What is the Etymology of 「果物」?

  1. last year
    Edited 11 months ago by Lumfish

    Hey there,

    I was reading up on some etymologies, when I came across one entry that just doesn’t feel right to me.

    The 国語大辞典 and 大辞林 state that 「果物」 is a compound of 「木」 + 「だ」 + 「物」 (/ku/ + /da/ + /mono/, literally “tree thing”), with /ku/ being explained as a sound shift from the bounded form /ko/. In support of this, the word 「獣」 is cited in comparison, which is explained as a compound of 「毛」 + 「だ」 + 「物」 (/ke/ + /da/ + /mono/, literally “hair thing”).

    I can accept the latter, but not so much the former. By this explanation, 「木」 has the bounded form /ko/ (from PJ *kɨ → *kə → OJ /kə/ → NJ /ko/), the free form /ki/ (from PJ *kɨ + *i* = *kɨi → OJ /kɨy/ → NJ /ki/), the Azuma dialectal form /ke/ (from OJ /ke/), and now this shifted form /ku/.

    Does there exist any other word where four out of a possible five vowels are interchangeable?

    There don’t seem to be any proposed sound laws that would explain a shift from PJ *ɨ, *ə, or *ɨi → *u, OJ /ə/ or /ɨy/ → /u/, or MJ and NJ /o/ or /i/ → /u/. 「果物」 isn’t a particularly common or rare word, so it shouldn’t have any reason to be exempt from them.

    If 「果物」 were a dialectal form, I would expect to see a more concrete correspondence between /o/ and /u/, such as /kudamunu/ or /kedamunu/, but both these forms are unattested.

    The pronunciation /ku/ doesn’t exist in any other compounds I can find either, unlike /ko/ in 「木霊」 (/kodama/) or 「木陰」 (/kokage/).

    On these bases, I feel that the claim 「果物」 = 「木」 + 「だ」 + 「物」 is untenable.

    But what do you guys think? Do you have any suggestions that might resolve this enigma? ^_^

  2. Zachary

    Dec 2017 Administrator

    I have to admit, you do make a good case as to why the claim that 果物 stems from 木+だ+物 is questionable.

    If we take the etymology for face value, some reasons as to why we have /ku/ instead of /ko/ or /ki/ could include the following:

    • Japanese does have some morphemes that exhibit variation between /o/ and /u/. For example, 帆 /ho/ "sail" and 帆 /ɸune/ (cf. Kyushu /hone/) "boat"; 数 "number" and 数える /kazoeru/ "count"; 軽い /karui/ "light" and 軽んずる "to make light of".
    • It also has some morphemes that vary between /i/ and /u/. For example, 明日 /asu/ and /asita/ "tomorrow"; 口 /kuti/ "mouth" and 轡 /kutuwa/ "bit (for horse)".
    • The word may come from another dialect.
    • Perhaps the vowel changed by conflation with the words 食う /kuu/ "to eat" and 栗 /kuri/ "chestnut".

    Note: Some of the vowel alternation examples are taken from here: https://namakajiri.net/nikki/vowel-alternation-in-japanese/

    I do not have a definite answer to your question, but thought I'd leave you with those as food for thought.

  3. 11 months ago
    Edited 11 months ago by Lumfish

    Thanks for the input, Zachary. ^_^

    Your suggestion that 「果物」 might be linked with 「食う」 spoke to me the most. Based on your suggestion, I thought perhaps it may have been an irregular shortening *ku(w)udamono or *kuwidamono→ /kudamono/.

    However, after a bit of digging, I found that my hypothesis doesn’t quite hold up. The form /kudamono/ is first attested (to my knowledge) in the 源氏物語 2.3.2:


    Because the 源氏物語 was written for an educated court audience, unless /kudamono/ was a very early irregular shift, I find it unlikely that a connection between 「食う」 and 「果物」 would be lost.

    Interestingly, /kedamono/ is also attested in the 源氏物語 2.1.4:


    But whilst /kudamono/ is written in kana, /kedamono/ is written with a single kanji, obscuring its actual reading. Considering that 「獣」 has the alternative reading /kemono/, I think it’s worth asking these questions:

    Is /kudamono/ really the irregular reading here?

    What if the reading /kedamono/ is by conflation with /kudamono/ and /tadamono/?

    Is medial 「だ」 really even an archaic genetive marker, as the 国語大辞典 and 大辞林 state, considering 「果物」 and 「獣」 are the only words in which it ever appears?

    Under this interpretation, 「果物」 = a word with the shape /kuda/ + 「物」.

    The only Yamato word I’m aware of read /kuda/ is 「管」, which would lead to the somewhat strange interpretation 「果物」 = 「管」 + 「物」 (literally “pipe thing”).

    However, in Heian-period Japan, the prototypical pipe would probably be made of bamboo, as evidenced by the 管狐 (pipe fox), which appears inside the summoner’s bamboo pipe.

    I did some research, and bamboo does indeed produce fruit.

    ©Nongamba Ningthemcha 2006

    Bamboo Botanicals says :

    The flowering of a bamboo is an intriguing phenomenon. A phenomenon not because bamboo produces any spectacular flowers... but a phenomenon because it is a unique and very rare occurrence in the plant kingdom. Most bamboos flower once every 60 to 130 years depending on the species!! The long flowering intervals are largely a mystery and still astounds many botanists today with no definitive explanation.

    Therefore, could 「果物」 originally have referred to the bamboo fruit?

    In fact, what counted as 「果物」 to Heian-period Japanese people to begin with? The Ancient History Encyclopedia says :

    Fruit available included peaches, the Japanese orange, tangerines, persimmons, loquats, plums, pomegranates, apples, raspberries, and strawberries.

    We’ll need to synthesize both linguistic and anthropological evidence to continue down this train of thought. ^_^;

    But before that, we should comparatively analyze the equivalent words for /kudamono/ and /kedamono/ in other Japonic languages. I think data from the Ryuukyuuan languages will be most helpful, as they might allow us to reconstruct expected protoforms or attach a date to their coinings.

    My search on JLect unfortunately didn’t turn up any results, but perhaps you might be able to find the necessary data? ^_^

    I’m reluctant to accept that /kudamono/ is a simple dialectal borrowing, both because I doubt the Heian nobles would use a dialectal form before language standardization was possible, and because it is too ad hoc for me without supporting data.

    As for morphemic variation between /o/ and /u/, and /i/ and /u/, I’m forced to reject this as a source for a /ku/ reading of 「木」 as it already varies between /o/ and /i/. Adding /u/ to the list would result in a three-way variation, which doesn’t occur in any other Japanese word.

    What do you think? ^_^

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