What is the Etymology of 「果物」?

  1. 4 years ago


    Dec 2017 Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
    Edited 4 years ago by Lumfish

    Hey there,

    I’m a student currently learning Japanese, and 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 /kudamumu/ 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?

    Best regards.

  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.

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