The Influence of Arabic on Japanese

Tonetus

New Member
Spanish
I came here for similar reasons. I found anta to be related too but also mata as "when" in arabic, which I believe translates into "again" in japanese, so when asking in arabic "when are you coming back", you could replace the meaning with the japanese case and convey the same message. I'll try to research further but I feel like there's more to this connection than chance alone.
 
  • Hulalessar

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I think you have to ask yourself this question: Is it likely, on any sort of contact, let alone minimal contact, between Arabs and Japanese whenever it took place that the Japanese would have abandoned their words for "you" and "again" and adopted the Arabic words? Spanish had centuries of contact with Arabic and has many Arabic words (almost all nouns) but never adopted any Arabic word for "you".
     

    Sepia

    Senior Member
    High German/Danish
    I came here for similar reasons. I found anta to be related too but also mata as "when" in arabic, which I believe translates into "again" in japanese, so when asking in arabic "when are you coming back", you could replace the meaning with the japanese case and convey the same message. I'll try to research further but I feel like there's more to this connection than chance alone.

    Sounds interesting and I hope you'll come back with your results. However, I wouldn't expect too much of it. Such basic words like when, where, what, who, why, again, never, time etc. are so basic that there was no reason for them to be particarly long words - and therefore they are rather short words in most languages. And it is limited how many words you can actually construct out of two to four phonems, taken into consideration that at least one has to be a vowel and in few languages there are more than five of them. So it is a simple statistical fact that a huge amount of words will sound about the same in various languages - so many that there is a high probability that some also happen to have the same or similar meaning - even though they are in no way related.
     

    Hulalessar

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Tonetus should bear in mind rule 5 of the SEVEN CANONS of ETYMOLOGY of W.W. Skeat, proposed in 1879:

    Mere resemblances of form and apparent connection in sense between languages which have different phonetic laws or no necessary connection are commonly a delusion, and are not to be regarded.
     

    Sepia

    Senior Member
    High German/Danish
    Tonetus should bear in mind rule 5 of the SEVEN CANONS of ETYMOLOGY of W.W. Skeat, proposed in 1879:

    Mere resemblances of form and apparent connection in sense between languages which have different phonetic laws or no necessary connection are commonly a delusion, and are not to be regarded.

    Exactly - but I think I didn't just present it as a dogma, but explained logically why.
    Nevertheless, some words DO have cognates in a multitude of languages. There is a linguist in Moskow - I have forgotten his name, but it is the guy who knows at least the basics of well over 100 languages - this linguist has found cognates in a multitude of languages spread all over the Eurasian continent. Top words with the most cognates are words for "milk" and the number "nine".

    So even though we sort of expect that there is no connection between Arabic and Japanese, it would be interesting to know if there really is not even the least trace of a connection. If there were we would probably see it in such words that must have existed in the first languages spoken by humans. So it will be more on the level of eat-drink-man-woman-child-milk-here-there-now-(be)fore than it will be "crocodile" or "pyramid".
     

    Hulalessar

    Senior Member
    English - England
    No one knows when humans first started speaking, but assuming conservatively it was 50,000 years ago that is a very long time when you look at how rapidly languages can change. Irish and Bengali are related but quite different from each other. The furthest we can go back without hypothesising is 5000 years and then only for a tiny number of the world's languages - and even then there are uncertainties about how to interpret ancient texts, especially those not written with alphabetic or syllabic scripts. Families like Indo-European and Afro-Asiatic are the exception rather than the rule.

    When comparing two proto-languages you need to bear in mind that you are comparing two hypotheses which puts you on rather shaky ground. If a language family has only been written recently you cannot go as far back with your construction of a proto-language as you can with one which has a millennia-long history. How valid is it to compare a hypothesis that takes you back 7000 years with one which only takes you back a century or two? You also have the problem that languages borrow from each other. If two proto-languages share a lexeme how can you know whether it is because one borrowed from the other or because they had a common ancestor? You have to be careful not to be seduced by apparent resemblances when what is important is correspondences. Semantics are unreliable - if the word in proto-language A for "rope" corresponds with the word in proto-language B for "snake" it may or may not be significant.
     

    Sepia

    Senior Member
    High German/Danish
    No one knows when humans first started speaking, but assuming conservatively it was 50,000 years ago that is a very long time when you look at how rapidly languages can change. Irish and Bengali are related but quite different from each other. The furthest we can go back without hypothesising is 5000 years and then only for a tiny number of the world's languages - and even then there are uncertainties about how to interpret ancient texts, especially those not written with alphabetic or syllabic scripts. Families like Indo-European and Afro-Asiatic are the exception rather than the rule.

    When comparing two proto-languages you need to bear in mind that you are comparing two hypotheses which puts you on rather shaky ground. If a language family has only been written recently you cannot go as far back with your construction of a proto-language as you can with one which has a millennia-long history. How valid is it to compare a hypothesis that takes you back 7000 years with one which only takes you back a century or two? You also have the problem that languages borrow from each other. If two proto-languages share a lexeme how can you know whether it is because one borrowed from the other or because they had a common ancestor? You have to be careful not to be seduced by apparent resemblances when what is important is correspondences. Semantics are unreliable - if the word in proto-language A for "rope" corresponds with the word in proto-language B for "snake" it may or may not be significant.


    But you do agree, that the basic words of a language are usually pretty short, don't you? I mean, even if we do not know how the first humans spoke, there would be little reason to figure out words consisting of several syllables to start with. Of course along the way some words will be more like descriptions. I mean, even though we do not know that by any proof, there is no logical reason that it would be different - and even in languages today we see that in many of them all names of domestic wild animals are very short - wolf, dog, fox, bird, and so on.

