How Korean numbers (하나,둘,셋…) are related to Japanese numbers (hito-, futa-, mit-…), as explained by 1938 Japanese linguistics article from colonial regime

I ran into this interesting linguistics article in the June 1938 issue of “Chōsen” (Korea), published as an official propaganda magazine of the Imperial Japanese colonial regime which controlled Korea from 1905 until 1945. A linguist named Nishimura attempts to explain how the native Korean numerals (hana, dul, set) are related to the native Japanese numerals (hito-, futa-, mit-). I am not a modern linguist, so I cannot vouch for the accuracy or quality of this paper. Nonetheless, since the information contained in this paper do not appear anywhere else on the Internet, I thought it would be appropriate to post it here for modern readers to analyze and critique. 

Nishimura often refers to numerals from the Middle Korean language, so the Korean numerals that he mentions in this paper may not necessarily be the modern ones that are used. For example, he gives the Korean number three as 서 (seo) , when the modern Korean number three is actually 셋 (set). To read up on historical Koreanic numerals from ancient times through present day, I recommend reviewing this Koreanic numerals table from Wikipedia. 

The author had a colonialist agenda of justifying the ‘Japanese-Korean Unification’ policy of suppressing Korean national identity, so this paper should be read in that context, understanding that scholars affiliated with the colonial regime had every incentive to produce research that supported the policies of the regime. There is a possibility that the arguments contained in this paper may have well been used by regime officials to teach Japanese to Koreans during colonial rule.


Japanese-Korean Numerals Common Origins Theory

By Nishimura Shintarō

The comparative study of numerals in both Japanese and Korean languages has traditionally faced difficulties and ended in failure. Consequently, many domestic and foreign scholars have pessimistically declared that Japanese and Korean numerals do not share the same origin. This widespread denial of their common origin is a significant regret in this field.

Many of those who propose theories argue for a closer relationship between Korean numerals and those of various ethnic groups in Central Asia, thereby ignoring the common origin of Japanese and Korean numerals. However, I, without regard to the paucity of evidence, assert their common origins as follows. Whether it is true or not, before I definitively conclude, I first offer this to the deniers and also express my profound respect to my mentor, Dr. Kanazawa Shōzaburō, who has resolutely and independently proposed the theory of the common origin of the fundamental concepts of numerals in both languages for some years.

When the fundamental numerals, which are essential for language comparison, align and correspond between Japanese and Korean, we can gain an unmatched driving force in all aspects of Japanese-Korean Unification. Contrary to the theories of the deniers, who argue that such correspondence is impossible and fundamentally overturns the common origin of the two languages, replacing it with one of the Central Asian language families, the negative impact of such a stance is immeasurable, and it is something that genuinely alarms me.

We should not resolve the truth politically, but when the results of truth align with politics, we must respect it as the natural order. Although the roots of both languages may have originated from the Tianshan mountains and moved eastward, cultivating numerous language families, if the numerals in Japanese, Ryukyuan, and Korean are entirely identical, discarding them to merely discuss the southern or northern routes of the Tianshan would be an inversion of cause and effect.

I believe that we must first establish the complete correspondence of numerals in both languages and then use this as a basis for comparing with other languages like Jurchen, Mongolian, etc.

[Number 1] In Japanese, words like 端 (hana), 初 (hana), 端 (hata), 初 (hatsu), 果 (hate) signify the idea of an extremity or endpoint, and are used in various forms such as 放す (hanasu – to release), 離る (hanaru – to separate), 果つ (hatsu – to end), 削る (hatsuru – to pare), 始じむ (hajimu – to begin). 端 (hata), 果 (hate) correspond to the Korean word 귿 (end). The sounds ‘n’, ‘t’, and ‘s’ are interrelated, hence Japanese words like 端 (hana), 初 (hana), 梯 (hashi – bridge, ladder), 果つ (hatsu – to end), 削る (hatsuru – to pare) correspond to 귿 in Korean.

