence.
  4. Anatoli Senior Member

    Melbourne, Australia
    Native: русский (Russian), home country: English
    Japanese is hardly related to any language, the most influence is from Chinese, later some Portuguese and Spanish, later English and some German and French. Of course, there are borrowings from many languages, including Arabic, which are rendered phonetically but adjusted to the Japanese phonetic system. So الله becomes Arraafu or Arraa (アッラーフ or アッラー) and إسلام becomes Isuramu (イスラム).

    أنت and あなた (anata) and others are indeed very similar. It never occurred to me. :)

    [Off topic part about 'bad' snipped. It's Persian bad and it's been discussed at least 20 times in EHL :)
    Frank, moderator]
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 29, 2009
  5. Faylasoof Senior Member

    Plato's Republic
    English (UK) & Urdu (Luckhnow), Hindi
    Yes! But the angels were invented much earlier!

    I agree! Jocularity aside, this has been much discussed and there are many examples of false cognates.

    We have a thread on this! Just search. Derived from Old English, here.
  6. Faylasoof Senior Member

    Plato's Republic
    English (UK) & Urdu (Luckhnow), Hindi
    Seems like a reasonable assumption. However, there is a possible route by which there might have been some contact between Arabic and Sino-Japanese languages and that is via the small but old Chinese (Han) Muslim community – the descendents of Arab and / or Muslim traders who might have known Arabic (not sure about this).

    There is as yet no evidence I’ve found for this community maintaining the Arabic language for any given time to even have a chance for any influence on home ground, let alone Japan.
    Our Chinese colleagues here can perhaps shed more light on this.

    BTW, Ibn Batuta did spend some time in south east China, married locally and had children. His present-day descendents can still be found and according to Tim Mackintosh-Smith (author of Travels with a Tangerine and translator of Travels of Ibn Battutah), they and the Chinese Muslim community have recenty rediscovered the joys of learning Arabic!
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 29, 2009
  7. Frank06

    Frank06 Senior Member

    Nederlands / Dutch (Belgium)

    We moved the thread to EHL. Though the jokes were funny, I deleted them. Sorry for that.

    The topic is influence of Arabic on Japanese. Please stick to that topic.

    Otherwise said, this thread is not about Arabic loans in IE languages, nor in Chinese (and yes, we are aware of the tremendous influence of Chinese on Japanese).
    I think that these topics are interesting and that they deserve their own threads.

    I moved a few posts on Chinese and Arabic to this new thread.
    We already have a thread on earth.

    Moderator EHL
    Last edited: Aug 29, 2009
  8. Frank06

    Frank06 Senior Member

    Nederlands / Dutch (Belgium)
    It's been mentioned a few times already in connection with this kind of questions, but it's not bad to look at these two (almost classic by now) texts:
    1. Donal Ringe: On calculating the factor of chance in language comparison‎
    2. Mark Rosenfelder: How likely are chance resemblances between languages? - Quite likely, really. A statistical investigation.


    Last edited: Aug 29, 2009
  9. phosphore Senior Member

  10. Frank06

    Frank06 Senior Member

    Nederlands / Dutch (Belgium)
    Yes, it is. This is a linguistics forum for everybody who's got a question about historical, comparative and general linguistics.
    Is that a problem?

    In one week, we had the occasion to discuss two common questions:
    1. "X is the oldest language" and
    2. "Is language X related to language Y" (or "Did language X influence language Y") on the basis of a few random words which look similar."

    These questions pop up regularly in almost every single message board which discusses language. Which means that this kind of topics need to be addressed once in a while, and that they need to be repeated, once in a while.
    These questions give us the opportunity to write about common, often naive, misconceptions people have about historical linguistics, misconceptions which are incredible persistent.
    The replies to these questions can give food for thought about concepts quite a lot of people take for granted.

    And as a surplus, we had us an interesting new thread about Chinese and Arabic cultural and language(?) contact.

    Not bad, is it?


  11. phosphore Senior Member

    It is just symptomatic that both of these threads, as well as numerous claims in some other topics, are about Arabic having a privileged place in the world languages constelation and influencing like indigenous languages of the Pacific. To talk about some Arabic and Japanese basic vocabulary "cognates" is not bad, though it seems pretty much non-sense to me, but not pointing out that these "cognates" do not need to be there through the Arabic influence on Japanese but maybe it was the other way round - that is bad, actually.
  12. I am ignorant about the Arabic and Japanese languages, but there is a piece of inescapable logic that can be applied to the situation.