    And with short words there is a high probabilty that some words in different languages may sound the same without there being any connection between them.
     

    Awwal12

    Senior Member
    Russian
    Nevertheless, some words DO have cognates in a multitude of languages. There is a linguist in Moskow - I have forgotten his name, but it is the guy who knows at least the basics of well over 100 languages - this linguist has found cognates in a multitude of languages spread all over the Eurasian continent. Top words with the most cognates are words for "milk" and the number "nine".
    I am afraid you don't quite understand the word "cognate". Cognates are words of the same origin which come from the common ancestor language. That, by definition, requires the existence of that ancestor language, i.e. a genetic connection between the two languages must be established, otherwise even the probably related words won't be cognates. And establishing the connection between "hundreds languages of Eurasia" is exactly the problem here. While such "megalocomparative linguistics" does exist in science, its results so far have been rather humble; scholars may postulate a lot (take the hypothetical Nostratic language family, for instance), but the respective reconstructions are inconsistent (most typically phonological relationships turn out to be irregular/largely obscure/unrealistically complex). There are a lot of similarities observed in apparantly unrelated languages, more than there should be statistically speaking, but the origin of those similarities is unclear.
     
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    Hulalessar

    Senior Member
    English - England
    It is not so much how long words are but how much they change. Two examples:

    Latin aqua has become French eau, pronounced /o/. None of the Latin phonemes have survived.

    Latin filius has become Spanish hijo, pronounced /ixo/. Only the vowel /i/ has survived.

    No way would Cicero have guessed the meanings of eau and hijo. If changes like that can happen in less than 2000 years, what can happen over a much longer period? When it comes to comparing languages in different groups in the same family only a trained linguist can spot the connections. Irish and Bengali are not mutually intelligible to any degree. Even the Celtic languages Irish and Welsh, estimated to have had a common ancestor some 2500 to 3000 years ago, are not mutually intelligible.
     

    OBrasilo

    Senior Member
    Brazil, Brazilian Portuguese
    nn.om said:
    They say 'anata' which means 'you.'
    That's a compound that was originally a demonstrative: a- + -nata. There's the corresponding sonata and konata as well, as well as the interrogative donata, which is the honorific way of asking who.
    Meanwhile, the Arabic pronoun has a confirmed Semitic origin, with the cognates not always having a t, so it can in no way be related to the Japanese pronoun.

    'Deki' means 'smart.' Don't you think it's so similar to ذكي (thaki) in Arabic?
    This is the first time I hear of deki meaning smart in Japanese. The closest I can find for smart is iki. Also, thaki would have become saki in Japanese, or maybe seki, never deki, had it been borrowed, since Arabic th is pronounced the same as English unvoiced th, which invariably becomes s when borrowed into Japanese. Also, you can't have -ki become -ke in sake but remaining -ki in deki, why would the same syllable taken two different changes when borrowed?

    Thanderbolten said:
    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].
    Japanese kotoba is again originally a compound, koto- and -ha, -ha only became -ba because of rendaku (which makes even more sense if you consider that ha was originally pa then fa, before becoming ha).

    Now, one could in theory hypothesize kitab was first borrowed into some Turkic language as kitap and then from there to Old Japanese as kotopa, before mutating to kotoha then kotoba, but the vowels would remain a problem. And the fact kotoba is originally a compound, throws that completely out of the window.

    superherosaves said:
    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.
    Minato is also originally a compound, from: mi- (water) + -na- (possessive particle) + -to (gate), so "water's gate", which makes perfect sense for a port. According to Wiktionary:
    Attested in the Kojiki and Nihon Shoki as 水門.
    Which proves it's a compoint involving water and gate.

    Also, the Arabic word has two long vowels, which I seriously doubt would have become short in Japanese, a language with phonemic vowel length. If anything, one would have expected to see miinaa, but there is no such word in Japanese.

    I think here, just like in the case of supposed Japanese-Turkish relations, there's too much comparison being done between modern Arabic and modern Japanse, ignoring over a millennium of phonetic and semantic changes as well as the original nature of the words being compared. And, just like with Japanese-Turkish, the comparison collapses when even just Old Japanese and Classical Japanese are brought into the picture.
     

    Sepia

    Senior Member
    High German/Danish
    superherosaves said:
    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.

    Even without the explanation of 港(Minato) being a compound word, I would not have been convinced by this proof. I would say it is enough to arouse curiosity and a good reason to look closer into it - but there are lots of similar correlations that do not in themselves prove anything at all - the mere fact that they traded by sea does not indicate that the Japanese did not have any ports before the Arabs came, and therefore also no reason that they would adopt a foreign word for it.

    What I want to point out: A proof can never be superficial. It has to go into depth.
     
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    Hulalessar

    Senior Member
    English - England
    They/them/their was a whole pronoun set loaned from Old Norse, which is to say that it does happen; however, I personally find the Arabic-Japanese connection dubious.
    It depends on how long the contact was and the degree of integration of the populations. Old English and Old Norse were in contact in Britain for a long period. No one knows exactly what happened, but it seems that the Old English speakers were not driven out. There would therefore have been significant communication between the two communities possibly ending in a significant degree of integration with intermarriage. Given that back then there was at least some degree of mutual intelligibility it would not be surprising if there was bilingualism leading to language mixing.

    If there is less integration any influence by one language on another tends to be restricted.

    If the contact is minimal borrowed words tend to be for things for which you do not have a word.

    There was no significant community of Arabic speakers in Japan. The Japanese had ports before any Arabic speaker arrived and did not need a word for port. There was no reason for the Japanese to adopt any Arabic personal pronouns. I have no idea what the Arabic or Japanese is for "date", but if they are similar that is something which would not be surprising.
     
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