LINGUIST List 12.1871

Sun Jul 22 2001

Sum: Origins of Arigato

Editor for this issue: Lydia Grebenyova <>


  • Jonathan Lewis, Origins of Arigato

    Message 1: Origins of Arigato

    Date: Wed, 18 Jul 2001 23:36:31 +0900
    From: Jonathan Lewis <>
    Subject: Origins of Arigato

    For Query: Linguist 12.1831

    The votes are in on the origins of arigato. Here we go, in reverse order:

    "Arigato" derives from the Portuguese "obrigado"....0

    "Aaargghhhhh! No, no, no, no, no! How many times a year can this question keep coming up without it becoming universal knowledge etc. etc"....1

    Don't know, but wish you would spell "obrigado" correctly....2

    "Arigato" has nothing whatsoever to do with Portuguese. It is based on two Chinese characters, one meaning "difficult" and the other "to be". In other words, I'm so indebted to you, I'm having a hard time even existing over here.....12

    Perhaps I should explain my reason for asking what is evidently an, um, RTFM question. Last week I was reading an edited volume called "Language Change in East Asia" (Curzon, 2001). Said book contains a chapter entitled "Some Returned Loans: Japanese Loanwords in Taiwan Mandarin", whose author shall remain nameless in light of the above responses. Anyway, on page 167 I found the following lines:

    "Other widely known Japanese expressions without a set written form in Chinese include: arigato gozaimasu 'thank you very much' (...; few Chinese know that this expression is often written with the kanji [..], nor that the Japanese is itself a foreign loan, coming from the Portuguese word for 'thank you', obrigado)"

    Having enough knowledge of Japanese to teach and publish in the language, I found the above rather surprising, but not being a specialist in linguistics I thought I'd ask your collective opinion. For which, rendered so generously, many thanks.

    Jonathan Lewis

    Tokyo Denki University