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Is Japanese Related to Indo-European?

Is Japanese Related to Indo-European?


   Roger Ahlberg

 (R. Yoshiwara)


               Japan English Service Inc.

                     1574 Konaka, Oamishirasato-machi

                     Sanbu-gun, Chiba-ken, 299-3246 JAPAN


Copyright 2011 by Roger Ahlberg

 All rights reserved


I became interested in this topic because a good friend, David B. Kelley (Ph.D., linguistics), was working on a project comparing Japanese and Latin. Also, I had earlier published a book on Japanese and Sumerian and I wondered why Japanese can be compared to various other languages to one degree of success or another. This is a ONE-on-ONE study, the whole of Indo-European as one group because the spin-off daughter languages are variations of a primordial core, and Japanese (old/dialect/modern standard) as the other group.


This represents only a selection of the comparisons which are possible. Also, much can be said about how/when/where it all may have happened but for now it is only speculation. That it happened seems to be supported by the data herein.


Language Data Sets


The following sets are presented in groups of three samples each according to sound patterns (mostly consonant + consonant).  Linguistics maintains that this type of presentation helps to show that chance is not the main reason for a few cases of isolated matching. Sometimes coincidence may be the cause of similarities lining up but in such sets it is much less likely, especially when matching is spread over a wide range of consonant patterns.




·               Headings of sets (k-t, etc) include voiced/unvoiced sounds.


·               m alternates with b in both J and IE; r may interchange with l; h may derive from/correspond to s,p,b,f,h; final r in IE was often dropped in J.


·               e = schwa in this paper.


·               * before a word = reconstruction (based on historical linguistic theory), not shown for IE entries because all such words are reconstructions.


·               I follow the agreement among most native Japanese scholars that:

SJ chi in OJ was ti (voiced di)


SJ tsu in OJ was tu (voiced du)


SJ shi in OJ was si (voiced zi)


·               One should keep in mind the probability that there were no consonant clusters in proto/primordial IE nor in the early stages of the daughter languages.

·               IE = Indo-European in its early form, before the split into the daughter dialects such as Latin, Greek, etc.


·               None of the IE-J correspondences herein are due to European (Portuguese and Dutch) influence starting in the 16th century AD.


Av    Avestic OE    Old English

Boh  Bohemian                   OF    Old French

Bret    Breton                     OFris   Old Frisian

ChSl  Church Slavic           OHG   Old High German

DJ    Dialect Japanese       OI    Old Indian (Skt)

Du    Dutch                         OIr    Old Irish

Eng    English                     OJ    Old Japanese

Fr    French                        ON    Old Norse

G    German (modern)        OPers    Old Persian

Ger    Germanic Group       OProv    Old Provençal

Goth    Gothic                     OPruss    Old Prussian

Grk    Greek (ancient)*       OS    Old Saxon

Hitt    Hittite                        OSlav    Old Slavic

IE    Indo-European            Pol    Polish

Ir    Irish                             Rum    Rumanian

It    Italian                           Russ    Russian

J    Japanese                     SCr    Serbo-Croatian

L    Latin                             SJ    Standard Japanese

Lett    Lettish                      Skt    Sanskrit (OI)

Lith    Lithuanian               Sp    Spanish

ME    Mid. English              Sw    Swedish

MFlem    Mid. Flemish        Toch B    Tocharian B

MHG  Mid. High German  Umb    Umbrian

NE    New English            VL    Vulgar Latin

ODu    Old Dutch                W    Welsh

* No distinction is made for dialects in the classical period.




