View Full Version : Japanese "morumotto"

06-08-10, 11:44 pm
Ohayoo gozaimasu,

I'm a Canadian learning beginner Japanese, so of course I looked up guinea pig in the dictionary and came up with "morumotto" in Katakana. I'm not surprised it's a loan word but from where? I'm really curious now how guinea pigs were introduced to Japan. If my Japanese were up to it I'd check a Japanese etymological dictionary but they are hard enough to understand in English.

Anyone else have any ideas?



06-08-10, 11:57 pm
I can't really answer your question but it's quite interesting to note that it's very similiar to my home language, Afrikaans, where piggies are called Marmotte. Even though Afrikaans was not derived from Japanese in any way!

06-09-10, 01:24 am
I can't really answer your question but it's quite interesting to note that it's very similiar to my home language, Afrikaans, where piggies are called Marmotte. Even though Afrikaans was not derived from Japanese in any way!

I think "marmotte" in Afrikaans comes from the Dutch word "marmot", which is a name some people use here for cavy's. A marmot isn't a guinea pig though, it's a completely different animal lol

I guess the japanese name could be from the word marmot (I think marmot is an english wordt too?) too, the words look too much alike not to be in my opinion. The japenese use a lot of english words and they just pronounce them in a japanese way, like the word "kiss", they would pronounce it as "kissu" or something like that.

06-09-10, 02:02 am
I don't know about the origin of the Japanese word marumotto (it can also be spelled marumoto) but I will try to find out about it.

A marmot is a European mountain/forest mammal that is related to North American woodchucks (woodchuck is another name for groundhog--actually I think our woodchucks/groundhogs are just lowland marmots and there are highland marmots elsewhere in North America.) Marmots are fat, furry animals about the size of a small raccoon. I saw one once in the Alps and they are really sweet chubby creatures. They are related to squirrels. I can see why the Afrikaaners would call guinea pigs 'marmots'.

I'm away at another conference and should be working on my stuff but I can't resist trying to find out about the words for guinea pigs!

06-09-10, 12:36 pm
My family is of Dutch origin and all my life I have studied the Dutch trying to learn about my heritage. I'm also a big fan of all things Japanese so I'll try to explain this the best I can:

Yes, "morumotto" (written モルモット) is a loan word from the Dutch "marmot". Marmot is now obsolete in the Dutch language when describing a guinea pig.

During the Japanese Edo period (1603 to 1867), the Dutch East India company began to trade with Japan, probably around 1609. The Dutch traded both in Hirado and a few years later in Dejima. Both of these are located in Nagasaki Prefecture.

(Side note: 1609 is the same year the Dutch East India Company commissioned Henry Hudson to sail around Manhattan, which the Dutch West India Company would soon officially settle as Nieuw Amsterdam in 1624 - now known as New York City!)

During the Edo period, Japan enacted a self imposed isolation, known as "sakoku". This limited the foreign trade that was allowed to take place between Japan and foreigners. There are several explanations for this with the most widely accepted being that Japan saw the empires of Spain and Portugal a threat to their political stability and religion. Basically, sakoku was a means of control.

So up until the 1850's, the Dutch were the only Westerners (meaning Europeans) allowed to access Japan - and even then so - they were limited to Hirado and Dejima. Other Europeans that landed on Japanese soil were put to death. Other countries, such as China, also traded with Japan during this period, but overall, the Dutch East India Company was the main trader from the West with Japan for almost 250 years!

Additionally, the Japanese learned about western science, art and literature from the Dutch and termed them "Dutch studies". It was only natural that Japanese words of Dutch origin started to develop.

With that explained, the Dutch term "marmot" is no longer used and has become obsolete. Today, the Dutch use "guinees biggetje" (literally Guinea piglet or Guinea porkling) or "cavia" or sometimes "huiscavia" - this adds "house" to "cavia". To describe a lab rabbit or lab guinea pig, you might use "proefkonijn".

There are other Japanese words for guinea pig besides "morumotto". They also use "ginia piggu" (written ギニアピッグ) and "tenjiku-nezumi" (written テンジクネズミ).

06-09-10, 12:48 pm
Wow I'm lost. :)

06-09-10, 02:10 pm
Ooops! I was trying not to get to wordy!

Where did I lose you?

06-09-10, 02:51 pm
What a coincidence..

In Indonesia, guinea pig called marmut. :eek:

06-09-10, 03:05 pm
Yes! That would make sense also. Indonesia remained a Dutch colony until WWII.

06-09-10, 06:51 pm
Thank you for all the information. It does make perfect sense now. (and I'm a little embarrassed I didn't think of the "marmot" connection.) My linguistic curiosity is satisfied.

06-09-10, 07:59 pm
Interesting...so there is a chef on the Food Network, Masaharu Morimoto. Do you think his last name has to do with a guinea pig? I know it's not spelled the same but it seems like it's pronounced the same.

06-09-10, 08:30 pm
No...nothing to do with guinea pigs even though it sounds close!

Morimoto means "one who is from or one who is near a forest". It is most common in the West and Okinawa.

07-15-10, 05:30 pm
Thanks for the info! That was useful. I minored in Japanese, and must say that I enjoy seeing all the connections with language and culture.