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Days of the Week

May 23, 2010
I learned the names of the days of the week in four or five languages and it amazes me that Chinese, ( and that goes for the months of the year ) is the simplest.  The names for months of the year (Jan, Feb, Mar etc) does not vary very much between different languages.  The western Latin languages have exactly the same root and all their months sound the same.  Then there are the Arabic-based languages..  Even Indonesian (and Malay) copied that of the Latin based language.  No surprise especially when one knows the Dutch influence on Bahasa Indonesia.  But it is interesting to know that Indoensian called the eighth month "Augustus" (the Caesar will be glad) but the Malays prefer "Ogos".  And all the other languages that have heavy influence from the Chinese language (in counting) will simply use the numbers one to twelve.  No names needed. 

But days of the week has a different twist.  Indonesians use Senin for Monday but Malays use Isnin.  Maybe that’s just a matter of spelling.  Both Malay and Indonesia word for Friday are the same and it is Arabic influence for sure.  Chinese uses numbers one to six for the days of the week and 日(ri)"Sun" for Sunday.  That’s also the reason why Chinese, Japanese and Koreans
(non-christians, I mean) think Monday is the first day of the week and
the Westerners insist Sunday is the first day of the week.   Wait, I lied.  The Slavic-influenced languages also uses counting for days of the week, but they use names for the weekends (Saturday and Sunday).  I don’t know what their answer will be if I ask them which is the first day of the week.  Later on (which is today) airline uses number 1 for Monday, 2 for Tuesday etc for practical coding reasons.  Using 1 for Sunday and 2 for Monday etc, will have too much confusion with those countries whose languages use numbers for days of the week.  Singaporeans will not have  a problem understanding "Delta Airline only fly to Timbaktu on 1 3 5."

  But what really baffles me is the origin of the names of the Days of the week in Japanese.  I learnt the Japanese days of the week fifteen years ago to the point of 滚瓜烂熟 (literally "rolling",  "melon",  "rotten",  "cooked").  The Japanese uses 月火水木金土日(moon, fire, water, wood, gold earth, sun).  It doesn’t seem to have the chinese influence, because in the water comes before fire, and gold is probably ranked above all other elements.  During the Army days (25 years ago?), I used to memorize 十天干 ,十二地支and 阴阳五行 by heart.  None of those knowledge seemed to explain the order for the way Japanese name the days of the week.  For a long time, I thought maybe there is no rhyme or reason.  Maybe the Japanese just picked those six elements randomly.  But now I know the reason thanks to Bathrobe’s cjvlang .  The reason is astrological (astronomy too?).  And it has direct link to the ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greeks and
Romans.  All these civilization looked at the same sky and it’s been the same anywhere on earth and anytime in history.  The use of the seven "yao’s" (seven luminaries’ 七曜) has the same order as the middle eastern planetary names. And the Japanese  learnt it from the Koreans who took it from the Chinese.  No wonder the Japanese uses "yao" ( 日 pronounced yobi) for days of the week.

There is nothing more satisfying than solving a puzzle.  Especially an intellectual one that involved different civilizations.  One more question (baffling me since way before internet days) was solved.  Let me go on to the next….Open-mouthed


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One Comment
  1. Vicky permalink


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