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Who Named Japan - Japan?

jbelkin

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Just curious in doing research on Japan - if the country was/is officially Nippon/Niho - who decided to call them Japan - and what's the consenus on that name in Japan?

Any ideas? Thanks if you have the time.

Just curious.

Thanks.

KC
 

Brooker

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I've wondered about that. "The West" decided to call "Nihon" "Japan" for some reason. I've always thought it was very arrogant to re-name countries as you like. At least the Japanese make an attempt at pronouncing country names the way the natives do (ex. "Doitsu," "Italia," etc.).
 

senseiman

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I'm not 100% sure of this, but I remember reading somewhere that "Japan" comes from the Chinese pronounciation of the characters 日本 . I'm actually not sure if it was their pronounciation of those characters or different characters they used in China to describe Japan though. Japan had several names in addition to Nippon, which they didn't start using until about the 7th century. It would make sense though, because the name "land of the rising sun" is of course in direct reference to Japan's physical location in relation to China.
 

bossel

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Senseiman's explanation comes close. Looked it up in an etymology dictionary:

"1577, via Port. Japao, Du. Japan, acquired in Malacca from Malay Japang, from Chinese jih pun "sunrise" (equivalent of Japanese Nippon), from jih "sun" + pun "origin." Earliest form in Europe was Marco Polo's Chipangu."

@Brooker:
I don't think it's necessarily arrogance. The 1st people you meet in a newly discovered part of the world tell you "The land over there, that's blabla" & so blabla becomes the name in your language. Anyway, even if you "rename" country, I don't see much of a problem. If the original name is hard to pronounce for speakers of a language, why bother, why not transform it into something easier?
 

TwistedMac

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german people call germany deutschland..

swedish people call sweden sverige

this is not some western arrogance towards japaners (or should i say nihon-people?)
we've always done it.
 

jbelkin

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Cantonese?

I guess that's pretty good - I can tell in Mandarin Chinese - Japan is pronounced "zzee-binn" (well, as close as you get with English) and it does lierally mean 'Rising sun land." So, it was obviously not from Mandarin but thanks!


bossel said:
Senseiman's explanation comes close. Looked it up in an etymology dictionary:

"1577, via Port. Japao, Du. Japan, acquired in Malacca from Malay Japang, from Chinese jih pun "sunrise" (equivalent of Japanese Nippon), from jih "sun" + pun "origin." Earliest form in Europe was Marco Polo's Chipangu."

@Brooker:
I don't think it's necessarily arrogance. The 1st people you meet in a newly discovered part of the world tell you "The land over there, that's blabla" & so blabla becomes the name in your language. Anyway, even if you "rename" country, I don't see much of a problem. If the original name is hard to pronounce for speakers of a language, why bother, why not transform it into something easier?
 

Fantt

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As usual, Wikipedia Knows All.

Take a look at the heading, "Origin of Name." Pretty similar to what bossel said, just with a bit more information.

Wikipedia is pretty awesome.
 

Brooker

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It just bothers me when the translated name is so different from the original name that it's hard to tell it's even the same place. They should at least make an attempt.

Vienna = Ween
Hungary = I can't remember how it's said in Hungarian, but I don't think it even starts with an "H" and sound nothing like "Hungary".
Germany = Deutchland. This one has got to be the worst. I mean, come on, not even close.

There are many others that are shocking as well, I just can't think at the moment. I wouldn't like it if America was pronounced "Trixevil" in some other language. It's just too damned confusing!
 

bossel

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Brooker said:
It just bothers me when the translated name is so different from the original name that it's hard to tell it's even the same place. They should at least make an attempt.
I see your point, but the problem is: what is the original? Once you have a name for a country (no matter where it comes from), it tends to stick. When a country changes its official name, should all other languages change the name as well? Too complicated, usually.

Anyway, even if they try to be close to the original it would most often be pronounced in a way the inhabitants of that particular country wouldn't recognize it (Doitsu for Deutschland, well...).

Germany = Deutchland. This one has got to be the worst. I mean, come on, not even close.

There are many others that are shocking as well, I just can't think at the moment. I wouldn't like it if America was pronounced "Trixevil" in some other language. It's just too damned confusing!
Horror for you, maybe, but I even don't call your country "America". To me this is the name of the continent, while your country is the USA (but that's just me, many Germans go the easy way).