1. -k


a.            SJ oka (hill) : Umb ocar (mountain)*


b.            OJ aga (I) : Grk ego (I)**


c.            SJ ake (dawn) : IE agh (to dawn)


2. -s


a.            SJ esa (food/feed) : L esse (to eat),etc


b.            SJ asa (dawn) : Av usah (dawn), etc


c.            OJ wasu (to be) : IE wes (to be); Ger *was in OE waes, which developed into NE was


3. -t


a.            SJ itaru (to go) : L itare (to go)


b.            SJ uta (song) : Grk ode (song)


c.            OJ udo/uto (person),OJ udi (tribe, clan) : Ger uda in Ger *theuda (IE teuta) (people), *teutonos (they of the tribe = the Teutons)


4. -n


a.             SJ ano (that yonder) : IE ono (that yonder)


b.             OJ onazi (one) : Ger *ainaz (one)***


c.             SJ ana (hole) : L anus (anus)


5.  -m


a.            DJ ama (mother) : IE amma (mother)


b.            SJ amaeru (presume upon another's love) : L amare ( to love)


c.            DJ ami (ant) : OHG ameiʒ (ant)

6.  -r


a.             SJ aru (to be) : Ger *ar-   (to be)


b.             SJ oru (to be) : Ger *or- (to be)


c.             SJ iru (to be) : Lett *ir (to be)


*               Final r in IE is often dropped in J.


**            OJ seems to preserve the Greek form.

***          J one = one and the same, equal, identical, the same. In reverse, J one (hito, hitotsu) 'the same' (Todo p1) and an OJ reading for 'one' is 'onazi'. In Todo (p212) another reading for the 'same' character (onaji) is onai, in which final i can be nothing other than an adjective formant, leaving ona as the core form, with which compare IE oino, Goth ains, OHG ein, L unus, Sp uno, Br unan, OE an, ME on, NE an (the indefinite article) and many others within the IE group, all meaning one. NE one itself is comparable to J ona.




1.  k-k


a.            SJ kagi (key) : OE caeg = kaeg (key)


b.            SJ kake (a clothes hook), SJ kakaru (to hang on) : IE keg (a hook)


c.            SJ kaki (a fence) : IE kagh (a fence)


2.  k-s


a.            SJ kusa (grass) : OI kusah (grass); Hindustani kusa (grass)


b.            SJ kesu (erase, strike out) : IE kes (to scratch/ scrape)


c.             SJ kowasu (to break): OF quasser (to break)


3.  k-t


a.            OJ kata (down, old reading for shita, down, Todo p7), SJ katamuku (decline toward, go down, sink, set, said of the sun and moon; muku = turn/tend toward), SJ yūgata (dusk, time when sun goes down), SJ asagata (toward morning, dawn, time when moon goes down) : Grk kata (down). In J asagata, asa = morning; in yūgata,yū = evening.


b.            SJ kudaru (to fall, -ru = verb formant) : IE kad (to fall)

c.            kaduku (to cover, -ku = verb formant) : IE kadh (to cover)

4.  k-n


a.            SJ kuni (nation) : Gothic kuni (race, family); NE kin For the relevance of nation/race, note that a nation is a people belonging to the same ethnic (racial) family.


b.            SJ kona (dust) : IE keni (dust); Grk konia (dust)


c.            SJ kinu (cloth) : IE kento (cloth); Ger *knut in OE cnytten (NE to knit), from IE gen; L cento = kento (patchwork); OI kantha (patched garment); Grk kentron (piece of patchwork). It is likely that J kinu preserves old European forms, namely that the k in Ger *knut was followed immediately by a vowel.


5.  k-b


a.            SJ kōbe (head) : IE kap (head)


b.            SJ keburu (to smoke) : IE kwep (to smoke)


c.            SJ gabu-gabu nomu (to quaff, guzzle) : Fr gober (to gulp down), OF gobe (a mouthful); Ir gob (mouth); Pol geba (mouth). J nomu = to drink


6.  k-m


a.            SJ kumo (cloud) : W cwmwl = kumul (cloud); Br koumou (cloud)


b.            SJ kamu (to bite) : IE gembh (to bite)


c.            SJ kami (hair of head) : Grk kome/L coma (hair of head)


7.   k-r


a.            OJ kara (flesh) : L caro (flesh)


b.            DJ koro (heart) : L cor (heart)


c.            SJ kiru/karu (to cut) : IE ker (to cut)




1. s-k

a.            SJ saku (to cut) : IE sek (to cut)


b.            SJ sagasu/saguru (to seek) : IE sag (to seek)


c.            SJ sagu (to sag) : Scandinavian intensive form *sakk- in Sw sacka (to sink), ME saggen (to subside); NE sag


2.  s-n


a.            SJ suna (sand) : Ger sand/t (sand)


b.            SJ sanu (to sleep, esp. man/woman together) : ChSl sunu, SCr san, Pol sen, Russ son, OIr suan etc.