    If language A and language B have words in common, then it is as valid to theorise that B influenced A as that A influenced B; or indeed, that neither influenced the other but that the similarities are serendipitous.

    Therefore, unless there is evidence of either Arabic or Japanese influencing the other, all three of the following theories are valid:

    1. That Japanese influenced Arabic;

    2. That Arabic influenced Japanese;

    3. That the similarities are the purest coincidence and have nothing to do with influence either way.
  13. Flaminius

    Flaminius coclea mod

    capita Iaponiae
    日本語 / japāniski / יפנית
    The word anata is a second person singular demonstrative that applies both to men and women. If you want to compare Japanese demonstratives with Arabic ones, you should take into consideration other forms in both languages.

    Arabic (second persons male female; singular and plural forms):
    anta, anti
    antum, antunna

    It is obvious that the base ant- gets suffixes to express different numbers and genders.

    Now, a few words about Japanese demonstratives.
    Japanese have many personal demonstratives that were clearly general nouns. One of them is anata. First, it was "far away" and "far back." Otherwise said, it started out as a reference to a time or a place far away from the speaker. The "far" sense later developed into a honorific reference to third persons. The earliest use of anata as the second person demonstrative is from the mid 18th century.

    Before anata supplanted, the second person was sonata. The first person was konata. As you can see, the demontratives were formed by attaching a prefix to -nata, which is "side" or "place."

    The prefixes don't have handy one-word translations in English. Japanese demonstratives system hinges on the concept that all objects and ideas relevant to the conversation are either 1. more relevant or closer to the speaker, 2 more relevant or closer to the listener, or 3 more relevant or closer to neither. At a first glance it looks similar to categorisation by I, you and them but it is not necessarily so.

    Things that are closer to the speaker are marked by the prefix ko-. Kore is "this" as a noun, referring to an object in front of the speaker. If the object is spatially closer to the listener, it is referred to as sore by the speaker. Now I think the pattern is clear. A thing closer to konata (I) or in the speaker's vicinity (koko) is kore and what's closer to sonata (you) is sore. The third prefix a- makes are (that thing over there), ano (of that thing over there), achira (there) and so on; all referring to ideas and objects not immediately related to the speaker or the listener. In fact there is a forth prefix do- to form interrogative words such as dore (what), dono (which) and doko (where). Items with these prefixes are commonly called kosoado words. [Esperanto has a similar and more organised system for deriving demonstratives.]

    Coming back to the comparison with the Arabic second person masculine singular, we can see that anata is part of a very different morphological system. If anata and anta were related, I'd expect a word like *konta for the Arabic first person singular.

    The general Japanese word for alcoholic drinks is sake. The specific reference to "rice wine" is a derived sense. Anyway, the Arabic word sāqī can be compared with more similar words such as saki "cape" and saki "tearing up" (no pronunciation difference; Japanese has a awful lot of homonyms). :)

    The use of -sama as a suffix bears similarity with the Arabic word. The original, much older use of the word is an independent noun meaning "appearance."

    The smart sense is a very modern derive meaning. Literally "come (ki) out (de)", the verb dekiru is originally "emerge," "created," "born", "happen."

    Japanese has a very short recorded history compared to many major languages and language families discussed in this EHL forum. Still, I believe we know enough about it to demonstrate that these for cases are chance coincidences.

    I know the burden of proof is squarely on those who claim connections between Japanese and Arabic. I took it nonetheless because I have heard anata-anta connection so many times that I decided it is worth a while to mention that a good joke is not always a serious linguistic argument.
  14. sokol

    sokol Senior Member

    Vienna, Austria; raised in Upper Austria
    Austrian (as opposed to Australian)
    The standard theory as far as Japanese is concerned is that it is a language isolate, not closer related to another language or language group, but there's also the Altaic theory (stating that Japanese were in fact, historically, an Austronesian language "re-invented" through Altaic influence into a new linguistic system which doesn't fit in into any language family); we've had that topic before e. g. in the continental Japanese thread, also I've dug up some article about this about a year ago (posted in the Japanese-Turkish thread).

