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Common Origin of Korean and Japanese Languages

Shenyang, China (red dot) relative to Korea and Japan. Image: Google Maps

By David Yamaguchi The North American Post

Modern spoken Korean and Japanese are clearly related. Examples highlighted in a YouTube video, “Similarities Between Korean and Japanese,” where two native speakers compare notes, include the words “sigan/jikan” (time), “gwangye/kankei” (relationship), ingan/ningen” (humans, people), “junbi” (preparation; words identical), “mirai” (future), “jijin/jishin” (earthquake), “akma/akuma” (devil), and yaksok/yakusoku (promise).

These similarities are due to both languages borrowing much of their vocabulary from the Chinese language across the past 1700 years. However, do Korean and Japanese also share a deeper common origin, as is suggested by their astonishingly similar grammars, which existed before the massive infusion of Chinese loan words?

An article in the scientific journal “Nature” (Nov. 10) supports this view of a common origin. It  adds that the source was a regional language of northeast China spoken in the Liao River valley. The Liao River runs northeast to southwest into the Yellow Sea, west of Korea. The capital city of this province today is Shenyang.

The inference of a common origin is based on three lines of evidence: linguistic similarities — as measured by computers — archaeology, and ancient human genetics. The key new point is that ancestral spoken Korean-Japanese followed millet agriculture southward into Japan. Millet farming, which has been dated to 9000 years ago in the Liao River valley, is regionally older than that of rice. By contrast, rice agriculture was only introduced to Korea 3300 years ago.

Millet makes sense as an early agricultural crop because it is easier to grow than rice — one needs only scatter the seeds on the ground, perhaps aided by walking horses over them to bury them from birds. It enabled a more logical transition to settled life. Only later would larger-seeded rice, aided by selective breeding, displace it.