Re: The rapid … erosion of definition ability

Leonardo Boiko leoboiko at
Mon Nov 17 05:44:36 CST 2014

2014-11-17 9:08 GMT-02:00 Magnus Bodin ☀ <magnus at>:

> Just to clarify. The transcribed form "ji" in the japanese emoji word
> 絵文字 is probably not from mandarin, since 字 is pronounced "zi" in mandarin.
> Is it pronounced "ji" in an other chinese language?

Japanese doesn't usually borrow from Mandarin.  Rather, a large amount of
its vocabulary (about 60%) was borrowed from classical and medieval Chinese
(much like the way that 58% of English words were borrowed from Latin and
French).  These words of Chinese origin are called *kango* in Japanese, and *ji
*is one of them – quite naturally, as the concept of “written character”
itself was acquired from China.

There are three main layers of Chinese loans into Japanese: a stratum they
call *go-on*, which came from Late Old Chinese and Early Middle Chinese
(with a Korean flavor); the *kan-on* stratum *, *from the Chang'an dialect
of Late Middle Chinese; and a bit of Song/Yuan Late Middle Chinese as
*tōsō-on* [1].

The Japanese word *ji *“character” is from *go-on* Chinese, likely
developing from Old Chinese *tsəʔ/*dzəh [2] or *dzə [3].  字 may also be
pronounced *shi*, which is from the *kan-on* layer.

Notice that the Mandarin sound written as ‹z› (in 字 *zì *) doesn’t denote
the [z] consonant but rather [ts] (Mandarin has no voiced consonants like
[z] or [d]); and also that the Jap. ‹j› isn't English ‹j› but the same
phoneme as a voiced /ti/ → /di/ → [(d)ʑi].  But this similarity isn't
because Japanese borrowed from Mandarin; rather, they're cousins to the
same ancestor.

[1] Miyake, *Old Japanese: A Phonetic Reconstruction*.
[2] Schuessler, *ABC Etymological Dictionary of Old Chinese*.
[3] Baxter-Sagart Old Chinese reconstruction.
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