    Chinese influence only came much later, as well as influence from many other languages. I think it is safe to assume that mutual influence between Arabic and Japanese has been minimal and may be limited almost exclusively to loans since the 20th century; some minimal influence might have happened before but I cannot imagine how there could have been any significant influence - in either direction.
  15. Faylasoof Senior Member

    Plato's Republic
    English (UK) & Urdu (Luckhnow), Hindi
    Precisely my sentiments Flaminius! Thanks for this detailed comparison!
    Whether one likes it or not, and as languages go, Arabic is a very important language. For us in the East it occupies more or less the same position as Latin in the West in the way it has influenced many languages, particularly via its vocabulary. Of course this has a lot to do with the spread of Islam to various parts of Asia; Central, South and South East. So Arabic has ended up influencing the indigenous languages of the Pacific, e.g. Indonesian, though no evidence for any influence on Japanese in ancient times.
    Given that Japan was an isolated country for centuries - a point I make in the other thread too- and most likely had no contact with pre-Islamic, or more precisely peri-Islamic Arabs, by which time the Arabic language was already well formed, I would imagine that any possible Japanese influence on Classical Arabic would have to be restricted to and imagined via some long-distance, ethereal or telepathic communication! There is as yet no solid evidence that such phenomena actually work, though it may be delightful to dream about them.
    I too feel that any supposed influence is restricted to loan words and is of recent origin.
    KB, Aristotelian logic is a great tool but quite obviously it is as good a tool as the parameters it is dealing with.
    The points you make have more or less been answered given the views put forward by Anatoli, Flaminius, Sokol and even yours truly.

    Just to emphasize, there seems to be is no evidence that the Japanese ever traded with Ancient Arabia or the other way round. Trade (or conquest) was the way earlier cultures and linguistic groups came into contact with each other, an essential prerequisite for significant mutual influence. To my knowledge, there is not even any mention of a land called Japan in Classical Arabic -the converse may also be true, but I know no Japanese- even though both India and China get a mention. In fact, with India there was quite a trade in pre-Islamic times as proven by the presence of verbs and adjectives associated with it.
  16. phosphore Senior Member

    Quite funny I must say. Do you dream about such "ethereal or telepathic" influence of Arabic on Japanese?

    I feel like I should point out that if X was in contact with Y, and not through "ethereal or telepathic" communication forms, then Y would have been in contact with X, too.
  17. sokol

    sokol Senior Member

    Vienna, Austria; raised in Upper Austria
    Austrian (as opposed to Australian)
    (Mod-dish note :))
    Oh but I am quite sure that it was meant to be funny. :)

    However, guys, and I'm addressing this line to all of you, please keep jokes out of this discussion no matter how funny they might be.

    Quite so.

    But please let's not focus on ethereal or telepathic communication here - unless someone can offer hard facts which prove that they exist. ;)
  18. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    Yes. I think it would have been possible for Arabic to influence Japanese in a roundabout way, via other East Asian languages. Although the Arabic language never spread beyond India, as far as I know, Islam did go as far as Indonesia, so no doubt some East Asian languages have a couple of borrowings from Arabic.

    So, some distant influence of Arabic on Japanese is not altogether implausible. But it would have to be established first. As far as the correspondences put forward by are concerned, Flaminius has shown convincingly that they are coincidental.

    And I'd like to add that even between languages that are known to have influenced each other there can be chance correspondences. A well-known example are the Japanese and Portuguese words for "thank you", arigatô and obrigado.
  19. XiaoRoel

    XiaoRoel Senior Member

    Vigo (Galiza)
    galego, español
    Si alguna relación hay entre el árabe y el chino (o el coreano, o el japonés) es más o menos reciente y por intermedio de otras lenguas (español, portugués, inglés, malayo). No se pueden buscar cinco pies a un gato.
  20. Polyglotta New Member

    I am afraid you'll perhaps be frustrated by my reply but please don't take it personal.
    The directional noun(!) anata (あなた・貴方)is a compound form meaning originally "that person" , an old form is sonata(そなた). And it's definitely not used only to girls.
    The root of sake さけ(酒) is saka-さか

    sama(さま・様)is not used only to nobility, but everybody is adressed with this word in the address on envelopes.
    Is Mona- Japanese? The sound mona is very un-Japanese. 
    Where did you find the explanation for deki as "smart"? Did you mean deki no ii(出来の良い)"having good・fine results? In this combination deki means "outcome".