The number one is pronounced in Japanese as ヒ (hi), ヒト (hito), ヒトツ (hitotsu), etc. ヒト (hito) can be a variation of ヒタ (hita – pure, straight, large). Derived words like ヒトシ (hitoshi – equal), ヒタスラ (hitasura – merely) are based on ヒト (hito).

In Korean, the number one is 하나 (hana), 한 (han), but in the ancient language, it was 하단 (hadan), and there is also another word 올 (ol), which does not denote an ordinal number but simply means ‘alone’, ‘solely’. This also has many corresponding words in Japanese.

The t sound of 하단 (hadan) changes to an ‘n’ sound, becoming 하나 (hana). This change is similar to how Japanese 端 (hata) becomes 端 (hana). However, it is not necessary to directly compare these changes.

In the “Miscellaneous Considerations about the Idu Script” by literary scholar Dr. Kanazawa, it is stated that the number one was read as “Katana” according to the Nichūreki Encyclopedia. The Goryeo (Korean) language word 하단 (hadan) shows phonetic alignment with “Katana”.

The reason why “Katana” and 하단 (hadan) align is the same reason 하단 (hadan) aligns with 귿 (end).

In Japanese, a slight vowel change in ハタ (hata – end), ハナ (hana – end) results in ヒト (hito – one). The connection between ヒト (one) and all words in this category such as ハタ (end) need not be elaborated further here.

ヒト (one) aligns in both phonetics and semantics with 하단 (hadan) and 하나 (hana) via 귿 (keut).

[Number 2] The number two is 두 in Korean, and フ (fu), フタ (futa), フタツ (futatsu), etc., in Japanese. There are several derived words from 두, such as:

(A) 뚜에 (lid): Without a bottom, there cannot be a lid (フタ – futa). 뚜에 covers the top of the bottom. It inherently contains the meaning of 두.

(B) 뒤 (behind): There is no behind without a front. If you dissect 뒤, it reduces back to 두. 뒤 is a derivative of 두.

(C) There are many others, but they are omitted here.

Now, if you remove the ‘フ’ (fu) from フタ (lid) and remove the ‘ア’ (a) from アト (behind), they become ‘タ’ (ta) and ‘ト’ (to), naturally aligning in meaning and sound with the Korean 뚜에 and 뒤. The hard sound in 뚜에 is a symbol of omitting one sound, and the ‘ア’ in アト (behind) is an article, used in the same way as in アツカウ (to handle), アコガル (to scorch), etc.

In Japanese, the number two is called フタ (futa), and in Korean, it is 두. In Japanese, a lid is called フタ, meaning two, and in Korean, a lid is called 뚜에, meaning 두 (two).

The Japanese フタ (two) directly corresponds in sound and meaning with the Korean 두 (two).

There are derivative words of フタ (two) in Japanese, like upper abbreviated ‘タ’ (ta) and lower abbreviated ‘フ’ (fu), and similarly, there are numerous derivatives of 두 in Korean, both upper and lower abbreviated. The proof that all these correspond exactly, such as ‘アタカモ’ (just like, atakamo) being exactly the same in sound as 똑 (just like, ttok), is innumerable, but this will be left for another day.

[Number 3] The number three is 서 (seo) in Korean and ミ (mi) in Japanese.

In the “Samguk Sagi” (Three Kingdoms History), Geography, Volume 4, there is a mention of “Samhyeon County,” which was once called “Milpahe.” This shows that in ancient Korean, the number three was referred to as 밀 (mil), but as it is now a dead language, this will not be discussed further.

The word for water caltrop is 말 (mal) in Korean, and its meaning is similar to the concept of a grain with edges (稜 – kuri) in Japanese.

