« Some linguistics observations while in Japan: Sino-Japanese | Main | Onbin sound changes in Japanese »




Re your last section, this is actually one weird thing about Japanese formal language that doesn't seem to involve dialect mixing as such. All of those verbs (and I can add another, rarer one: tsukawasaru) do appear with /-arimasu/ forms in the early Edo period, but these gradually gets worn down to /-aimasu/ forms (and sometimes much further, e.g. gozansu, gossu). Even after that point, though, the original /r/ forms were still available, and IIRC considered slightly more "proper."

Incidentally, the same is true of the imperative forms /kudasai/, /nasai/, etc. - these were originally /kudasare/ etc. but the /r/ was lost and the vowel shifted a bit.

Re the origin of these words - most of them are not, in fact, something + /aru/, or at least not directly. /gozaru/ is (御座 + aru), /ossyaru/ might be (maybe from 仰せ + aru, maybe from 仰せらる). The other /-aru/ endings ultimately go back to the passive auxiliaries of the form /-(r)are-/ (used for honorific purposes) reanalyzed as quadrigrade verbs with /r/ stems. (The original lower bigrade versions survived alongside these new quadrigrade ones for a good while, though, well into the late Edo period at least.)

So maybe it was something to do with this origin that inspired the shared r-less -masu forms, with gozaru coming along for the ride by analogy ("honorific verbs ending in /-aru/") - or maybe it was the other way around, with the extremely common gozaru getting worn down for purely phonetic reasons and the others coming along for the ride by analogy. If I had to guess, I'd say the latter.


Thanks for thinking along with my ramblings! Fascinating that this loss of r seems to be so late. Now that you mention it it's so clear that these forms are old passives.

And in the case of Kudasaru, I suppose that's technically from kudasu, which is probably an old causative of kudaru with a suffixation of the auxiliary -su, yes?

So, I think you're probably right to suggest that it's no coincidence that the r-less forms spread within the honorific verb system. It would only have to have happened once in one of these verbs to give rise to the rest. One still wonders, however, how it would have happened in any one of these. Every now and then, irregular sound changes of course take place, and it's difficult to figure out why it happened; but it'd be nicer, I think if we could find some kind of solution that doesn't involve assuming irregular shifts... how about this:

Could it be that there were two forms of gozaru that competed with each other? one using the auxiliary *aru and the other using the auxiliary *iru? So you'd have goza-(a)ru besides goza-iru. The goza-iru form eventually won out in pre-masu (and perhaps imperative?) form; whereas the goza-(a)ru form won out in the unmarked stem.

From there the gozaru vs. gozai-masu distribution was interpreted as a feature of honorific verbs and was spread to the other verbs.

I kind of like that idea, but I have no idea if there's any evidence for it, and you'd probably expect actual evidence for it to be present in the written record.


I'm definitely sympathetic to the aversion to irregular sound changes! But I think in this case it's justified and I'll tell you why:
- First of all, no evidence of "gozairu" at all as far as I know (and I just checked a couple of dictionaries and found nothing). That doesn't rule it out as a purely spoken form of course, but...
- There is lots of irregular change attested around "gozaru" anyway:
-- The shift from "goza aru" to "gozaru" is arguably irregular (certainly not unusual for an /a.a/ sequence to do that in Japanese, but since "goza aru" existed for centuries before "gozaru" appeared, it clearly wasn't automatic like OJ vowel merging)
-- From gozaru/gozarimasu we have: gozansu, gozamasu, gozarinsu, gossu, possibly asu (!!)... and those are just the ones I can remember!
-- Also worth noting that there's a parallel gozariyasu / gozaiyasu pair ("yasu" itself is probably originally from "arimasu"...)

Since there is evidence for all kinds of irregular changes to "gozaru", probably because it was so common, for me it seems more likely that "gozaimasu" was a result of that process too than an unattested other form of the verb.

But I also wouldn't want to rule out the change starting in the other verbs, because of the way you see the /i/ in the imperative forms too. Like, if kudasai < kudasare, then why not kudasaimasu < kudasaremasu? Maybe the /i/ forms are somehow a hangover from when the verbs were bigrade. If so, it's a bit suspicious that the /i/ forms originally weren't very common and only gradually became dominant, but I suppose stranger things have happened.

As for kudasaru, yeah, it's one of those ru/su intransitive/transitive pairs. It's not quite regular enough to be the auxiliary /-su/ itself, rather a lexicalized fossil of something that was apparently productive in the pre-OJ days... but it does seem highly likely to be related.


Historical Japanese is pretty fun. Haha.

Thanks for the detailed answer.

It's pretty striking actually how much of the honorific/polite speech has all kinds of highly colloquial contractions that are not actually fully regular in other parts of speech.

I'm thinking, for example, of itterasshai; which much be from itte-irasshai, with the common e-i > e contrations as in ochite-iru > ochiteru; But, correct me if I'm wrong, but the form itte-irasshai does not seem to exist at all.

It feels counter-intuitive that honorific speech would be more prone to undergoing really extreme (irregular) reductions, but perhaps it is exactly because they are part of the highly formulaic speech that is said a lot that they undergo rather haphazard reductions.

David Marjanović

C'est dû à la fréquence.

In 19th-century Russian, "lord" /suˈdarʲ/ had shrunk to a politeness clitic /s/.

The comments to this entry are closed.