Japanese Morphology: -fun

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As I review for the JLPT, I look through my first primers, the famous Genki books, to find goodies I may have overlooked while in the classroom and to find things that sound rather mysterious but are decipherable with a sufficiently critical eye.

Tonight, I want to look at a small part of Japanese morphology, specifically how the suffixes for “minute” come about.

Minute – fun (分)

1分 – ippun
2分 – nifun
3分 – sanpun
4分 – yunpun
5分 – gofun
6分 – roppun
7分 – nanafun
8分 – happun
9分 – kyuufun
10分 – juppun

You will notice that we have 3 variations of the same suffix:

“fun” (2, 5, 7, 9)
“pun” (3, 4, 8)
“ppun” (1, 6, 10)

Now, if we want to make a rule that we can use to reach the correct version of the suffix, we have to look at the main lexeme, i.e. the actual numbers:

“fun” (ni, go, nana, hachi)
“pun” (san, yon, kyuu)
“ppun” (ichi, roku, juu)

Here’s the Minute Rule: 

You begin with


1) If the lexeme ends in /n/, add “pun”

Ichi –> Ichi (does not end in /n/, n/a, ×)
Ni –> Ni (does not end in /n/, n/a, ×)
San –> San (ends in /n/) –> Sanpun (DONE)
Yon –> Yon (ends in /n/) –> Yonpun (DONE)
Go –> Go (does not end in /n/, n/a, ×)
Roku –> Roku (does not end in /n/, n/a, ×)
Nana –> Nana (does not end in /n/, n/a, ×)
Hachi –> Hachi (does not end in /n/, n/a, ×)
Kyuu –> Kyuu (does not end in /n/, n/a, ×)
Juu –> Juu (does not end in /n/, n/a, ×)

2) Consider the unvoiced consonants in the middle of the lexeme (here in bold.) Then disregard them.
IF, there are two vowels and ARE NOT preceded by a palatalized consonant AND are adjacent to one another, then it takes “ppun” WITH the second vowel eliminated.

Ichi –> ii (adjacent vowels) –> Ippun (DONE)
Ni –> Ni (one vowel, n/a, ×)
Sanpun (DONE)
Yonpun (DONE)
Go –> Go (one vowel, n/a, ×)
Roku –> Rou (adjacent vowels) –> Roppun (DONE)
Nana –> Nana (non adjacent vowels, n/a, ×)
Hachi –> Hai (adjacent vowels) –> Happun (DONE)
Kyuu –> Kyuu (/ky/ is a palatalized consonant, n/a, ×)
Juu –> Juu (adjacent vowels) –> Juppun (DONE)

3) Everything else takes “fun”

Ippun (DONE) [Step 2]
Ni –> Nifun (DONE)
Sanpun (DONE) [Step 1]
Yonpun (DONE) [Step 1]
Go –> Gofun (DONE)
Roppun (DONE) [Step 2]
Nana –> Nanafun (DONE)
Hachi –> Happun (DONE) [Step 2]
Kyuu –> Kyuufun (DONE)
Juu –> Juppun (DONE)

There you go. In case you don’t want to just memorize them, you can just use the rule.

(It’s good to note that there is a “hachifun” version also. To create a rule where this appears, you have to add to Step 2 that the two vowels have to be either identical or that the first vowel must be rounded. [Roundedness is a feature of vowels therein the lips round to produce the sound. Of the 5 Japanese vowels, 1, viz. /o/, is rounded, 3, viz. /a/ /e/ and /i/ are unrounded, and 1, /u/ is called “compressed,” which means that the lips are put close together rather than rounded.] This, however, is a much lengthier and intricate rule.)

Warning: at a functional level, these rules work are are efficient because there are few variations of the one suffix and only ten numbers to consider it with. However, at a historic level, other rules and certain rationales may arise. For example, /ichi/ comes from a Sinitic root that is [yit] with that [t] being a stop and [y] being a semivowel close enough to [i] that it might as well be [i]; and it’s clear that the /ch/ is a later development.