Soba (buckwheat) is a grain with three edges (三稜 – mikuri). The ‘バ’ (ba) in Soba (ソバ) corresponds to 말 in Korean. This is because buckwheat (모밀), wheat (밀), barley (보리), and water caltrop (말) all belong to the same linguistic block. Therefore, the ‘バ’ in ソバ can be regarded as 말. The ‘ソ’ (so) in Soba (ソバ) is indisputably associated with the meaning of three. Supporting evidence can be found in the word ソヤ (soya – a type of arrow), where ‘ヤ’ (ya – arrow) is limited to three feathers, indicating that this ‘ソ’ (so) also means three. Therefore, it is necessary to conclude that the ancient Japanese reading of the numeral three was ‘ソ’ (so). Ultimately, ‘ソ’ (so) and 서 (seo) coincide, and the numerals for three in both languages completely match.

If it is to be proven that this originated from the Jurchen language, that discussion shall be reserved for another time.

[Number 4] The number four is 너 (neo), 너히 (neohi), etc., in Korean, and ヨ (yo) in Japanese.

The term 柶 (ladle) in Korean is 늇 (nyut), which refers to the concept of four trees all looking up towards the sky, hence called 늇 (four directions upwards). There are instances where 늇 is used to represent six trees in divination, and the divination using eight trees is known as the well-known Bagua.

The divination method of laying a single tree in a supine crossed position is practiced by various ethnic groups across the Asian continent, and whether this method exists in mainland Japan is a subject of interesting ethnological research.

It is speculated that the divination method with four trees, 늇, evolved into 너, 네, etc., and then lost its ‘n’ sound to become ‘ヨ’ (yo) in Japanese. However, there remains some room for debate regarding this transformation.

[Number 5] The number five is 닷 (dat) in Korean and イツ (itsu) in Japanese. The abbreviated form of イツ (itsu) is ‘イ’ (i), but this is definitely not the correct pronunciation for five. The ‘イ’ (i) in イツ is an article, commonly referred to as an introductory or exclamation word. The word with ‘イ’ (i) removed, leaving ‘ツ’ (tsu), corresponds to 닷 (dat) in Korean.

[Number 6] The number six is 엿 (yeot) in Korean, which has almost no relation to ム (mu) in Japanese. Initially, it was referred to as 엿, but later it seems that an ‘m’ sound was inserted, as in ムベ (mube – to declare) and ムマ (muma – horse) in Japanese. However, regrettably, this explanation is not fully established.

[Number 7] The number seven is 닐곱 (nilgop) in Korean and ナナ (nana) in Japanese.

In the “Samguk Sagi” (Three Kingdoms History), Geography, Volume 4, there are references to a “Seven-layered Castle” called 난은별 (Naneunbyeol) in one instance and a “Layered Castle” in another. Also, in the “Yeoji Seungram” (Survey of the Geography of Korea), Gyeonggi Section, there is a mention of the name of a district, Jikseong, referred to as “Seven-layered Castle,” “Layered Castle,” and 내별 (Naebyeol). 

Naneunbyeol corresponds to 난은 (nan-eun) and ナナ (nana), and Nae in Naebyeol corresponds to 내 (nae) and ナ (na). From the Hanja (Chinese characters) translation of these names as “Seven-layered Castle,” it is clear that the ancient Korean word for seven was ‘나’ (na), corresponding to ナナ (nana).

The ancient words 나 (na), 내 (nae) evolved into 니 (ni), and 니롭 (nilrop – cattle and horses at the age of seven) eventually came to be called 닐곱 (nilgop). This change is as evident as seeing fire, and ultimately, ナナ (nana) corresponds to 닐곱 (nilgop).

[Number 8] The number eight is ヤ (ya) in Japanese and 여듧 (yeodeol) in Korean. ヤ (ya) and 여 (yeo) correspond to each other, but the meaning of 듧 (deol) is difficult to determine immediately. 닐곱 (nilgop – seven), 여듧 (yeodeol – eight), 아홉 (ahop – nine) – the ‘곱’ (gop) part in these words seems to be a supplementary word attached to the base word in the upper part.

[Number 9] The number nine is ココノツ (kokonotsu) in Japanese, which is often abbreviated to ココ (koko), コ (ko), etc. In Korean, it is 아홉 (ahop). 아홉 has a ‘g’ or ‘k’ sound that corresponds to コ (ko) in Japanese, and 홉 (hop) also corresponds to the ‘k’ sound of コ (ko). Therefore, 아홉 can be equated to ココプ (kokopu) in terms of pronunciation.

