In my last post, I proposed that Japanese 硫黃 < *iwaũ 'sulfur' reflected several Koreanisms:

r-avoidance even in borrowings from Chinese

final -w-avoidance*

medial -h-loss
I concluded that was a Chinese word that had been filtered through some form of Koreanic with traits (*ri- > i-, -h- > zero) with parallels in later Korean proper**.

However, David Boxenhorn suggested that the word could reflect changes in Japanese dialects. I realized that there must have been at least one native Japanese word for sulfur which is indigenous to Japan.

Then bitxəšï-史 quoted from the 日本国語大辞典 which I haven't been able to consult since 2004 (nine years ago - not everything is online yet!). 日本国語大辞典 derived the word from a native yu-awa 'hot water-bubbles' and reminded me of a variant reading yuō for 硫黃.

Finally, I checked Sakihara's Okinawan-English Wordbook and found yuuwaa 'sulfur'.

Here's what I think now:

Early Middle Chinese 硫黃 *lu wɑŋ 'sulfur' was borrowed into Japanese via Paekche as *ruwaũ.

There was a native term *yu nə awa 'bubbles of hot water' (first attested much later in 和名抄 as 由乃阿和) with a shorter variant *yu-awa 'hot water-bubbles' (is this attested anywhere?).

The two terms were confused, and *ruwaũ became *yuwaũ under the influence of the similar-sounding but unrelated native *yu-awa. This *yuwaũ is attested in 和名抄 as 由王 (interpreted by 岩波古語辞典 on pp. 1369 and 1376 as yuwa***).

Okinawan yuuwaa could be a mixture of the expected Sino-Okinawan 硫黃 *ruwoo < *ruwau and the similar-sounding but unrelated Okinawan *yuu-ʔaa < *yuu-ʔawa 'hot water-bubbles'.

The first syllable *yu was changed to *i. This irregular shift also occurred in yuk- 'to go' which became ik- (and both versions of 'to go' survive today alongside yuō ~ iō 'sulfur').

The resulting *iwaũ resembles iwa 'large rock', but I think that's coincidental, as sulfur crystals are not large.

I am still not entirely satisfied with that account, but it does have more explanatory power than my first attempt, and it avoids speculating about irregular nativization in early Koreanic (which was still involved as an intermediary language).

*I called this a "Koreanism" but failed to explain what I meant in my haste. Unlike Middle Chinese, Korean has never had native syllables ending in -w. The prescriptive style of Sino-Korean pronunciation in Tongguk chŏng'un did have readings ending in -ㅱ -w, but that coda was pedantic if not simply artificial; natural Sino-Korean readings lacked -w.

One might think Middle Chinese *-iw was borrowed as -i without -w in natural Sino-Korean, but in fact it was borrowed as -yu (still without -w). So Middle Chinese 硫 *liw 'sulfur' corresponds to prescriptive Sino-Korean ryuw (Tongguk chŏng'un IV: 83) and natural Sino-Korean ryu, not *ri. Nonetheless I thought that perhaps some Koreanic variety that was not a source of Sino-Korean or Sino-Japanese had a different rule: borrow Chinese *-iw syllables as *-i.

**That variety of Koreanic would have been like Khitan which was phonologically more innovative than Classical Mongolian, though the latter was first attested later.

***2.21.0:09: 岩波古語辞典 (p. 1376) regarded the y- of its yuwa (is this ever attested in kana?) as a substitute for *l- which was not permissible as an initial in Old Japanese. Are there any other early Chinese loans in Japanese with y- for *l-? OF THE SULFURIC SPHINX

The Battle of Iwo Jima (硫黃島 'Sulfur Island') began 68 years ago today.

Japanese 硫黃 < *iwaũ 'sulfur' has an unusual first syllable. In theory the word should be

*ruō < *ruwaũ (if it were a borrowing from Early Middle Chinese *lu wɑŋ*)

or *ryū < *riukwaũ (if it were a borrowing from Late Middle Chinese *liw xwɑŋ)

but as far as I know, i is

- the only (?) instance of a Middle Chinese *l-syllable Japanized with a zero initial

- the only (?) instance of a Middle Chinese *-iw syllable borrowed into Japanese without an -u corresponding to -w

Both of these traits might be Koreanisms. Although both Korean and Japanese share the Altaic avoidance of initial r- in native roots, standard South Korean has gone further and avoided it even in Chinese borrowings:

Chinese *l- > Korean *r- > n- (> zero before i, y)

Hence the standard South Korean word for 'sulfur' is 유황 yuhwang without r- before y-. (I specify South Korean because standard North Korean has a restored r-: e.g., 류황 ryuhwang 'sulfur'. This r- is not necessarily pronounced in actual speech. See Young-Key Kim-Renaud's observation in Lee and Ramsey 2000: 342, note 11.)

The 黃 ō (rather than *kō) of Japanese indicates an early borrowing. My guess is that some variety of Koreanic - colloquial Paekche, perhaps? - nativized a Chinese *liw as *i, and a nativized *iwaŋ was borrowed into Japanese as *iwaũ. The trouble with this explanation - besides the lack of other examples of similar nativizations - is that *liw is a Late Middle Chinese reading, and the second half of *iwaŋ is based on Early Middle Chinese *wɑŋ. Did such a mixture really exist? Or is the absence of a consonant corresponding to Late Middle Chinese *x- also due to irregular nativization?

*liw xwɑŋ > *ihwaŋ > *iwaŋ

In modern Korean, /h/ is lost between a vowel and /w/ "when the word is spoken at normal conversational speed" (Lee and Ramsey 2000: 74). This phenomenon might also have occurred much earlier in some Koreanic dialect - but after the shift of *lu to *liw of Chinese. Hence the 黃 ō (< *waũ) of Japanese is not truly from Early Middle Chinese *wɑŋ like the 黃 ō (< *waũ) of 黃金 ō (< *waũkəm) 'golden', but is actually a Late Middle Chinese *xwɑŋ in disguise.

*Although others would reconstruct *ɦw- or *ɣw- as the initial of Early Middle Chinese 黃 'yellow', I reconstruct *w- for the dialect that is the source of early Sino-Japanese (i.e., 'Go-on') 黃 ō (< waũ) since a voiced back fricative would have been borrowed as /Nk/ which would later become g-: e.g., 號 *ɣɑwh ~ *ɦɑwh as early Sino-Japanese /Nkau/ (now 'number').

It is strange that 黃 'yellow' follows rather than precedes 硫 'sulfur' in the disyllabic Chinese word 硫黃 'sulfur'. Could this modified-modifier order reflect substratal (e.g., Hmong-Mien, Austroasiatic, or Kra-Dai) influence in a Middle Chinese dialect? (Cf. remnants of such word order in Cantonese: e.g., 雞公 gai gung 'chicken male' for 'rooster' instead of 公雞 'male chicken' as in Mandarin.)

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