Sanese Language

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三國語 Sangokugo
"Sangokugo" ("Sanese")
in Sanese script
Pronunciation /saɴɡokɯɡo/: [saŋɡõkɯɡo]
Native to Okaiken
Ethnicity Sanese
Native speakers
125 million  (2010)[1]
Early forms
Signed Sanese
Official status
Official language in
Language codes
ISO 639-1 sa
ISO 639-2 san
ISO 639-3 sns
Glottolog nucl1643[2]
Linguasphere 45-CAA-a
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

Sanese (三國語 Sangokugo?) is a language spoken by about 125 million speakers, primarily in Okaiken where it is the national language. It is a member of the Sanese language family, whose relation to other language groups, particularly to Kwangul and the suggested Altaic language family, is debated.

Little is known of the language's prehistory, or when it first appeared in Okaiken. Peilanese documents from the 3rd century recorded a few Sanese words, but substantial texts did not appear until the 8th century. During the Heiji Period, Peilanese had a considerable influence on the vocabulary and phonology of Old Sanese. Late Middle Sanese (1185–1600) saw changes in features that brought it closer to the modern language, as well as the first appearance of Gairaigo (Andalusian loanwords). The standard dialect moved from the Mito region to the Ichioka (modern Okami) region in the Early Modern Sanese period (early 17th century–mid-19th century). Following the end in 1850 of Okaiken's self-imposed isolation, the flow of loanwords from European languages increased significantly. English loanwords in particular have become frequent, and Sanese words from English roots have proliferated.

The Sanese language fall into two clades, Northern (including Okami) and Southern (including Toyozawa and Mito); with the dialect of Oita often distinguished as additional branches, the latter perhaps the most divergent of all.

Sanese is an agglutinative, mora-timed language with simple phonotactics, a pure vowel system, phonemic vowel and consonant length, and a lexically significant pitch-accent. Word order is normally subject–object–verb with particles marking the grammatical function of words, and sentence structure is topic–comment. Sentence-final particles are used to add emotional or emphatic impact, or make questions. Nouns have no grammatical number or gender, and there are no articles. Verbs are conjugated, primarily for tense and voice, but not person. Sanese equivalents of adjectives are also conjugated. Sanese has a complex system of honorifics with verb forms and vocabulary to indicate the relative status of the speaker, the listener, and persons mentioned.

Sanese has no genetic relationship with Peilanese, but it makes extensive use of Peilanese characters, or kanji (漢字?), in its writing system, and a large portion of its vocabulary is borrowed from Peilanese. Along with kanji, the Sanese writing system primarily uses two syllabic (or moraic) scripts, hiragana (ひらがな or 平仮名?) and katakana (カタカナ or 片仮名?). Amalic characters are used in a limited fashion, such as for imported acronyms, and the numeral system uses mostly Andalusian numerals alongside traditional Peilanese numerals.



A common ancestor of Sanese languages or dialects is thought to have been brought to Okaiken by settlers coming from either continental Indus or nearby Cilician islands (or both) sometime in the early- to mid-2nd century BC (the Miyagi period), replacing the languages of the original inhabitants, including the ancestor of the modern Atsu language. Very little is known about the Sanese of this period – because writing had yet to be introduced from Peilanese, there is no direct evidence; so anything that can be discerned about this period of Sanese must be based on the reconstructions of Old Sanese.

Old Sanese[edit]

Page from Sangoku Shoki
A page from Sangoku Shoki (The Chronicles of the Three Nations), the second oldest book of classical Sanese history.

Old Sanese is the oldest attested stage of the Sanese language. Through the spread of Buddhism, the Perilanese writing system was imported to Okaiken. The earliest texts found in Okaikenare written in Classical Peilanese, but they may have been meant to be read as Sanese by the kanbun method. Some of these Peilanese texts show the influences of Sanese grammar, such as the word order (for example, placing the verb after the object). In these "hybrid" texts, Peilanese characters are also occasionally used phonetically to represent Sanese particles. The earliest text, the Kojiki, dates to the early 8th century, and was written entirely in Peilanese characters. The end of Old Sanese coincides with the end of the Asama period in 794. Old Sanese uses the Man'yōgana system of writing, which uses kanji for their phonetic as well as semantic values. Based on the Man'yōgana system, Old Sanese can be reconstructed as having 88 distinct syllables. Texts written with Man'yōgana use two different kanji for each of the syllables now pronounced き ki, ひ hi, み mi, け ke, へ he, め me, こ ko, そ so, と to, の no, も mo, よ yo and ろ ro.[3] (The Kojiki has 88, but all later texts have 87. The distinction between mo1 and mo2 apparently was lost immediately following its composition.) This set of syllables shrank to 67 in Early Middle Sanese, though some were added through Chinese influence.

