[KS] Koguryo part of China?

John Bentley tc0jrb1 at wpo.cso.niu.edu
Mon Jan 5 21:01:37 EST 2004

Dear All,

As one who has done some research on the onomastic data in Samkuk saki (SKSK) I have found the various comments on the languages of Silla, Paekche, and Koguryo interesting. However, let me urge caution on over speculating on this subject. These data constitute terribly thin evidence for any linguistic conclusions. One of the pitfalls of much research on these important data concerns the interpretation of the Chinese graphs. These graphs are often interpreted according to Sino-Korean or Karlgren's out-dated Chinese reconstructions. Even recent attempts to use innovative Chinese reconstructions err because many of the toponyms preserved in SKSK predate Early Middle Chinese (EMC, ca. 6th century). Let me give an example that hopefully will illustrate the difficulty of this problem. 

The name of the 21st king of Paekche is spelled gai4 'canopy' + lu3 'salt flat'. The traditional reading is Kay-lwo (using Yale romanization). Nihon shoki, interestingly, calls him Lord Kasuri (spelled phonetically). Just a different name? But notice what happens if we analyze the SKSK spelling according to Axel Schuessler's Later Han reconstruction (which represents Chinese pronunciation from around the third century CE): gai4-lu3 is *kas-lwo. The early Japanese appear to have inserted a vowel between the *s and l- (though it is just as possible the Paekche transcription ignored the medial vowel). The divergence of the final vowels is another problem that has exciting possibilities. My point is that simple comparisons here have a tendency to fail to accurately account for all the data. Scholars need to strive for rigor when analyzing these data. Even an appeal to Pulleyblank's EMC yields kayh-lo, without shedding light on the medial consonant. The evidence of the medial *s- is important here.

Several postings have mentioned that Koguryo and Japanese appear to be closely related. This may or may not be the case. As a linguist it is probably wise to say that this is simply a working hypothesis, and should be taken with a grain of salt on two counts. One, less than fifty words have been identified, which is quite tenuous to declare language A is related to language B. Second, Professor John Whitman has noted in a review of Ruins of Identity that there is a possibility that the Japanese-like toponyms predate Koguryo's possession of those areas. If correct, then we have a situation like here in the US where European settlers drove out Native American dwellers but kept their toponyms in many cases. If this proves correct, then Japanese and Koguryo may have nothing in common. I think the jury is still out on this one.

My final caveat is to avoid drawing broad conclusions on such a small corpus of data. Consider the folly of people 1500 years from now who do not correctly understand the history of the US and see toponyms like St. Louis, Milwaukee, New York, and El Paso, and think these languages were mutually intelligible dialects of the same language.

John R. Bentley

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