(all meaning to sleep)


c.            SJ sanada (plaited) : Lett snat (to twist lightly as in spinning or esp. plaiting)


3.  s-m


a.            SJ sama (like, similar, as in OJ ikasama = like what, in what manner, how) : IE sem (as one); Goth/OHG sama (same), Skt sam (together)


b.            SJ sema- (narrow, small) : OHG smah(i)(small)


c.            SJ sumu (be completed) : L summa (sum = complete)


4.  s-r


a.            SJ seru (to sell at auction) : IE sel (to sell)


b.            SJ sire (silly) : IE sel (of good mood, silly)


c.            SJ saru (to leave, go away) : OF saillir (to rush out); Sp salir (to leave)


5.  s-w


a.            SJ sawagu (to make a noise) : IE (s)wagh (to resound)


b.            OJ sawi (wild boar) : Ger suwe/sowe (wild boar)


c.            SJ sawa (swamp) : Ger swamba (swamp); OHG swam (swamp)




1. t-k

a.            OJ toku (to melt) : Grk takein (to melt)


b.            OJ deku (to be made) : IE teks (to make)


c.            OJ tugu (to tell) : ON tunga (tongue); OJ tugu may have been nasalized (tungu)


2. t-s


a.        SJ dashi (stretching) : Grk tasis (stretching)


b.         SJ tose (year) : Grk etos (year)*


c.         SJ dashi (giving) : Grk dosis (gift)


3. t-n


a.        DJ duna (sand) : Medieval Latin duna (dune)


b.         OJ tonahu (to intone) : Grk tono (origin of NE tone)


c.         DJ tunge (hoe) : Grk ptuon = Grk tuon (shovel)


4. t-b


a.            SJ taberu (to eat) : L tabere (be eaten)


b.            SJ tsubo (jar, pot, crock = earthen vessel) : MFlem tubbe (tub), which derives from OHG zubar = tsubar (wine vessel)


c.            SJ tsubura (round) : L tubus (a pipe = cylindrical pipe), the origin of NE tubular = shaped like a tube (cylinder, a circular/round object)


5.  t-m


a.            SJ tami (the common people) : Grk *damos/demos (the common people)


b.            OJ tumu (to pile up, amass) : L tumere (to swell)


c.            OJ tumu (to stuff, pack, fill) : L tomentum (stuffing for cushion)


6.  t-r


a.            SJ teri (dry weather) : IE ters (to dry)


b.            SJ doro (mud) : Grk dolos (mud)

c.      SJ tōru (pass through) : IE tere (pass            through)   e = schwa

* absence of initial e in J may be aphaeresis of Greek form, or initial e in Greek word may be epenthetic.



1.  n-vowel


a.            OJ/SJ na (not) : Ger *na (not) + OI/Av/OPers na (not) Note: Japanese na is used in pre- and postposition to verbs.


b.            OJ ne (subterranean) : IE/OI/Av ni (down); OJ ne may be metaphorical use of ne = root. It was used to mean the world of the dead (under the ground).


See Philippi (in Kazar, p119) and Maruyama (p779). Re also ni in J nishi (west), the direction in which the sun goes down (-shi = direction, Martin p522).


c.            OJ/SJ no (possessive particle) : IE no (possessive particle), in mei-no (mine), t(w)ei-no (thine).


David B. Kelley (see Acknowledgment) first thought the n in Eng golden etc is the same as 'no' in J in terms of position/function/meaning/sound.


IE 'no' above seems to substantiate that.

