LINGUIST List 12.1906

Thu Jul 26 2001

Sum: "Arigato" and "Tempura"

Editor for this issue: Karen Milligan <>


  • Karen S. Chung, Sum: _arigatoo_ and _tempura_

    Message 1: Sum: _arigatoo_ and _tempura_

    Date: Thu, 26 Jul 2001 09:27:48 +0800
    From: Karen S. Chung <>
    Subject: Sum: _arigatoo_ and _tempura_

    Many thanks to the following people - hope I didn't miss anybody - who responded to the inquiries on Japanese _arigatoo_ and _tempura_. I got lots of information on cooking in addition to etymology! And it was really nice to hear from so many Japanese and Portuguese speakers!

    Maria Carlota Rosa <> Chris Cl�irigh <> Nicolaas Hart <> Junji Kawai <> Bart Mathias <> Victor Petrucci <> Marc Picard <> Eduardo Rivail Ribeiro <> Helena Sampaio <> Karl Teeter <> Douglas G. Wilson <> Watanabe Yasuhisa <>

    and of course

    Jonathan Lewis <>

    who got the ball rolling with his sum on the origin of _arigatoo_.

    (1) _Arigatoo_:

    It is clear that the story that Japanese _arigatoo_ 'thank you' comes from Portuguese _obrigado_ is *wrong*. There are records of the use of _arigatoo_ long before the arrival of the Portuguese, and it is unlikely also on phonological grounds. The following is from Bart Mathias:

    > Hi. I'm the one who wrote the very truncated response quoted as beginning > "Aaaarrrggghhh" to Jonathon Lewis' question.

    > You are certainly right that the fact that a word is written with kanji is > no real evidence of the word's origin. I didn't think the response to the > question that brought up the kanji was really relevant.

    > What counts is that the word "ar-" = "be (there); be (so)" and the adjective > "kata-" = "hard, tough; difficult" have been around since the first written > records of Japanese, several centuries before contact with the Portuguese.

    > "Ar-" was written with the hanzi for "yeou" (sorry about my old-fashioned > spelling--that's as in "woo mei yeou kwaytzu") and "tzay" ("Nii tzay > naal?") from the beginning. When used as the deverbal adjective-forming > suffix "-gata-" = "difficult to ..." as well as otherwise when meaning

    > "difficult," "kata-" was written with the hanzi "nann." Of course, they > were also often written with kana.

    > The sentential form of "arigatoo" (the form "arigatoo" itself results from a > completely regular loss of "k" in adverbial "arigataku" followed by an

    > equally regular mutual assimilation of the "a" and "u"), namely "arigatasi" > = "unlikely to be; rare; welcome" shows up written in kana in the > Man'y�sh? an 8th century poetry collection. It shows up, e.g., in the

    > form "arigataku" in _Genjimonogatari_, an early 11th century novel. It > shows up already as "arigatau" in _Heikemonogatari_, a 13th (? 14th?) > century epic. There is no question of the pure Japanese pedigree of the > word.

    > But one shouldn't need to know that! The hypothesis is absurd on purely > phonological grounds. Why on earth would Japanese hear "obrigado" and say > "arigatoo" instead of "oburigado"?

    I will certainly remove the reference to _arigatoo_/_obrigado_ if there is a second printing of _Language Change in East Asia_. It's not the first fish story I've heard and believed, and it certainly won't be the last. I am again indebted to the Internet and enthusiastic linguists for efficient and on-target feedback.

    (2) _Tempura_:

    Apparently Kenkyusha had the right source word, _tempero_, but wrong source language. _Tempero_ is Portuguese for 'spice, seasoning'. This etymology is also given in several English-English dictionaries (e.g. the _Shorter Oxford_, _Webster's_, though Webster's puts in a question mark) and has been confirmed by many respondents; one (Maria Carlota Rosa <>) included this reference:

    > KIM, Tai Whan. 1979. Etymological and semantic notes on Ibero-romance words > in Japanese. Arquivos do Centro Cultural Portugues. Paris: Funda��o Calouste > Gulbenkian. vol. xiv. 697pp. p.579-621.

    Again, from Bart Mathias:

    > It's usually identified as /Portuguese/ "tempero." (On the grounds of my > phonological argument against "arigatoo" replacing *"oburigado" I have to > wonder why the Japanese didn't keep "tempErO," well within Japanese > phonotactics. But it's a much smaller change.)

    Hope that wraps things up on these two words for a while!

    With grateful regards,

    Karen Steffen Chung National Taiwan University