    There exists extremely few material indicating any influence in historical times from Arabic onto Japanese. There is almost no region in Eurasia which might not have had some historic relation with Japan. Just consider that Japan is a cul-de-sac of - say - the Silk Road. You find artefacts from as far away from Japan as Persia in the SjoosooiN 正倉院. The most typical musical instrument, the kötö, comes in all probability from the same root as the words guitar ~κυθαρα~ sithar. There are some family names which sound very orientalisch (Saburi(佐分利)would be such an example)
  21. Fockers New Member

    Is there anyone still following this question?

  22. Daniil New Member

    All the languages in the world come from the same source.
  23. Hulalessar

    Hulalessar Senior Member

    English - England
    No none knows if this is the case or not.
  24. mataripis

    mataripis Senior Member

    arab and hebrew came from aramaic. i believe, aramaic influenced many modern languages.
  25. Daniil New Member

    I would like to add one more fact. The Arabic word MINA for "port" is very similar to the Japanese word MINATO for "port". This fact needs to be explained. In addition, it is important to find out the original meaning of the words and their etymology.
    Last edited: Jan 11, 2013
  26. Senior Member

    I'm happy that some people don't think I've asked a stupid question there.

    I must do some kind of contrastive study between Arabic and Japanese when my Japanese improves
  27. Senior Member

    yes I thought minato sounds similar to minaa' too
    Last edited: Feb 21, 2013
  28. rayloom

    rayloom Senior Member

    Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
    Arabic (Hijazi Arabic)
    Not quite!
    Not to venture too far from the main topic:
    -Arabic, Hebrew and Aramaic are closely related languages, all West Semitic languages. There was also a lot of mutual influence in ancient up until modern times.
    -As much as I doubt a direct influence of Arabic on Japanese (or vice versa), I would also doubt (even more actually) a direct influence of Aramaic on Japanese.
  29. tFighterPilot Senior Member

    Israel - Hebrew
    Even though the Aramaic (Syriac) alphabet got as far as Mongolia.
  30. Abu Rashid

    Abu Rashid Senior Member

    Melbourne, Australia
    Australian English
    This is just a ludicrous claim. Arabic even today retains more ancient Semitic phonetic and grammatical features than Aramaic did 3000+ years ago. The idea Arabic came from Aramaic indicates a complete lack of knowledge about the Semitic languages.
  31. Abu Rashid

    Abu Rashid Senior Member

    Melbourne, Australia
    Australian English
    Why does this need to be explained? Co-incidental word correspondences between different languages are far more common than you might think.
  32. Daniil New Member

    Another example: TORY “bird” in Japanese and TAYR "bird" in Arabic.
    Last edited: Feb 22, 2013
  33. Daniil New Member

    Another example: TORY “bird” in Japanese and TAYR "bird" in Arabic.
    Last edited: Feb 22, 2013
  34. killerbee256 Senior Member

    American English
    My knowledge of East Asia is not very good, did any Arab traders reach japan in the middle ages?
    Last edited: Feb 22, 2013
  35. rayloom

    rayloom Senior Member

    Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
    Arabic (Hijazi Arabic)
    Arab traders have reached East Asia quite early on in the Middle Ages.
    I'm not sure how much contact there was with Japan. This book (page 43) talks about how Japan was "tangentially" touched by the Arab trade, as evidenced by 8th century Abbasid earthenware uncovered in Nara.

    As for the rest of the region:
    Here you can find out more about the early contacts between the Arabs and Korea:

    Here's the wikipedia entry on the spread of Islam in Indonesia and Southeast Asia:
  36. superherosaves New Member

    Indian Urdu & American English
    Is anyone else not freaked out that the indigenous Australians also used the word Dog!
  37. killerbee256 Senior Member

    American English
    It is just a coincidence, the older English word for "dog" is hound. It has been talked about these forums before but these coincidences are common between unrelated languages.
  38. Sepia Senior Member

    High German/Danish
    That would freak me out even more than that Japanese and Arabic have similar words for "port". In prehistoric times they have been separated from the rest of Mankind than any of the others have. However, so have the zoology of their continent. What kind of "dogs" would they have had to use the term "dog" for?

    But there are two things we should not forget: The two words that have the most cognates worldwide (according to some Russian professor - I forgot his name) are the words for "milk" and for the number "nine". Personally I am not really surprised because basic words like "food", "milk", "man", "child", are words everybody needed and have been used by humans probably as long as they had a language. The magic number "nine" may surprise us a bit more because it canot have spread any earlier than humans were able to count.

