Old Japanese

Fact corner

  • Language: Old Japanese
  • Alternate names: 上古日本語 ,jōko nihongo
  • SIL-code: -
  • Language family: Japonic
  • Number of speakers: Extinct
  • Script: Chinese, Man'yōgana


Old Japanese is the oldest attested stage of the Japanese language. Spoken around 712-794 AD.

The verb

The 8 verbal conjugations in Old Japanese

Verb Class Irrealis
Quadrigrade (四段) -a -i1 -u -u -e2 -e1
Upper Monograde(上一段) - - -ru -ru -re -(yo2)
Upper Bigrade (上二段) -i2 -i2 -u -uru -ure -i2(yo2)
Lower Bigrade (下二段) -e2 -e2 -u -uru -ure -e2(yo2)
K-irregular (カ変) -o2 -i1 -u -uru -ure -o2
S-irregular (サ変) -e -i -u -uru -ure -e(yo2)
N-irregular (ナ変) -a -i -u -uru -ure -e
R-irregular (ラ変) -a -i -i -u -e -e

Lower Monograde (下一段) was introduced in Late Old Japanese

Consonant / vowel stem

Verbs having a base that ends in a consonant are known as consonant-stem. These are exhibited by the Quadrigrade, the R-irregular and N-irregular verb classes.

There are only three N-irregular verbs, which were originally verbs in the Adverbial conjugation combined with the negative auxiliary -nu, but which were later reinterpreted as verbs in their own right.

Verbs having a base that ends in a vowel are known as vowel-stem. Upper Monograde represents monosyllabic vowel stems ending in -i.

Upper Bigrade is made up of polysyllabic roots ending in the vowel -i, while Lower Bigrade represents polysyllabic roots ending in -e. This ending vowel was elided in the conclusive, attributive, and realis conjugations.

K-irregular and S-irregular represent verbs whose stems appear to be comprised of only one consonant each. These verbs behave as verbs with consonant stems, but they are originally vowel stems whose irregular conjugations are the result of vowel mutation and elision.

Irregular verbs

There are several verbs with irregular conjugations.

  • K-irregular: k- "come"
  • S-irregular: s- "do"
  • N-irregular: sin- "die", in- "go, die"
  • R-irregular: ar- "be, exist", wor- "be, exist"

The conjugation class for each is named after the final stem consonant.

Categories: Japonic | Extinct | Language

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