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Japanese and Hakka - Similarities

The language of Japanese today has five vowels. They are short vowels corresponding to the english words, cat, bet, hit, got, hut. By coincidence, these vowels are similar in quality to the short Hakka vowels of the Sa Tdiu Gok dialect which covers most of the pronunciation found in Hong Kong and its environs as a whole.

In Japanese dictionaries, you are able to find that the sounds that hey borrowed from the chinese over the centuries are still preserved through their use in different aspects of society. The three major classification of borrowings are termed Go-On, Kan-On and Tou-On.

On BorrowingComments
GoGo On travelled to Japan via southern Korea around the Southern Dynasties era of Chinese history, around the 5th and 6th centuries, and pronunciations have been fossilised by Buddhist texts. Two famous Japanese texts which were written before the coming of the kana symbols, that used the Go-On sounds are; the Manyoushu (Thousand Leaf Collection) and Kojiki (Ancient Chronicles 712AD)
Kan Kan readings are the most numerous or 'productive'. My dictionary says that it comes from the 'Sui and Tang' dynasties, and pricipally from the capital at Chang An, and purports to be a 'northern' pronunciation. The corresponding time frame in Japan is about the Nara until the early Heian (710-900) periods of Japanese culture.
Tou Tou On readings are from the late till post Tang period until the start of the Qing Empire, encompassing the Five Dynasties period, Song, Yuan and Ming dynasties. In fact Tou On may be called Sou On by some. (Sou here is the Song Dynasty.) These are mainly used for scientific and engineering uses.

In Cantonese like Hakka, the endings of the ancient sounds are also preserved. There are six consonant type endings that occur in both of these Chinese dialects, but in Mandarin - the 'standard' Chinese dialect of China and Han speakers today, four of these have been lost (see examples below).

The Japanese borrowings are testement to this since their borrowings stem from the 4th century onwards until recent times.

From what I gather through reading and learning the Japanese language in a piecemeal fashion, I have found the following:

Commentfinal/initialCharacterHakkaJapaneseEnglishMandarinCantonese
Hakka -t ending = -chi or -tsu endings in Japanese.-t yit ichi one yi yat
fut butsu Buddha fu fat
Hakka ~k ending = ~ki or ~ku endings in Japanese.-k yuk, zuk iku educate yu yuk
lak reki calendar li lik
Hakka ~p ending = ~t~ or ~tsu endings in Japanese.-p hap gat-, kat- combine he, ge hap
lip ritsu establish li lap
Most Hakka nasal ng~ initials = nasal g~ initial in Japanese.ng- nget getsu moon yue yuet
ngi gi righteousness yi yi

Of the three endings, only -p seems to have been changed in Japanese. But there are relatively few words which have -p endings, compared with -t and -k endings. The ~t~ represents the small tsu kana which repeats the following initial of the following Japanese sound and so is not the letter t itself. E.g jikkai = ten times.


The Princess and the P - Why -p is now not seen as an ending in Japanese

Japanese Kana Orthography Part I : Japanese Kana Orthography Part II :


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This page was created on Saturday 3rd January 1998 and last updated Monday 26th January 1998.
© Dylan W.H.S. 1996-1998
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