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Fortuitous resemblance between Japanese and foreign words sharing the same meaning
Written by Maciamo in December 2011

It sometimes happen that two words in two completely unrelated languages sound almost the same and also happen to mean the same thing. It is hard to realise it for people who only speak languages belonging to the huge Indo-European linguistic family, which basically encompasses all languages spoken in all Europe (except Basque, Suomi, Estonian and Hungarian), and most of the languages of Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and North India.

Between Indo-European languages, similarities of vocabulary more are often than not the result of a common root, or the more recent loanwords from neighbouring countries. Therefore, purely fortuitous coincidences between languages that have no phylogenetic connection nor history of borrowing from one another are much rarer than one would expect. There are plenty of words that sound the same in all kinds of languages, but that mean completely different things. The chances of finding a very close match between pronunciation and meaning is one in many millions. Yet, for some reason Japanese language seem to have quite a few words that sound similar and mean the same as unrelated words in other languages, especially with English.

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List of similar words between Japanese and other languages

  • The Japanese mecha (or mucha some dialects) in Japanese means much in English and mucho in Spanish.
  • The Japanese to (戸) means door (or gate) and is especially similar to Tor in German which also means door/gate.
  • The Japanese ro (路) means route or road in English and can also mean rue (street) in French.
  • The Japanese boya (坊や) means boy in English.
  • The Japanese kiru (斬る, the r is pronounced almost like an l) sounds like and means kill in English.
  • The Japanese hi (火, old pronuciation fi) means fire (Old English pronuciation feer)
  • The Japanese hone or bone (骨) means bone in English.
  • The Japanese tsumari (詰まり) means (in) summary.
  • The Japanese onna (女) sounds like the Italian donna and means the same.
  • The Japanese dono (殿) is a title meaning lord just like the Don in Italian and Spanish.
  • The Japanese namae (名前) means name in English (Old English nama), nome in Italian, and nama in Sanskrit, all from the PIE root *nomn-.
  • The Japanese anata (貴方) meaning "you", is anta in Arabic and anda in Bahasa Melayu/Indonesia.

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