Why do Japanese words not start with p?

I hadn’t even noticed this until a commenter pointed out that the name “Pokemon” must be based on borrowed words (namely “pocket” and “monster”) because all words in Japanese with an initial /p/ are either borrowings or onomatopoeia. A quick bit of research revealed that the reason for this strange gap is that what is now /h/ (ish) was once pronounced /p/ (ish), and all the words starting with /p/ drifted to the present sound, leaving us initial-p-less (drifting of sounds like this being a normal linguistic process). I haven’t found out why /p/ does exist in the middle of Japanese words, but I imagine it’s because a middle /h/ is so damn hard to pronounce.

1 Comment

  1. noah said,

    March 14, 2016 at 3:35 am

    Basically, I think /p/ in the middle of Japanese words (except for onomatopoeias, loanwords, and modern coinages) is generally doubled or after /n/ (/m/), which are places where I guess it would be more difficult for it to soften into /f/ or /h/.


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