Sabbath Ambiguous Sabbath

Here's something I discovered while Wikipeding my way out from Rosh Hashanah: the Japanese word for "Sabbath", 安息日, has not one, not two, but three pronunciations.

  1. ansokubi
  2. ansokujitsu
  3. ansokunichi

You can see that they all pronounce 安息, the first two characters, ansoku: this means "rest" and is an independent word of its own. The difference lies in the pronunciation of the final character 日, "day". Wikipedia sez:


Even the Christian community is divided on the issue of pronunciation, but NHK pronounce it ansokubi.

In the Bungo yaku seisho 文語訳聖書 ["Literary-Tranlation Bible"], the Kōgo yaku seisho 口語訳聖書 ["Colloquial-Translation Bible"], and the Shinkai yaku seisho 新改訳聖書 ["Revised-Translation Bible"], it has the furigana ansokunichi; in the Furanshisuko-kai yaku seisho フランシスコ会訳聖書 ["Franciscan-Translation Bible"] it is ansokujitsu; and in the Shin kyōdō yaku seisho 新共同訳聖書 ["New Interconfessional Translation Bible"] it is ansokubi.

No doubt there is a lot of history going on there, but NHK have explained the reasoning behind their choice:


<例>記念日 給料日 参観日 誕生日 定休日 旅行日 休刊日
In Japanese, when "日" comes after a two-kanji word it is usually pronounced -bi, and so we use ansokubi in broadcasts.

Examples: 記念日 kinenbi [anniversary], 給料日 kyūryōbi [payday], 参観日 sankanbi [visitation day, e.g. day when parents can go and watch their children's classes at school], tanjōbi [birthday] teikyūbi [regular holiday, e.g. of a store closed every Sunday], 旅行日 ryokōbi [day of travel], 休刊日 kyūkanbi [day of suspended publication, e.g. a planned day off for a newspaper]

Makes sense! There are exceptions that use nichi or jitsu instead, like jokeinichi 除刑日 ("day of suspended punishment", day during the Edo period when no punishments were carried out due to holidays or other calendrical events) and taisaijitsu 大祭日 (the year's biggest festival day at a given shrine) — but most of them are either directly related to the (continental) lunar calendar or Buddhism. I think it's fair to say that (a) commonly used and (b) culturally post-Meiji terms tend to end in -bi instead.

Incidentally, back during Christianity's first pass at Japan, the word for "Sabbath" was domingo (from the Portuguese for "Sunday"), and I believe that 主の日 ("Lord's day") has seen some use too.

Popularity factor: 11

L.N. Hammer:

L'shana tovah!

Not knowing that -bi after two kanji rule does explain some of my confusion over 日. And increases it at the same time.

(It was very odd to go from working on KKS 148 to Rosh Hashanah services. That may have not been the best activity for beforehand.)


Leonardo Boiko:

I’m distressed about those words with uncertain pronunciation. The other day I was playing Shiren the Wanderer and there’s a place called 竹林の村. I thought I’d check the Japanese Internet to find how to say that, and found a long thread with comments like: “I was playing with my friend and was surprised to find he says takebayashi”, “wtf is there any pronunciation _other_ than takebayashi?”, “dude the pronunciation is totally chikurin”, etc. If even the natives aren’t sure, what should I train my acoustic image to be?


Why not list the most obvious examples: 日曜, 月曜, &c.?



Place names are hell. A lot of the names are Korean or Ainu or something anyway with the kanji just made up as ateji after the fact.

One train stop I recall going through was 武生 read Takefu. How that makes sense for 生 beats me, but it's pretty cool nonetheless: Fighting Life!


Yes, all the Ainu names of Shikoku....

I think a certain amount can be laid at the feet of sound shifts. Observe: Kanagawa's own 国府津 こうづ

The area is a bit kokufu-ish in history, too.


武生! Maybe that's etymologically 竹生 and just means "Place where bamboo grows" (you know, like 芝生... the ふ that's probably related to 生える etc.).

I dunno why NHK didn't go for the 曜日 set. Maybe they figured that they wouldn't be convincing of a general rule, since they're a special set of words.


Matt's intuition about bamboo being the original Take of Takefu is spot on, according to Guven Witteveen's ethnography of civic life in that city (The Renaissance of Takefu). The new kanji were apparently chosen in 1867 as a way of keeping up with the times. (Putting the BAM! back in bamboo, so to speak.)

I was reminded a while back that English toponyms aren't immune to this sort of convergence either, when I came upon the Oxfordshire village of Upper Slaughter - a name which is cognate with slough (wetland), rather than commemorative of a massacre. (That said, Wikipedia tells me that one can find an unhappy conjunction of both senses in Slaughter Slough, Minnesota).

Kyle G:

@Matt and Carl: Isn't 日曜 just an abbreviation for 日曜日?

It's not an actual 漢字2字のことば, so the stated rule 日本語では漢字2字のことばに「日」がつく名詞は、[~ビ]と発音する doesn't apply.

It's not like 安息, which is an actual independent word with 日 added on to the end.

At least, that's my thinking.


Surprisingly, no! 日曜 (and all the X曜s) are much older, having been around since rich people took 陰陽道 seriously (so, Heian period). Adding the final 日 happened as part of the weekification of Japanese timekeeping -- and actually the pronunciation was unclear at first. In Fukuzawa's Kaireki ben, he uses "Nichiyo-nichi, kayou-nichi", etc.


Dear Mr. George:I’m a 15-year-old student from Fujian Province rsoacs the Taiwan Channel ,but I also like reading English dictionaries and have 7 ones.I have been reading English dictionaries since I went to junior school .It has been my favorite activity.And now I am able to read some easy English novels.I think the LDOCE series is helpful to English beginners like me.But LDOCEs are a bit expensive to me.A few days ago,I got a Collins Cobuild Advanced Learner’s English Dictionary[5th Edition],But I don’t know what its advantages are. Could you introduce it in detail,and tell me some good methods for my English study?Thank you very much and spare my poor English reply .


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