|Japan, historically possibly in the Korean peninsula|
|Linguistic classification||One of the world's primary language families|
The Japonic languages
The Japonic or Japanese-Ryukyuan language family includes the Japanese language spoken on the main islands of Japan as well as the Ryukyuan languages spoken in the Ryukyu Islands. The term "Japonic languages" was coined by Leon Serafim, and the family is widely accepted by linguists. The common ancestral language is known as Proto-Japonic. The essential feature of this classification is that the first split in the family resulted in the separation of all dialects of Japanese from all varieties of Ryukyuan. According to Shirō Hattori, this separation occurred during the Yamato period (250–710).
The Japonic (or Japanese–Ryukyuan) languages are:
Beckwith includes toponymic material from southern Korea as evidence of an additional ancient Japonic language there:
It is not clear if "pre-Kara" was related to the language of the later Gaya (Kara) confederacy.
Proto-Japonic, the proto-language ancestral to all present-day Japonic languages and dialects reconstructed using the comparative method, has been reconstructed by Martin (1987) and Vovin (1994). Reconstructed Proto-Japonic forms from Vovin (1994: 109–111) are given below.
|knee||*pínsá; Proto-Ryukyuan *tubusin|
|tree||*kò̱- < *ko̱no̱r|
|you (sg.)||*si/*so̱-; *na|
The Proto-Japonic numerals are (Vovin 1994: 106):
The relationship of the Japonic (or Japanese–Ryukyuan) languages to other languages and language families is controversial. There are numerous hypotheses, none of which is generally accepted. Japonic is classified as an isolated language family and shows in its proto-form strong similarities to Southeast Asian languages.
Scholarly discussions about the origin of Japonic languages present an unresolved set of related issues. The clearest connections seem to be with toponyms in today's southern Korea, which may be from the ancient isolated Gaya language (Kara) or other scarcely attested languages. Alexander Vovin (2008, 2013) finds many toponyms of Japonic origin in the central and southern parts of the Korean Peninsula, in Silla and Baekje. Japonic-speaking agriculturalists were resident in the central and southern Korean Peninsula, and were conquered afterwards by Koreanic speakers from the north (most likely in central and southern Manchuria) who were familiar with Central Asian equestrian warfare. By the 6th to 7th centuries, Japonic languages had become marginalized in Silla (southeastern South Korea) (Vovin 2013:227–228). Some Japonic speakers emigrated to the Japanese archipelago, while others were assimilated by Koreanic speakers.
Vovin does not consider Japonic to be related to Koreanic, and believes that Japonic was completely replaced by Koreanic on the mainland. Instead, Vovin (2014) suggests that Japonic ultimately originated in southern China and migrated to Japan via the Korean Peninsula, while Koreanic shows various typological similarities with Paleosiberian languages spoken much further to the north in Siberia (Vovin 2015). Furthermore, Vovin (1998) considers Japonic to be the language of the Kofun culture rather than of the Yayoi culture. Instead, the Yayoi may have spoken an Austroasiatic or Tai-Kadai language, based on the reconstructed Japonic terms *(z/h)ina-Ci 'rice (plant)', *koma-Ci '(hulled) rice', and *pwo 'ear of grain' which Vovin assumes to be agricultural terms of Yayoi origin.
Vovin (2013) also notes that the old name for Jeju Island is tammura, which can be analyzed in Japanese as tani mura たにむら (谷村 'valley settlement') or tami mura たみむら (民村 'people's settlement'). Thus, Vovin concludes that Japonic speakers were present on Jeju Island before being replaced by Koreanic speakers sometime before the 15th century, which was when the state of Tamna on Jeju became absorbed by the Korean Joseon dynasty.
Other scholars such as Paul K. Benedict maintain that Japanese is a Para-Austronesian language, with him proposing a Austro-Tai-Japanese grouping. However, his Austro-Tai-Japanese grouping is not widely accepted by linguists. Although Vovin (2014) does not consider Japonic to be genetically related to Tai-Kadai, he suggests that Japonic was in heavy contact with Tai-Kadai, pointing to an ultimate origin of Japonic in southern China.
There is typological evidence that Proto-Japonic may have been a monosyllabic, SVO syntax and isolating language, which are features that the Tai-Kadai languages also famously exhibit.
Another theory was raised by the Japanese linguist Īno Mutsumi. He suggested after his analysis of proto-Sino-Tibetan that Japanese is related to the proto-form of Sino-Tibetan, especially to the Burmese language. Because of similar grammar rules (SOV, syntax), similar non-loan basic-vocabulary and the fact that early Sino-Tibetan was non-tonal like still today some small languages, he proposed the Sinitic origin theory.
A 2015 analysis using the Automated Similarity Judgment Program resulted in the Japonic languages being grouped with the Ainu and then with the Austroasiatic languages. However, similarities between Ainu and Japonic are also due to extensive past contact. Analytic grammatical constructions acquired or transformed in Ainu were likely due to contact with Japanese and the Japonic languages, which had heavy influence on the Ainu languages with a large number of loanwords borrowed into the Ainu languages, and to a smaller extent, vice versa. No genealogical relationship between Ainu and any other language family has been demonstrated, despite numerous attempts. Thus, the Ainu language is considered to be a language isolate, as is the Japanese language when the Japonic languages are considered to be dialects of a single language rather than a language family.