[Number 10] The number ten is 열 (yeol) in Korean and トヲ (towo) in Japanese. Ten is recognized as the largest number in the decimal system, leading to the creation of various derived words. 여러 (yeoreo), although not an ordinal numeral, corresponds to ヨロヅ (yorozu – ten thousand) and ヨロ (yoro – a lot, crowd) in Japanese, both signifying ‘a large number,’ a fact already well known to the world.

In the “Samguk Sagi” (Three Kingdoms History), Goksan County Records, there is a mention of “Ten Valleys Castle,” called Deokdonhol (덕돈홀) in one instance. Deok corresponds to ten, and ton corresponds to valley. This shows that the ancient Korean word for ten was 덕 (deok), which corresponds phonetically with トヲ (towo) in Japanese.

The old Japanese word ツヅ (tsuzu – ten) is also a derivative of トヲ (towo), and 덕 (deok) or 다물 (damul – cattle and horses at the age of ten) correspond with each other in terms of the ‘t’ sound. ソ (so) might be a variation of ト (to – ten).

[Other Numbers] The meanings of 스믈 (seumul – twenty), 마흔 (maheun – forty), 쉰 (swin – fifty) are unclear.

One hundred is 온 (on) in Korean, but it is unclear whether it is an ordinal numeral. The corresponding word for 온 in Japanese is ‘ホ’ (ho), and ‘ホ’ and 온 align phonetically. モモ (momo – hundred) requires separate study.

즈믄 (jeumeun) is the old word for one thousand, corresponding to ‘チ’ (chi) in Japanese.

There is no Korean word for ten thousand; the Japanese ヨロヅ (yorozu – ten thousand) corresponds to 여러 (yeoreo – a crowd), as already mentioned.

In the following, the theory proposed by a certain scholar during the Meiji era regarding the doubling of vowels in numerals to indicate an increase in quantity, is rendered obsolete by the presentation of corresponding numerals in both languages.

It is not only that the fundamental concepts of numerals in both languages are almost identical, but also that the words related to numerals correspond to each other in both languages.

The word カタ (kata – piece, part) has traditionally been considered to originate from one side (一方 – hitokata) of 方 (kata – direction, side). However, since 方 signifies one half of an entity, it is clear that the direction, position-related 方 was derived from 片 (kata – piece, part), reversing the primary subject. カタ (kata) corresponds in both sound and meaning to 가닭 (gadak – branch, division) and has its equivalent in Central Asian languages. 片 (kata) means half, implying a division, and signifies ‘one side.’ For instance, one shoe of a pair of geta illustrates this, where 片々 (katagata) means each half. Numerals become plural and signify ‘a large number’ due to frequent usage. 가닭가닭 (gadakgadak) means scattered, disorganized, and this usage aligns in both languages.

マタ (mata – also, again) means two and corresponds to 또 (tto – also, again) in Korean. The hard sound is a symbol of omitting one sound, which appears as ‘m’ in Japanese.

マタ (mata) becomes マタシ (matashi – all). 가닭 (gadak) has derivatives like 갓 (gat – just, exactly) and 한갓 (hangat – single-mindedly), and there are adjectives like 갓라 (gatra), meaning ‘both are equal.’ コドシ (kodoshi – like) and 갓라 are obviously synonymous. ヨス (yosu – to add) derives from the meaning of gathering and comes to mean to add. This also corresponds to 여러 (yeoreo – crowd), and words like twisting also relate to ‘number.’

ヘス (hesu – to reduce) and ヘル (heru – to decrease) are related to numbers, corresponding to 빼다 (ppaeda – to extract) in Korean. If that is not surprising, then what is?

Above is only the essence of the ordinal numerals in both languages. Even from this, it is clear that the fundamental numerals in both languages are completely equivalent. This forms the basis for the verbs and adjectives in both languages to align and correspond with each other, which is why we re-emphasize the common origins of both languages here.