Germany is actually a nice example to show where these names come from. Deutschland itself derives from the old German word for the "language of the people" ("theodisk", or something like that). In many other languages the country is named after some Germanic tribe (or the Germans in general). Some examples:
Slavic languages - Niemcy / Německo (from the Slavic word for "mute")
Spanish/French - Alemania / Allemagne (after a Germanic tribe)
Finnish/Estnian - Saksa (German-ic state & tribe)
English/Italian - Germany / Germania (from Latin "Germania")
Hungarian - Nテゥmetorszテ。g (from Slavic)

Those countries in which the name is used that a foreign people gave their own land, often didn't have traditional contacts to that foreign country. An example in the case of Germany would be China: de-guo (they simply took a part of the 1st syllable & attached the Chinese word for "country"). Can't really say that it sounds like "Deutschland", but it's easy to pronounce for Chinese.

Lengthy speech, short sense: the speakers of a language decide how they call a foreign country. Whether they have a traditional name, due to long contacts, whether taken it from a mediator language or due to only recent contexts adapted the official name of a country doesn't really matter. It's all OK with me. I even find it interesting.
 

senseiman

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I think it is an interesting subject too. There are a lot of interesting historical connections that explain how countries are called in different langauges.

The Japanese do this just as much as anybody else too. The Japanese word for England is "Igirisu", which doesn't even come close. I don't see the big deal. The very name of my home country (Canada) comes from a similar mistake, it was the name of a small Algonquin (I think) village that some early Europeans mistook for the name of the entire land.

If we all used standardized "correct" names for each others countries around the world I think we would all be loosing an interesting part of our linguistic heritage.
 

Brooker

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bossel wrote....
Anyway, even if they try to be close to the original it would most often be pronounced in a way the inhabitants of that particular country wouldn't recognize it (Doitsu for Deutschland, well...).

But at least it's obvious that the Japanese were making an attempt at pronouncing "Deutchland" the original way. But "GERMANY"? That pronunciation is completely out of left field.

senseiman wrote....
The Japanese word for England is "Igirisu", which doesn't even come close.

Once again, that's the best pronunciation the Japanese could come up with using their alphabet and it's still obvious that they were making an effort to pronounce "England".

bossel wrote....
Horror for you, maybe, but I even don't call your country "America". To me this is the name of the continent, while your country is the USA (but that's just me, many Germans go the easy way).

Well, the country's official name is "The United States of America" (or USA), so calling it USA is accurate.

On a bit of a tangent... I always thought it was strange that America doesn't really have a name, it has more of a description. For example, Canada, Panama, those are names just like Steve or Bill, but U.S.A. just means that we have (50) states, which are united, and we're in the continent of America.

Also, the official name of Mexico is "Los Estados Unidos de Mexico" which means "The United States of Mexico" because Mexico is also made up of many states. So it could also be accurate to call Mexico "The United States".

Weird, huh?
 

senseiman

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Brooker said:
bossel wrote....


But at least it's obvious that the Japanese were making an attempt at pronouncing "Deutchland" the original way. But "GERMANY"? That pronunciation is completely out of left field.

Its not a question of pronounciation, the English word is just based on an older name for an area where Germany is now located. The state4 known as Deutshcland is very new too, it only came into existense about 130 years ago.

Brooker said:
Once again, that's the best pronunciation the Japanese could come up with using their alphabet and it's still obvious that they were making an effort to pronounce "England".

Igirisu is the closest they could come up with? I think "Ingurando" would be a hell of a lot closer and at least recognizeable as England to someone who didn't speak Japanese.
 

Lina Inverse

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bossel said:
Horror for you, maybe, but I even don't call your country "America". To me this is the name of the continent, while your country is the USA (but that's just me, many Germans go the easy way).
Normally it's called "US" or "USA" here. Americans (from the US) are called "Ami" (or "Amis" in plural).

bossel said:
Germany is actually a nice example to show where these names come from. Deutschland itself derives from the old German word for the "language of the people" ("theodisk", or something like that). In many other languages the country is named after some Germanic tribe (or the Germans in general). Some examples:
Slavic languages - Niemcy / Německo (from the Slavic word for "mute")
Spanish/French - Alemania / Allemagne (after a Germanic tribe)
Finnish/Estnian - Saksa (German-ic state & tribe)
English/Italian - Germany / Germania (from Latin "Germania")
Hungarian - Nテゥmetorszテ。g (from Slavic)
Actually, "Deutsch" derives from the Teutonic tribe, whose name in turn derives from "teut-", meaning people.
Spanish/French - Alemania / Allemagne derives from the Allemanic tribe.
Finnish/Estnian - Saksa derives from the Saxon tribe.
English/Italian - Germany / Germania derives from the Germanic tribe (who was the first to have contact with the Romans, hence the Latin name "Germania")
Italian - "Tedesco" (German) also derives from the Teutonic tribe.
Scandinavian "Tysk" derives from the Teutonic tribe as well.
 

bossel

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Lina Inverse said:
Normally it's called "US" or "USA" here. Americans (from the US) are called "Ami" (or "Amis" in plural).
Maybe that's true in the Ruhr area, but generally "Ami" is slang or even derogatory.