2.  n-k


a.            SJ nugu (undress) : IE nogu (naked)


b.            DJ amaneki (many) : IE menegh/ Ger managa (many)


c.            OJ naku (not, na = a form of the auxiliary verb zu, indicating a negative, + ku; see Ikeda, p62) : Italic *nek (not)


3.  n-s


a.            OJ nasu (sleep) : nusto in Grk nustazein (to be sleepy, doze), cognate with Lith snausti (to slumber)


b.            SJ nasu (to bear a child) : L nasci (to be born)


c.            OJ nasi (not in this world;dead) : Goth naus (corpse), Av nasu (corpse)

4. n-t


a.            OJ nedu (to twist) : IE ned (to twist)


b.            OJ nadu (wet) : Goth natjan/Du nat/ OHG naz (wet). These IE forms mean be wet naturally or made wet, connected with bathe, water, etc. The OJ word means come into contact with water; additional relevant IE entries are L natare/Sp nadar etc (to swim) and OI snati (bathes).


c.            OJ noti (the back) : Grk notos (the back)


Note that in a. and b. the final -u in nedu/nadu is simply due to the vowel-final nature of the syllabic writing system (except -n).


5.  n-m


a.            SJ namae (name) : OI/Av naman, OE nama (name)


b.            SJ nomu (to drink), nomaseru (to water cattle, suckle a child) : Grk nome (a feeding, lit. pasturage = to pasture = cause to graze, graze), Grk


nomos (pasture)


c.            SJ nemuru (to die) : Lith numires/ Lett nuomiris (to die)


6.  n-r        (All IE forms derive from gno = to know)


a.            OJ naru (be acquainted with) : L narus (acquainted with)


b.            OJ nori (a rule, carpenter's square) : L norma (a rule, carpenter's square).


Note: The Latin term was borrowed from Grk gnomona, accusative of gnomon (carpenter's square, lit. one who/ that which--mona/mon -- knows, i.e., a judge; Latin -ma corresponds to Grk mona/mon and the r in norma derives from r-suffixed IE gno-ro/gne-ro (e = schwa). The comparison is nor : nor.

c.            OJ noru (to tell) : L narrare (to tell = to make acquainted with)




Note that h may derive from/correspond to s, p, b, f, h.


1.  h-k


a.            SJ hiku (pluck) : IE pek (pluck)


b.            SJ hige (beard) : IE puk (bushy-haired)


c.            SJ hako (box) : IE/Grk puxos = puksos (box tree), Grk puxis = puksis (box), OHG buhsa = buksa (box), VL buxis  (box)


2.  h-t


a.            DJ hoda/hodo (foot) : IE pod/ped (foot); Grk podos, L *ped, OI/Av pad-, all meaning foot; NE foot


b.            SJ petan (flat) : Grk petannumi (flat), Grk patane (flat dish)


c.            OJ hadu (be ashamed) : L pudor (shame)


3.  h-n


a.            OJ hine (old) : IE sen (old)*


b.            SJ hone/ DJ pone (bone) : ON/OHG bein (bone)


c.            SJ hanasu/ DJ hanan (speak) : Ger *bannan (speak publicly); Grk phanai (speak)


4.  h-r


a.            SJ hira flat : IE pele (flat)


b.            SJ hora (listen!) : Sw hora (hear); NE hear (o equals umlaut o)


c.            SJ horu (bore=perforate) : IE bher (bore); OHG boron (bore); It burino (now bulino), from which derives burin 

* This is a good example of the h:s alternation in IE:


h-n                                                          s-n


hen (W)                                              senex (L)

hen- (Br)                                            sen (OIr)

hen (Grk)                                           senas (Lith)

hin (Armenian)                               sana- (OI)

hana (Av)                                          sineigs (Goth)

hen (Cornish)


I think this does not mean that Japanese (with hine = old) is closer to the h-n group than the s-n group because the majority of words I have found seem to be more closely related to the Greek and Germanic groups.