    On the other hand: Most of the words we are talking about here are one syllable words. Technically there is a limit to how many words you can make out of approx. 50 phonems of which only 7 or 8 can be considered vowels. (Yes, I am aware that in some languages it is possible to make words without vowels at all, but in a lot, you can't). So it may also be a bit like when composer A claims that composer B stole a sequence out of his music, without taking into consideration that if you compare all songs in a Top 100 Chart, mathematically at least two must have some four to six notes in exactly the same combination. Logically there is also a limit to the number of combinations you can make with a tone scale of eight notes.
  39. JustKate

    JustKate Moderate Mod

    Freaked out? No. It's kind of cool, though. It's probably a coincidence, as Killerbee and others have pointed out. If anybody has any real evidence aside from the coincidence of a few words here and there, and I'd love to see it.
  40. إسكندراني

    إسكندراني Senior Member

    أرض الأنجل
    عربي (مصر)ـ | en (gb)
    The Arabs had extensive contact with - and settling in - china. I don't know about japan though. Not enough to influence their language as far as I can tell.

    as for 'dog', it is interesting that etymonline has no suggestion for where this word came from. It is meant to be 'indigenous' to the british isles.
  41. superherosaves New Member

    Indian Urdu & American English
    I agree with you Iskandarani. The Arabs referred to the land mass east of India as Ṣīn. There are even Chinese Muslims in the northern frontier.
  42. origumi Senior Member

    Also Jewish merchants of the time, the Radhanites, who were apparently close culturally to the Arab world, and are known to have traded between most of Europe, most of the Arab world, towards India and China, are not mentioned as reaching Japan.
  43. superherosaves New Member

    Indian Urdu & American English
    I think the coffin has been nailed as to whether or not the Arabs ever Traded with the Japanese:

    "A 2005 piece in the Hankyoreh Shinmun by Professor Jeong Su-il looked at the interaction between Koreans and Muslims during the Goryeo era (936-1392)." which proves that nearby Korea was in contact,
    Tangentially, the trade also touched Japan, as evidenced by the discovery, at Old Port Hakata on Kyushu and at the ancient Nara capital, of ceramic shards linked with the late 8th-century Islamic Abbasid empire, with its capital in Baghdad," which proves that Japan was also in contact.

    The fact that the two cultures traded by sea gives evidence for the hypothesis that 港(Minato) was borrowed from the Arabic ميناء(Meenaa'), meaning port. I wouldn't really call this a false-cognate and would conjecture that a couple of other terms were also borrowed from the Arabs.

  44. إسكندراني

    إسكندراني Senior Member

    أرض الأنجل
    عربي (مصر)ـ | en (gb)
    Two cultures being in contact is no proof for etymology. The japanese and the arabs both had ports before they met each other.

    in fact, i doubt the word ميناء is of original arabic origin.
  45. rbrunner Senior Member

    German - Switzerland
    ... and just some broken shards somewhere is not even a real proof of contact, if you ask me. The Koreans might have sold to Japanese what they themselves had bought from Arabs, right?
  46. ProfItroll New Member

    French - France
    Well, I think it's quite funny, and interesting, to note that in Arabic, "he lived/inhabited" is "sakana," which means "fish" in Japanese. Did the Japanese hear about Prophet Jonah, also known as Yunus? After all, didn't he stay in a big fish?
  47. Finland Senior Member

    These similarities are of course just coincidences, but sometimes indeed funny ones. This reminds me of something completely off-topic, but I'll mention it here anyway: There's a Palestinian band called Fish Samak فيش سمك, which of course means "There's no fish", but they use it because of the funny coincidence that the English "fish" is سمك in Arabic...

  48. Thanderbolten Banned

    Persian, Arabic - Iran
    I would like to add that if I did not know better (maybe I don't?) then the native Japanese word for "word" [ことば, kotoba] is a cognate, or at least very similar, to the Arabic word for "book" [كتاب, kitab]. They certainly convey some of the same meaning here. There certainly is something weird about Japanese and Arabic, but one is an isolated Altaic family and another is Afroasiatic, so somewhat impossible.

    Imagine if Japanese is actually Semitic? :eek: One of the lost tribes of Israel?:p
  49. MatheusMiotto

    MatheusMiotto New Member

    Portuguze BZ
    Actually this can be possible. The very first people, living in Japan were the tribe AINU They still exist as gipsy in few number over China. And their language is a very old PERSIAN > is proven that 99% of legit full japanese have AINU DNA. And a interesting story about them in Japan. There a legend that Jesus Christ past all the of teenage years til the 30s together them in Japan,.

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