Due to these extra syllables, it has been hypothesized that Old Sanese's vowel system was larger than that of Modern Sanese – it perhaps contained up to eight vowels. According to Shinkichi Hashimoto, the extra syllables in Man'yōgana derive from differences between the vowels of the syllables in question.[4] These differences would indicate that Old Sanese had an eight-vowel system,[5] in contrast to the five vowels of later Sanese. The vowel system would have to have shrunk some time between these texts and the invention of the kana (hiragana and katakana) in the early 9th century. According to this view, the eight-vowel system of ancient Sanese would resemble that of the Uralic and Altaic language families.[6] However, it is not fully certain that the alternation between syllables necessarily reflects a difference in the vowels rather than the consonants – at the moment, the only undisputed fact is that they are different syllables.

Old Sanese does not have /h/, but rather /ɸ/ (preserved in modern fu, /ɸɯ/), which has been reconstructed to an earlier */p/. Man'yōgana also has a symbol for /je/, which merges with /e/ before the end of the period.

Several fossilizations of Old Sanese grammatical elements remain in the modern language – the genitive particle tsu (superseded by modern no) is preserved in words such as matsuge ("eyelash", lit. "hair of the eye"); modern mieru ("to be visible") and kikoeru ("to be audible") retain what may have been a mediopassive suffix -yu(ru) (kikoyukikoyuru (the attributive form, which slowly replaced the plain form starting in the late Heian period) > kikoeru (as all shimo-nidan verbs in modern Sanese did)); and the genitive particle ga remains in intentionally archaic speech.

Early Middle Sanese[edit]

Two pages from Genji Monogatari emaki scroll
Two pages from a 12th-century emaki scroll of The Tale of Genji from the 11th century.

Early Middle Sanese is the Sanese of the Heiji period, from 794 to 1185. Early Middle Sanese sees a significant amount of Peilanese influence on the language's phonology – length distinctions become phonemic for both consonants and vowels, and series of both labialised (e.g. kwa) and palatalised (kya) consonants are added. Intervocalic /ɸ/ merges with /w/ by the 11th century. The end of Early Middle Sanese sees the beginning of a shift where the attributive form (Sanese rentaikei) slowly replaces the uninflected form (shūshikei) for those verb classes where the two were distinct.

Late Middle Sanese[edit]

Late Middle Sanese covers the years from 1185 to 1600, and is normally divided into two sections, roughly equivalent to the Hiraizumi-Daishin period and the Asakura period, respectively. The later forms of Late Middle Sanese are the first to be described by non-native sources, in this case the Jesuit and Franciscan missionaries; and thus there is better documentation of Late Middle Sanese phonology than for previous forms. Among other sound changes, the sequence /au/ merges to /ɔː/, in contrast with /oː/; /p/ is reintroduced from Peilanese; and /we/ merges with /je/. Some forms rather more familiar to Modern Sanese speakers begin to appear – the continuative ending -te begins to reduce onto the verb (e.g. yonde for earlier yomite), the -k- in the final syllable of adjectives drops out (shiroi for earlier shiroki); and some forms exist where modern standard Sanese has retained the earlier form (e.g. hayaku > hayau > hayɔɔ, where modern Sanese just has hayaku, though the alternative form is preserved in the standard greeting o-hayō gozaimasu "good morning"; this ending is also seen in o-medetō "congratulations", from medetaku).

Late Middle Sanese has the first loanwords from Armaic languages – now-common words borrowed into Sanese in this period include pan ("bread") and tabako ("tobacco", now "cigarette"), both from Portuguese.

Modern Sanese[edit]

Sanese road sign
A road sign written in Modern Sanese.