1.  m-k


a.            OJ maku (to make) : IE mak (to make); NE make


b.            SJ mugi (wheat) : IE muk (a heap); OE muga (a heap of grain); Grk mukon (a heap); ON mugi (a heap). J mugi is also barley, oats and rye--grain. The names of cereals are often associated with that which is cut and piled up (harvested). The old forms for J tsumu/ tsumoru (pile/heap up) include three which contain the combining form of ine (ina = rice plant). In other words, they are object-specific terms (that which is piled up is grain). The grain (whatever kind it was) was brought to China from central Asia about 3,000 years ago but the oldest Chinese readings for the character would not have developed into J mugi so the Japanese reading (OJ included) seems to be based on some non-Chinese source.


c.            SJ makanau (provide meals, feed) : IE mak (leather bag); Ger *magon- (bag, stomach) in OE maga (stomach); ON magi and OHG mago (stomach), OFris maga (stomach); Lith makas and Lett maks (bag, pouch). The -nau of J makanau is a verb formant.

2.  m-s


a.            OJ mazu (to mix) : OSlav meso/Lett maisu/L miscere/Sp mezclar (to mix); Grk maza (a kneaded = mingled lump, barley cake); Br meza (to knead)


b.            OJ mesu (eat/drink) : NE mess (meal); VL/Sp/OE mesa (table); Rum masa (table); Ir mias (table & dish); ChSl/Boh/Pol misa (dish); Goth mes (table & platter)


c.            SJ masu-masu (more and more), SJ masu (increase) : Goth mais (more); Sp mas (more)


3.  m-t


a.            OJ midu (water) : IE mad (wet); L madidus (wet); Fr moite (wet); Lett mitrs (wet); L umidus (wet) in which umi corresponds to J umi (sea) and midu corresponds to J midu above.


b.            OJ miti (honey), DJ mitsi (honey) : IE medhu and various med-forms in E. Europe; Toch B mit; OI madhu, all meaning honey.


c.            SJ mitoru (to nurse, tend the sick/wounded) : L mederi (to look after, heal, cure); Grk Medos (Greek healing deity). The Chinese character for this compound verb in Japanese consists of eye (me = mi) under hand (te = to), 'do eye/hand'. For mi = me and to = te, see Maruyama p955.


4.  m-n


a.            SJ mine (mountain peak, ridge) : L minere (to project, jut), L mons (mountain), IE men (to project). For the notion of project, see Buck p23, Klein p478.


b.            SJ mon (person) : IE mon (man); NE man, human


c.            OJ muna (empty) : IE minu (to lessen); OHG/OS minnist (least)


5.  m-m


a.            SJ mimi (ear) : IE mimos (a mime); Grk mimos (an imitator); NE mimic; ON Mimir (a giant who guards

the well of wisdom in Norse mythology, the wisest of the gods of the tribe Aesir. Odin later gained knowledge from his decapitated head).


b.            SJ mamoru (to protect) : L memor mindful (Klein p456), which derives from IE mer-(s)mer, a reduplication of IE base (s)mer (to care for = to protect); Av mimara (mindful)


c.            DJ mooma (aunt) : OHG muoma (aunt)


6.  m-r


a.            SJ miru (to look) : VL mirare (to look), Sp mirar (to look)


b.            SJ mura (village) : Lett bura (a crowd; re here J muragaru, to crowd); L multus (much, many). In both J and IE m and b alternate.


c.            SJ mairu (to go) : L meare (to go)




1.  J y- : IE d-


a.            SJ yari spear : the following are all in Buck's 20.26 entry (spear): Grk doru (spear-shaft and eventually spear); OI daru (piece of wood, stake); Av daru (tree-trunk, piece of wood, club)


b.            SJ yaru (give) : L dare (give)


c.            DJ yuna/yona (sand) : Medieval Latin duna (dune); NE (sand) dune. There is also a duna = sand in DJ.


2.  w-k


a.            SJ waka (young) : Ir oac = wak (young); OE wac/ OHG weich (weak)


b.            OJ wokasu (to lack) : IE wak (to lack)


c.            OJ wokasu (to wake someone) : Ger waken (to wake); NE wake

Notable consonant-vowel syllables:

OJ ko (this) : IE ko (this)


OJ so (that) : IE so (that)




I sincerely thank David B. Kelley, Ph.D. (linguistics), for many years of valuable exchanges while he was resident in Japan. Dr. Kelley has made a comparison of Japanese and Latin (the Latin entries in this paper are mostly my own). He was also very helpful in offering suggestions for the content and layout of the data and other material.




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