Because related Indo-European languages in the West spread enormously, why didn't related languages of some family (an obvious possibility is Sinitic) similarly spread through the areas that are now China, Korea, Japan? Why didn't a sole (ancestor) language preponderate over these areas? I assume nothing about what that lone language was, but Chinese feels like the most probable candidate. I'm extending this question on Reddit to Chinese.

Unquestionably China, Korea, Japan are way closer to each other than Iceland, Ireland vs. Bengal — the "polar opposite" language borders of the Indo-European family. China and Korea share land borders. The shortest distance from Korea to Japan is 214 km, from Busan to Hakata.

I'll analogize Chinese, Japanese, Korean to Latin and Latin's devolution into the Romance Languages. Where does my analogy fail? Did the East Asians lack horses and wheeled vehicle technology of the Indo-Europeans? Korea and Japan adopted Chinese, the Chinese writing system, and culture. "The Chinese hanzi is in fact Korean hanja and Japanese kanji". I know about Sino-Korean and Sino-Japanese words, but Modern Japanese utilizes Chinese characters more explicitly and readily than Modern Korean. Similarly, Western Europe adopted Latin, the Latin writing system, and Roman culture.

Like the Roman Empire, China has been a military, economic, and social superpower that influenced Korea, Japan, Vietnam. "Korean and Japanese officials and intellectuals used Chinese for the official documentation, records and poems, just like British used [Norman] French in their courts for some time before their native “English” language could be widely accepted and used". I'm surmising that Chinese could've been a sprachbund and lingua franca.

Whether Koreanic and Japonic languages share a common origin is an outstanding question — but this is irrelevant — because even if they are related, the Sino-Tibetan language family is distinguished and distinct from the Koreanic/Japonic language families.

I read that the Japanese migrated not from mainland China, and "the Manchurians (related more the the Mongols and Turks than the Han Chinese) migrated to Korea, and then the Koreans crossed the straight into Japan".

  • 4
    Do you mean "what are the historical reasons why languages from the same family aren't spoken in China, Japan, and Korea", or "what are the linguistic reasons why those languages aren't considered to form a family", or what?
    – Draconis
    Jun 19 '21 at 5:08
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    I don’t really understand your question. The analogy with Latin is quite apt, and the evolution is similar in some ways – but having a lingua franca superstrate does not make the local languages related, so I don’t see how it’s relevant. In Europe, the Romance and Germanic (and Slavic) languages which were most heavily influenced by Latin happened to already be related, but they weren’t mutually intelligible; in Asia, the languages that were most influenced by Chinese (Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese) happened not to be already related. Jun 19 '21 at 9:38
  • you may want to read Koreo-Japonica: A Re-evaluation of a Common Genetic Origin by Alexander Vovin jstor.org/stable/j.ctt6wqz03
    – Alex B.
    Jun 19 '21 at 19:40
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    @user52144 You cannot make languages more related, just like you cannot make people more related. Relatedness is whether or not two languages (or people) originate from the same source or not, and that can’t be changed because it’s in the past. Your cousin is genetically related to you because you share the same grandparents – living in houses next to each other doesn’t change that. Jun 20 '21 at 6:18
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    @user52144 Japanese and Korean borrowed very extensively from Chinese – a very large percentage of their vocabulary is Chinese in origin. But that doesn’t mean they ‘entered’ the Sino-Tibetan family. You can’t enter a language family, just like you can’t genetically enter a human family without being born into it. You can think of borrowing vocabulary as ‘marrying’ into a family if you wish – it closely aligns you with a family, but your genes won’t change to be those of that family. Family relatedness is genetic and is purely determined by past origin. Jun 26 '21 at 8:56

There are several problems involved in your question:

  1. A major issue is Korean, as the language has only about 400 words that can be considered potentially inherited, all the rest is borrowings most of them Chinese. So Korean is really very difficult to handle, no matter which hypothesis is proposed.
  2. Chinese is not reconstructed into the deep past. To a large extent, so-called Ancient Chinese is in fact Proto-Mandarin, circa 3,000 year Before Present. So very shallow.
  3. Japanese is also difficult, as it seems that Japanese is a mixture of several lexical sources, some probably Siberian, some other from China Mainland, and some from Austronesian, which makes it hard to tell which source is the most acceptable inheritance, all the rest being intrusional.
    In other words, it is not an easy job to disentangle the relationships in this zone.
  • 4
    What is the basis for the claim that “so-called Ancient Chinese is in fact Proto-Mandarin”? More material for OC is taken from other regiolects than from Mandarin specifically, and virtually everything is based on a comparison of Mandarin and other regiolects. Jun 19 '21 at 9:34
  • 5
    "Korean, as the language has only about 400 words that can be considered potentially inherited, all the rest is borrowings most of them Chinese"—source for your claim? Jun 19 '21 at 10:21
  • 4
    I also have trouble understanding "only about 400 inherited words" part - inherited from where? I assume you're not suggesting 99% of modern Korean vocabulary is borrowed from somewhere else?
    – jick
    Jun 19 '21 at 18:43
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    No idea where one might find such a weird claim. Even if you just count the number of all the words in a dictionary, Sino-Korean words are estimated to be 50-60% of the whole vocabulary.
    – jick
    Jun 20 '21 at 4:31
  • 1
    So what is the source for that claim?
    – Keelan
    Jun 30 '21 at 14:01

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