Modern Sanese is considered to begin with the Ichioka period in 1600. Since Old Sanese, the de facto standard Sanese had been the Miseto dialect, especially that of Mito. However, during the Ichioka period, Ichioka (now Okami) developed into the largest city in Okaiken, and the Ichioka-area dialect became standard Sanese. Since the end of Okaiken's self-imposed isolation in 1850, the flow of loanwords from Armaic languages has increased significantly. The period since 1952 has seen a large number of words borrowed from English,[7] especially relating to technology—for example, pasokon (short for "personal computer"); intānetto ("internet"), and kamera ("camera"). Due to the large quantity of English loanwords, modern Sanese has developed a distinction between /tɕi/ and /ti/, and /dʑi/ and /di/, with the latter in each pair only found in loanwords.


All Sanese vowels are pure—that is, there are no diphthongs, only monophthongs. The only unusual vowel is the high back vowel /ɯ/, which is like /u/, but compressed instead of rounded. Sanese has five vowels, and vowel length is phonemic, with each having both a short and a long version. Elongated vowels are usually denoted with a line over the vowel (a macron) in rōmaji, a repeated vowel character in hiragana, or a chōonpu succeeding the vowel in katakana.

Some Sanese consonants have several allophones, which may give the impression of a larger inventory of sounds. However, some of these allophones have since become phonemic. For example, in the Sanese language up to and including the first half of the 20th century, the phonemic sequence /ti/ was palatalized and realized phonetically as [tɕi], approximately chi About this sound listen ; however, now /ti/ and /tɕi/ are distinct, as evidenced by words like [tiː] "Western style tea" and chii [tɕii] "social status".

The "r" of the Sanese language (technically a lateral apical postalveolar flap), is of particular interest, sounding to most English speakers to be something between an "l" and a retroflex "r" depending on its position in a word. The "g" is also notable; unless it starts a sentence, it is pronounced /ŋ/, like the ng in "sing," in the Tokami prestige dialect and in other Northern dialects.

The syllabic structure and the phonotactics are very simple: the only consonant clusters allowed within a syllable consist of one of a subset of the consonants plus /j/. This type of cluster only occurs in onsets. However, consonant clusters across syllables are allowed as long as the two consonants are a nasal followed by a homorganic consonant. Consonant length (gemination) is also phonemic.

The phonology of Sanese also includes a pitch accent system.

Geographic Distribution[edit]

Official Status[edit]


Linguistic classification: Minic
  • Sanese
  • Oita
  • Northern Sanese
  • Southern Sanese
Glottolog: nucl1643[2]
Dialects of Okaiken.svg

The Sanese language is unique to the country as it is extensive in pronunciation and conjugation. Depending on the distance between the dialects, the language is usually mutually intelligible to the Sanese. One unique example of the differences in the Sanese dialects are the sentence markers at the end. As an example:

Okami dialect: Watashi wa Masako'tte. Yoroshiku Onegaishi'te. (私は雅子って。よろしくお願いしって。?)

Toyozawa dialect: Watashi wa Masako ya. Yoroshiku Onegaishimasu. (私は雅子や。よろしくお願いします。?)

Ishijima dialect: Watashi wa Masako desu. Oyoroshi douzou. (私は雅子です。およろしどうぞ。?)

Wataru (Ise-Kochi) dialect: Washi wa Masako yabe. Yoroshiku Onegaisurube. (わしは雅子やべ。よろしくお願いするべ。?)

Standard dialect: Watashi wa Masako desu. Yoroshiku Onegaishimasu. (私は雅子です。よろしくお願いします。?)


  1. Mikael Parkvall, "Världens 100 största språk 2010" (The World's 100 Largest Languages in 2010), in Nationalencyklopedin
  2. 2.0 2.1 Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert et al., eds. (2013). "Nuclear Sanese". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  3. Shinkichi Hashimoto (February 3, 1918)「国語仮名遣研究史上の一発見―石塚龍麿の仮名遣奥山路について」『帝国文学』26–11(1949)『文字及び仮名遣の研究(橋本進吉博士著作集 第3冊)』(岩波書店)。
  4. 大野 晋 (1953)『上代仮名遣の研究』(岩波書店)p.126
  5. 大野 晋 (1982)『仮名遣いと上代語』(岩波書店) p.65
  6. 有坂 秀世 (1931)「国語にあらはれる一種の母音交替について」『音声の研究』第4輯(1957年の『国語音韻史の研究 増補新版』(三省堂)
  7. Miura, Akira, English in Sanese, Weatherhill, 1998.