Transliteration Misunderestimated

January 30, 2008

The yen has at times beguiled me and I finally gleamed the answer from the ever-wise sometimes-wrong Wikipedia:

In standard Japanese, the yen is pronounced “en” but the spelling and pronunciation of “yen” is standard in English, due to a historical Portuguese transliteration. The inclusion of the letter y is based on romanization of an obsolete writing of the word which included the kana ゑ (ye/we), examples of which can also be found in such words as Yebisu, Iyeyasu, and Yedo (it was still pronounced, however, as e). Like the spellings of names of people outside Japan, the romanization of yen has become a permanent feature.

Essentially the unit is pronounced like the letter N. It would help a great deal if their currency symbol integrated that letter instead of the Y. And it’s not like N is hard for non-Japanese to pronounce.

But seriously, can you imagine that throughout the long and glorious history of the land of the sun’s origin* — from Meiji restoration to postbellum economic miracle to today’s mammoth trade surplus con los Estados Unidos — no one bothered to mention, “Please forgive my humble yet selfishly rude interruption even though you weren’t saying anything and were looking bored, but we pronounce it “EN,” not “YEN.”

This is more annoying than the Korean [soon to be former] president and his name that’s spelt Roh Moo-hyun but pronounced “Noh.” Because the ancient (and might I add not the current) pronunciation of the Chinese character in this Korean dude’s name (노) had an R-esque sound (in other words, “the romanization of an obsolete writing of the word”). Yeah, you just didn’t want to be President No.

* “Sun’s origin” is a somewhat more direct translation of the rising sun moniker and thusly bound to confuse, leading to more annoying badly researched blog entries no doubt: 日本 (Nihon, Japan): 日, sun; 本, origin.

[This post is brought to you by a confusing conversation about a movie called “Yen Town” which in some parts of the world may be pronounced N-town.]

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