The role of etymology in modern meaning

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Mr Punch

Member
England, British English
Hello all,

This is really an etymological question, but specifically related to Japanese, so I'm putting it in here.

On the schedule sheet at my school they mention this on the agenda for a certain meeting:

7/11の会議の誤りです。(I'm afraid I don't have further context to determine what kind of mistake or whatever - but we should bear in mind that 7/11 hasn't come yet! They may be about to admit that they made a mistake in scheduling and 7/11 is not possible after all, or they may have made a mistake in writing 7/11 in a prior document where it shouldn't have been).

Now, if we look up 誤り it means 'make a mistake'.
But of course we also have 謝り which means 'to be at fault'/'to accept fault'/'to apologise'.

It's easy to see where these overlap but they are different, and I have a couple of questions.

1) In spoken Japanese, presumably there is no difference at all in intonation between these two あやまり...?

2) If (1) is the case, presumably the listener and speaker wouldn't make a distinction between meanings: it is a mistake AND THEREFORE they are at fault AND apologising...?

3) Were these words originally the same, and different kanji were assigned to them to distinguish the meaning more precisely?

4) Was the use of two kanji in this case an accident (e.g. a regional Chinese variation; mistake in transcriptional nuance from two core Chinese words etc) and the distinction came later?

5) Does it help to think of such closely connected words as one when thinking of the feeling and when translating in modern text? (There are of course, many other examples of this kind of distinction in the written word that may not exist in the spoken, some of which are probably further in meaning than 誤り and 謝り, so if it helps to use one of those examples to illustrate a point please do.)

Thanks!
 
  • Flaminius

    coclea mod
    日本語 / japāniski / יפנית
    Hello Mr Punch,

    First of all, do you want to discuss the two specific words or a general tendency? I think I would change the title if the former is the case, and the latter leads to a very interesting academic discussion. :)

    I could check the etymology of 誤り and 謝り but I will concentrate on answers that don't require etymology in this post. After all Japanese etymology is a bit stickier than that of IE languages and, as Saussure would agree, the study of la synchronie does not necessarily require the knowledge of la diachronie (end of a pompous excuse not to take time to do homework).

    1) There is no difference at all in intonation between these two あやまり. With no phonological difference, however, the Japanese can tell one from the other without much difficulty most of the time.

    2) No single comment from a native speaker can legitimately serve as a neutral judgement, but I don't think I confuse the apology sense and the mistake sense. The usual suspects are to blame, I think. :) To be more specific, I see context at work.

    あやまり in sense of apology goes together with a limited number of words. 謝りを入れる is "to express one's apology." 謝り方 is the most popular expression for "a way to apologise." If you come to someone and state your apology, what you do is 誤り謝りに行く. The other sense in these contexts is awkward: 誤りを入れる, 誤り方, 誤りにいく. For the first of them, the 誤り and 入れる do not make a very good collocation. For the other two, I seem to hear 間違い more than anything.

    あやまり in sense of mistake turns up more freely. "次の文章には5つの誤りがあります。指摘して訂正しなさい" would be senseless if ayamari here were not a mistake.
    "7/11の会議の誤りです" has nothing to do with apology, either. It just acknowledges that there has been a mix-up and provides the correct date. [Now take out a pen and mark the date on your schedule book. :) It's not too late for rearrangement.] No apology is expressed even implicitly. If the author feels the need, she has to add something like: お詫びして訂正します.

    4) Both 謝 and 誤 have a few discrete meanings in older Chinese but the two semantic fields overlap very little. My 漢和辞典 says 謝 can mean "過ちを認めてわびる。あやまる (『漢字海』)" but this is the closest it can get to "mistake." 謝 is never used in sense of a mistake. The mistake sense has a few more kanji representations. None of the kanji can additionally mean "to apologise." It is safe to say that the two kanji came into Japanese uses in full awareness that they mean different things.
     
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    Mr Punch

    Member
    England, British English
    I was talking about the phenomenon in general, but happened to be using my recent example.

    Thanks very much for your answer: I'll get back to it later when I have some time.
     

    Flaminius

    coclea mod
    日本語 / japāniski / יפנית
    A few more interesting points I want to share:

    3) 『岩波国語辞典四版』 argues that 謝る was derived from 誤る. Recognising one being at fault motivates one to apologize. The two verbs are already different words now, with 謝る having a secondary meaning: 閉口する。降参する。閉口して断る。「そんな面倒な事はこちらがーよ」 (I myself have never heard this usage; though I would use ごめんだ, another word with an apology sense, in the context).
    The primary sense of the derived verb is well-expressed by the kanji 謝.

    5) Does it help to think of such closely connected words as one when thinking of the feeling and when translating in modern text? (There are of course, many other examples of this kind of distinction in the written word that may not exist in the spoken, some of which are probably further in meaning than 誤り and 謝り, so if it helps to use one of those examples to illustrate a point please do.)
    The 岩波 dictionary lists 謝る and 誤る as two separate entries. The kanji used for one cannot really replace the kanji used for the other, being two different words in Chinese. It is natural to expect that the Japanese words equalling more or less to two different words in Chinese are, in fact, two different words. It would be rather confusing to have all these senses under one dictionary entry since making a mistake and passing up a request don't really have semantic connections.

    If etymology served as a means to anticipate a word's sense, 謝る would entail that the one who apologizes has recognised that one made a mistake. In other words 謝る would be used only when the apology is heart-felt. In reality, however, it is always possible to make an 謝り hypocritically without feeling sorry about what one has done. Etymology is a great tool for building your vocabulary but don't let it skew your view of what is really really meant here and today. :D

    I cannot find any example in Japanese but I remember wondering how "sentence" connects within itself a period of forceful vacation from the society paid by the government and a sequence of alphabets from a capital to a period. I don't think I checked the etymology of "sentence" but the two senses, with the same pronunciation and spelling, don't confuse me. Again, context is at work.
     
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    lammn

    Senior Member
    Chinese - Cantonese
    I'm not sure about the etymology of the words in question, but since kanji is borrowed from Chinese, I find it very much useful if you have a knowledge in Chinese hanzi when studying Japanese kanji.




    Using 謝り and 誤り as examples to illustrate, the character 謝 has basically four meanings in Chinese :
    1. To thank (as in 多謝、感謝、致謝、道謝)
    2. To refuse (as in 謝絶、辭謝)
    3. To wither (as in 凋謝、身陳代謝)
    4. To apologise (as in 謝罪、謝過)
    Note that the 4th meaning of the Chinese character 謝 has exactly the same meaning as the Japanese word 謝り.



    On the other hand, 誤 in Chinese does not have the "apologise" meaning. So it's pretty easy for Chinese people to distinguish between 謝り and 誤り. ;) The hanzi 誤 has the following meanings in Chinese:
    1. Mistake, to misunderstand, to misinterpret (as in 錯誤、失誤、誤解)
    2. To tarry (as in 耽誤、誤點、遲誤)
    3. To mislead and cause harm to (person) (as in 誤人子弟、誤人非淺)
    4. Accidentally (as in 誤傷、誤殺)
    Note that the first meaning is very similar to the Japanese word 誤り.

    Thus, I would argue that understanding of the original meaning of the Chinese hanzi (etymology?) would be very beneficial in understanding the meaning of Japanese kanji. It is particularly useful in distinguishing the difference in nuance of "similar" kanji, such as 謝り vs. 誤り, 早く vs. 速く, 悲しい vs. 哀しい, etc.
     
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