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A Re-evaluation of a Common Genetic Origin

Alexander Vovin

Publication Year: 2010

The Japonic (Japanese and Ryukyuan) portmanteau language family and the Korean language have long been considered isolates on the fringe of northeast Asia. Although in the last fifty years many specialists in Japonic and Korean historical linguistics have voiced their support for a genetic relationship between the two, this concept has not been endorsed by general historical linguists and no significant attempts have been made to advance beyond the status quo. Alexander Vovin, a longtime advocate of the genetic relationship view, engaged in a reanalysis of the known data in the hope of finding evidence in support of this position. In the process of his work, however, he became convinced that the multiple similarities between Japonic and Korean are the result of several centuries of contact and do not descend from a hypothetical common ancestor.

In Koreo-Japonica, Vovin carefully reviews recent advances in the reconstruction of both language families. His detailed analysis of most of the morphological and lexical comparisons offered so far shows that whenever the proposed comparisons are not due to pure chance, they can almost always be explained as borrowings from Korean into a central group of Japanese dialects from roughly between the third and eighth centuries A.D. The remaining group of lexical (but not morphological) comparisons that cannot be explained in this way is, he argues, too small to serve as proof of even a distant genetic relationship.

In this volume, a leading historical linguist presents a significant challenge to a view widely held by Japonic and Korean historical linguistics on the relationship between the two language families and offers material support for the skepticism long espoused by general historical linguists on the matter. His findings will both challenge and illuminate issues of interest to all linguists working with language contact and typology as well as those concerned with the prehistory and early history of East Asia.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press

Series: Hawaii Studies on Korea

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xii

Although I discussed various parts of this book or some ideas found in it with a number of colleagues, I am especially grateful to Stefan Georg. To him I owe my vast improvement in comparative linguistics methodology over the last eight years: if not for him, the very idea of writing this book never would have been conceived. ...


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pp. xiii-xvi

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pp. 3-7

This book attempts to critically re-evaluate the relationship between Korean and Japonic.1 It is quite apparent that Korean and Japonic are very similar, often to the extent that a word-to-word translation is possible from one language to another. Such similarity is, however, purely typological and cannot be used as evidence for a common genetic origin. ...

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Chapter 1. Proto-Korean and Proto-Japonic Reconstructions and Their Role in the Comparison of the Two Languages

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pp. 11-44

Ramsey (1991, 1993) and Yi Kimun (1991: 18) have demonstrated that the Middle Korean aspirates ph, th, ch, and kh have a secondary origin resulting from clusters of HC or CH type, where H stands for velar [k] or pharyngeal [h]. Ramsey’s and Yi Kimun’s idea is based predominantly on the analysis of gaps in the internal structure of Korean: there ..

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Chapter 2. Morphological Comparisons

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pp. 45-91

It goes without saying that common paradigmatic morphology represents better proof of a genetic relationship than common basic lexicon, because (a) it is much more stable than vocabulary, and (b) paradigmatic morphology is never borrowed (except in the case of language mixing). ...

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Chapter 3 Lexical Comparisons

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pp. 92-240

The Koreo-Japonic comparison has always been conducted mostly in the area of vocabulary, with grammatical comparison playing only a secondary role. This can be demonstrated by the fact that two seminal works that attempted to prove the genetic relationship between these two languages, Martin (1966) and Whitman (1985), dealt predominantly with lexical comparisons. ...


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pp. 241-250


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pp. 251-278

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About the Author, Back Cover

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Alexander Vovin has published some hundred articles on Japanese, Korean, Ainu, and Tungusic, as well as on other languages of East and Inner Asia. Among his major works are A Reconstruction of Proto-Ainu (1993); A Reference Grammar of Classical Japanese Prose (2003); ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780824837693
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824832780

Publication Year: 2010

Series Title: Hawaii Studies on Korea