Do some syllables carry meaning?

I was watching Cure Dolly, and she (helpfully, IMO) pointed out that you could often tell “self-move” verbs from “other-move” verbs because the self-move verbs originally had their root in aru, if I recall correctly. And I’ve been applying that as I notice it, and it’s been most helpful. And I noticed (on my own, hopefully it’s right), that eru generally means doing-unto-others, the opposite. It’s not always the case, but often enough.

So today I’m learning “to be mixed,” and it’s spelled 混じる. I’m wondering if the じ might mean “oneself,” as it sometimes does, and more generally do the other various syllables that occasionally pop up before the final u-syllable mean something? Why is 食べる taberu, instead of pronouncing 食 as “tabe” for a shorter 食る … does the separate べ signal something obvious to Japanese speakers that I’m not getting yet?

I remember when learning English as a child my delight in discovering how the language worked, that un-, dis-, mis-, etc. could negate a concept, or that -ful, -ish, -al, -ious, etc., turned the quality into an adjective, for instance. As I aged and learned Latin, I could see so many helpful latin syllables inserting themselves into English words. Is there anything like that in Japanese? (Because if I could remember the rule, how much simpler than having to remember every verb ever!)

(I know about “conjugating,” so I don’t mean verb endings that convey meaning, I mean the syllables between the Kanji of the concept and the ending u-syllable. Or, heck, if the choice of u-syllable matters, I’d love to read about that too–it would awesome to learn that (to make up 2 totally fictitious examples) “-mu” means bringing something into the body and “-su” means moving locations, etc.).

I hope this makes sense,



じる in particular came from ずる, and ずる came from する. So じる basically just means する the same way you can put する after other onyomi words.

EDIT: Wait, I thought you were asking about じる as in こんじる or かんじる, not じる. まじる is basically the same idea as below. If you didn’t write まじる and まぜる with their second kana outside the kanji, they’d both look like 混る.

Often, leaving some part of a reading outside of the kanji is to help distinguish it from others that would be written the same way if you didn’t do that. But obviously in 食べる’s case that’s not a concern. Sometimes there are just exceptions.


I haven’t learned enough practical Japanese yet, but I’m sure there are trends. At least though I can tell you for onomatopoeia, each part of the words carry meaning. Unfortunately, my Japanese Linguistics notes are in storage, but I do remember that k/g initial sounds are for metallic sounds and that a g start would signal that it’s a larger object rather than smaller. b/p are also for explosive sounds because of the small explosion of air you have to create to make them.

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More to the point, onomatopoeia carries sound. That’s what makes it onomatopoeia.

And sounds can carry feelings. That’s the Bouba/Kiki Effect.


It goes beyond that for Japanese though. I really wish I could access my notes to further my point here.

While b/p can be explained by the Bouba/Kiki effect, there’s a lot going on in Japanese onomatopoeia. Vowel choices and the type of repetition also carry meaning. Sadly, I can’t remember the rules themselves, just that we studied and learned them in class.

I do remember one of the meanings related to vowels though. ゃ in a word implies being childish or annoying, especially when drawn out.

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It’s more than just b/p. For people the world over, some sounds just evoke a feeling of sharp and pointy, some evoke a feeling of softness, some evoke a feeling of sliminess, and so forth. The Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar has a whole section in the prefaces (or appendices? one of those) discussing it.

Lemme demonstrate. Without looking them up, take a guess what these sounds represent, or at least, what feelings they evoke:


But again, these aren’t syllables that carry meaning, but rather sounds that carry feeling.

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We seem to be speaking past each other here. I’m not saying that the Bouba/Kiki effect doesn’t explain anything, I’m trying to make the point that there are developed meanings that go beyond that.

I’m trying to make the point that onomatopoeia doesn’t have meaning. Not even in English.

Then we are at an impasse. Agree to disagree and quit arguing?

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Lemme clarify: the word “apple” has meaning. It refers to a fruit. If you throw it against wall it goes “splat”.

The word “splat” is onomatopoeia, but it doesn’t mean “the sound an apple makes when you throw it against a wall”. It simply represents - and even evokes - the sound itself.


I guess 食る could be confused with 食う to some extent?

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This probably doesn’t signal much more than the fact that 食べる as a word seems to originate from the word たぶ (賜ぶ・給ぶ・sometimes 食ぶ). Evolution of language and all that.

As far as 食る goes…while nothing definitive (and certainly nothing common enough for people to mistake with たべる), I’ve seen it read as くる, しょくる, and from one source, ほる.


Closest thing I can think of that you might get a kick out of is the preface for Jazz up Your Japanese with Onomatopoeia which is available without having to purchase the book by clicking on the Amazon preview

It goes over sound symbolism and some other stuff, in addition to having a lot of example sentences.

But yeah, I don’t know much about etymology outside of that.


Reminds me of this hilarious thread on the BP forums

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I just went quickly through that thread, but I couldn’t see the OP address the modernization of かな usage. Shouldn’t their theory be based on historical かな instead?
(I do not have a bunpro account so I cannot reply over there)


I suppose it should, but it’s a tinfoil theory so they don’t have to follow logic

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In the same vein:

An entire book to prove the thesis that : “In Japanese Every Single Sound Has A Meanings”
It’s Faucault’s pendulum level of insanity.
If I remember correctly, the basis are :

  • In prehistoric japanese, words were only one sound long, like tsu, ka, me, o… and all those sounds had a meaning
  • Japanese is agglutinative, so from that, words were created by staking those primitive sound/meaning, to create more complex meanings

Then the author analyze 1000 words or so (mostly verbs) to prove his theory. It’s a masterclass in “there is hidden meaning EVERWHERE”


omg that’s crazy

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