Month: July 2013

Japanese and Tamil – The Work of Susumu Ohno

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My father recently pointed me to the research work of Dr. Susumu Ohno, a Japanese linguist who studied ancient Japanese as well as ancient Tamil (a language spoken in South India).

Dr. Ohno (in a paper titled “The Genealogy of the Japanese Language”) made a number of interesting observations about phonological similarities and the existence of cognates (similar-sounding words) in the some forms of both languages.

For example, he noted that the in some dialects of Japanese, the words for “father”, “mother”, “elder brother” and “elder sister” are similar to the words used in Tamil.

In some Honshu and Ryukyu dialects of Japanese, the words for father, mother, elder brother and elder sister are “accha”, “aaya”, “annyaa” and “anne”.  Ohno argues that these words resemble the words “acchan”, “aaya”, “anna” and “annai” in Tamil.

I found that his observations supported some arguments that I had made in a blog entry in 2010 (I’d attempted to draw a 3-way comparison between Japanese, Tamil and Australian aboriginal languages).

He proposes a theory that in early Japanese, there were no e and o sounds – that these sounds were replacements for ai or ia and ua.

I quote:

The vowels in group B are believed to have resulted from the merging of two vowels, as follows:  ia>e, ai>e, ui>i, oi>i, ua>o

Though I don’t have a reference, I am told that T. P. Meenakshi Sundaram made an almost identical assertion in the case of Tamil.

You also see some evidence of such a transformation in the Tulu word “yan-ku” (to me). The corresponding word in Tamil is “en-akku”.  The correspondence makes you think that sometime in the past, they used to say “yan-akku” in Tamil instead of “en-akku”.

You see a similar correspondence in Kannada.  The Kannada word for why can be written and pronounced as “yaake” or as “eke”.  So “ia” seems to be replaceable with “e” there.

Similarly in Tamil, the word “evan” (who) can also be pronounced (colloquially) as “yaveng”.

So, if both ancient Tamil and Japanese used just a, i and u sounds, their phonetics begins to resemble that of Australian languages like Dyirbal.

Regarding consonants, Ohno notes the following correspondences:

Japanese

Consonants at head of word
k-, s-, t-, n-, F-, m-, y-, w

Consonants mid-word
-k- , -s-, -t-, -n-, -F-, -m-, -y-, -w-,
-r-, -ng-, -nz-, -nd-, -nb

Tamil

Consonants at head of word
k-, c-, t-, n-‘ n-, p-, m-, y-, v

Consonants mid-word
-k- , -c-, -t-, -n-, -p-, -m-, -y-, -v-,
-t- , -n-, -r-, -1-, -r-, -1-, -r-,
-nt- -nc, , -nt-, -mp-

Unfortunately, I don’t know Dyirbal or any Australian language.  So, I can’t check if these rules apply to them as well.  I can’t wait to get hold of a linguistic analysis of Dyirbal by an Indian or Japanese linguist.

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Studies on how wealth might engender unseemly behaviour

A friend shared a study by Berkeley’s psychology department on how wealth or a feeling of being wealthy can make people exhibit less empathetic behaviour.

The video explains the research in a very accessible and easy-to-understand manner.

In their paper, the researchers say:

“We reason that increased resources and independence from others cause people to prioritize self-interest over others’welfare and perceive greed as positive and beneficial, which in turn gives rise to increased unethical behavior”

I suppose that’s a pretty good explanation of the behaviour.

If you’re wealthy and don’t think you will need another person’s help some day, you don’t need to be very helpful to people.

On the other hand, if you’re not wealthy and feel insecure about your own future, you might feel compelled to try and be nice to people around you since you might need their help one day.

Here is the full paper:
http://redaccion.nexos.com.mx/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/1118373109.full_.pdf

I found a similar conclusion at the end of a related study by researchers at the University of Minnesota (http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.186.5454&rep=rep1&type=pdf) which a friend of mine shared with me:

“The self-sufficient pattern helps explain why people view money as both the greatest good and evil. As countries and cultures developed, money may have allowed people to acquire
goods and services that enabled the pursuit of cherished goals, which in turn diminished reliance on friends and family. In this way, money enhanced individualism but diminished communal motivations, an effect that is still apparent in people’s responses to money today.”