Years ago I did an internship at a foreign company in Japan whose local branch had the somewhat enigmatic extension “K.K.” Throughout the internship I kept wondering what these two letters were supposed to mean, but found it just too embarrassing to ask.

I’m mentioning this episode because it relates — with some detours — to an interesting phenomenon in Japanese word formation. When two words melt into one, they frequently seal their morphological relationship with a “blurring” of the second part. Take hana-bi (花火, firework), for instance, which is a compound of hana (花, flower) and hi (火, fire). This process, which turns hi into bi, ku into gu, chi into ji, etc., is commonly known as rendaku (連濁), a connection (連) that blurs (濁).

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