On Wed, 4 Jul 2001, Stephen Higa wrote:
> Well, I'm just wondering...I mean, I'm somewhat familiar with the
> linguistic periods in Europe that one has to know to do the medieval
> and renaissance music I'm interested in (i.e. Occitan, Iberian
> languages, English, French, Arabic, Hebrew), but I don't know about
> Japanese linguistics aside from what one gets when one speaks a
> little of it conversationally (i.e., not much). I thought perhaps
> this would be a good place to ask, because linguistics texts can be
> overwhelming when jumping in cold turkey.
> I don't want to dig myself any deeper in this than I am already, but
> as for the g and h thing, sometimes distinct production mechanisms can
> make little difference in a consonant shift, like the one from j/g
> (sounded like modern French "j" in medieval Spanish) to a harsh h in
> modern Spanish. I was just trying to find out why they say modern
> japanese h's used to be p's when it doesn't seem like there should be
> a relationship between the two. Do you actually know why?
I would suggest you go ahead and get the suggested reading material or
take a course on linquistics--Japanese in particular. However, since you
have asked, I will try to remember everything that I had been taught in my
linguistics class and see what I can do for you here.
First of all, the issue of p -> h; in case you aren't interested in the
rest just yet ;) I'm going to also try and define the various terms as I
am not sure if you or others are familiar with them. As a disclaimer,
when I say 'English' I am talking about English as it is taught in
most American schools.
As was mentioned, pu->fu is the same path that all of the 'h' series took.
That is, p->f->h. The first is an unvoiced bilabial plosive. The second
is an unvoiced bilablial fricative (note that it is actually different
from the English 'f' which is labio-dental). The H is an unvoiced glottal
Voiced refers to whether or not the larynx is vibrating when the sound is
produced. Put your hand on your throat and you can feel it-- k is
unvoiced, g is voiced; s is unvoiced, z is voiced; t is unvoiced, d is
voiced. See a pattern? More on that later.
The terms 'bilabial', 'labio-dental', and 'glottal' refer to where the
sound is produced. Bilabial means that it is produced with both lips.
'p', 'b', and 'm' are all Bilabial in English.
Labio-dental means that it is produced with one lip and one set of teeth
(lower lip, teeth of the upper jaw). The English 'f' and 'v' are
Glottal refers to the back of the throat. I believe that it is about as
far back as we really go in English.
The next part has to do with how the sound is created. A plosive (think
'explode' or 'implode') is where we close off a part of our mouth and then
build up air, releasing it to form the sound (p, t, d, g, k, for example).
A fricative is when the sound is caused by friction between the parts of
the mouth. 'f','v','s', and 'z' are some examples of fricatives.
Now, another aspect of all of this is the voicing, which I touched on
briefly before. Now look at all the Japanese characters that take two
'ten-ten' marks. That mark turns ka to ga, sa to za, etc. In each case,
it adds the quality of making those sounds 'voiced'. For the 'h' series
we therefore get 'b' because it is the voiced version of 'p' (Now, why
they still kept the 'p' sound for some things I'm not sure. I am curious
as to why that survived).
Also notice that ma, na, ra, ya, wa cannot have a voiced quality added to
Okay, there's a lot more, but I'm starting to ramble. If you want, I can
keep going in this vein; although I do ask that people correct me if I am