Actually, "Deutsch" derives from the Teutonic tribe, whose name in turn derives from "teut-", meaning people. [...]
English/Italian - Germany / Germania derives from the Germanic tribe (who was the first to have contact with the Romans, hence the Latin name "Germania")
Italian - "Tedesco" (German) also derives from the Teutonic tribe.
Scandinavian "Tysk" derives from the Teutonic tribe as well.
Actually, nope!
"Deutsch" is related to Old High German "diot" (~people). "Diutisc" (lat. "theodisc") was originally only used for the language, & only round 1090 there is 1st evidence for its use in relation to land & people. Latin "teutonicus" as an alternative for "theodisc" is only evident from the 9th century onwards & only in Latin. You can check it in the "dtv-Atlas zur deutschen Sprache".

There is no evidence that a tribe called Germans ever existed. Maybe the Greek had contact to such a tribe, but more probably they heard through others (Celts) about "Germans", we don't know.
AFAIK, Tacitus tells us that the Romans used the name Germans originally for the Tungri tribe & only later for all Germans. They should have got the name from the Celts.

Edit: What Tacitus actually wrote was that the Tungri were called Germans before, & after this tribe conquered Celtic territory, the Celts used this name for all Germans. It's not quite clear from this story if the Tungri called themselves Germans or if the Celts called them like this.
(Ooomph, I should read up on things before I post. Sorry!)


Brooker said:
But at least it's obvious that the Japanese were making an attempt at pronouncing "Deutchland" the original way. But "GERMANY"? That pronunciation is completely out of left field.
Well, there may be an effort involved, but is the result recognizable? Not really.

I really can't see the problem. For native speakers it doesn't matter how they call a foreign country, & second language learners have to learn so many words that a few country names (almost nobody would learn all of them) don't really matter.
 
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Tellklaus

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common sense

Several Koreans have issued this kind of problem. They suggest that English words like "Korea" or "Japan" are symbols of Western arrogance towards the East and remain Western Imperialism. So, they assert that westerners should call Korea "DAEHANMINGUK" instead of "KOREA".

But this assertion doesn't make sense at all. In my opinion, words like "Japan" and "Korea" do not represent political ideology such as "Imperialism", and I disagree that westerners use these forms because of "Western Pride" or "Wester Arrogance". "Japan" and "Korea" are mere conventional forms of calling foreign countries within one's language border. In English, it has been a conventional commonsense to call Korea "Korea", not "Hanguk", Japan "Japan" not "Nihon". Likewise, it has been a conventional commonsense for Koreans to call England "Young-Guk", not "England", the United States "Mi-guk", not the United States.

Even in Bible, English call Jacob "Jacob" not "Yako'v". When "something foreign" is introduced to society, members of the society domesticate the newly introduced "something foreign", and as time passes, "something foreign" becomes part of their tradition, politic, art, technology, religion and of course, language.
 

december

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Well, I don't know about all that other stuff, but for this simple American, it's so much easier to say Japan, Germany, China, Korea, etc... with my native English language that trying to use a foreign country's language.

Besides, people's accents can totally make a word sound like something else completely. I mean really - you should hear me speaking Japanese with my southern accent.
 

smig

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You might like to notice that "arrogant" Westerners are also flexible. Rhodesia was named after Cecil Rhodes, a British explorer, but later re-named Zimbabwe. The same has happened to cities: Bombay became Mumbai. Cambodia is often called Kampuchea. These are all cases where the people of a country can influence what their country is called.

Like some earlier posts have mentioned, you must understand the historical reasons for why a country was named a certain way. If you look at cities, this becomes clearer still. The German city of Regensburg is called Ratisbon by the French. The west German city of Cologne was named Colonia (Colony - I guess) by the Romans, so are the Kölner right when they call their city Köln or are the English correct when they call it Cologne? Clearly, you have a difference, basically due to linguistic and historical reasons.

In fact, it really becomes downright funny. The Yucatan peninsula in Central America is called this because when the Spanish landed, they grabbed the first poor mug they found and asked him (naturally assuming he spoke Spanish, of course - love that imperialist conceit) what this place was called, he replied (in the native dialect) Yucatan - which means "I don't understand."
 

rakuten

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I don't think arrogance is involved here. On TV and in newspapers, foreign politicians often have "new" names. It's easier to understand and pronounce foreign names if they are adapted to the local language.

"Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev" actually is written, "Михаи́л Серге́евич Горбачёв" in Russian. The transliteration is "Michail Sergeevič Gorbačテォv", but this is hardly pronounceable in German. In the German-speaking area, his name was adapted to "Michail Sergejewitsch Gorbatschow".

Switzerland is "Schweiz" in German, we also write it that way, but we pronounce "Schwiiz" in our dialect (Swiss German). But this concerns only the German-speaking part of Switzerland. The name derives from the Canton of Schwyz, one of the 3 Cantons that founded early Switzerland. And the French-speaking part uses "Suisse". In the Italian speaking part, it's "Svizzera". And in Rhaeto-Romanic, it's "Svizra". And we are one country! So this has nothing to do with arrogance but adaption to the local language.

I'd rather consider it an insult if people mix up Switzerland with Swaziland! It often happens with Sweden and Switzerland, got mercy here because both are located in Europe. But Swaziland...?

France is "Frankreich", not really recognizable except for the first 4 letters. But that's for historical reasons. Same with Austria and "Österreich". The Czech Republic is "Tschechische Republik" or short "Tschechien". If pronounced that way, it comes closer to "Česká Republika" (short "Česko") than if written "Ceskische Republik" (completely wrong). As you can see, an effort was made here, not in a transliteral sense but in how you pronounce it close to the original name.

And in Japanese Switzerland is スイス (suisu) from "Swiss". Not even better.

Interesting are the abbreviations or country codes you see on the back of cars. D is Deutschland (Germany), GB is Great Britain, A is Austria, I stands for Italy, F for France, S for Sweden etc. But what means CH? Yes, that's Switzerland...was someone arrogant here? ;-) CH is short for "Confoederatio Helvetica" and derives from Latin, the Helvetic Confederation aka Switzerland.

Helvetic?? Switzerland?? Well, this too has historical reasons. The Helvetii were a Celtic tribe from southern Germany.
 

Brooker

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smig said:
In fact, it really becomes downright funny. The Yucatan peninsula in Central America is called this because when the Spanish landed, they grabbed the first poor mug they found and asked him (naturally assuming he spoke Spanish, of course - love that imperialist conceit) what this place was called, he replied (in the native dialect) Yucatan - which means "i don't understand"

:D That's freakin' hilarious!

@rakuten....
Thanks for the info. But MAN, I'm confused.

Here's a strange twist on this whole interesting debate. What's up with locals who mispronounce the name of their own city. For example, people from New Orleans often pronounce it "Norlens". You could chalk that up to being a kind of slang, but, k'mon they didn't even manage to pronounce the word "new". How about people from Toronto who often say "Trono"? In Seattle, we say "See-aa-dle," which is pretty close I guess. Crazy. :mad:
 

bossel

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Brooker said:
Here's a strange twist on this whole interesting debate. What's up with locals who mispronounce the name of their own city. For example, people from New Orleans often pronounce it "Norlens". You could chalk that up to being a kind of slang, but, k'mon they didn't even manage to pronounce the word "new". How about people from Toronto who often say "Trono"? In Seattle, we say "See-aa-dle," which is pretty close I guess. Crazy. :mad:
Interesting point. Didn't think of that before, but now...

The High German name of my birthplace is Mönchengladbach. Commonly we Gladbacher use simply Gladbach. In the local dialects (yep, one town with several dialects) there is even more variation. In the traditional dialects, it is called something like Möbbeck, while in the vernacular language it's often Jlabbach. Now, what should a foreigner make of that? :?

(I remember that the US Americans in WWII called it something like Munich Gladback)
 

december

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Brooker said:
:D That's freakin' hilarious!

@rakuten....
Thanks for the info. But MAN, I'm confused.

Here's a strange twist on this whole interesting debate. What's up with locals who mispronounce the name of their own city. For example, people from New Orleans often pronounce it "Norlens". You could chalk that up to being a kind of slang, but, k'mon they didn't even manage to pronounce the word "new". How about people from Toronto who often say "Trono"? In Seattle, we say "See-aa-dle," which is pretty close I guess. Crazy. :mad:

It's not that locals are mispronouncing the name of their city - they're just speaking in local dialect. It's not like they do it consciously (unless they're just trying to be funny or something). No matter what state you go to, the dialect and pronounciation of words will be a little different. And as I have family from all over the US, I know for a fact that certain words are pronounced differently. In fact, I get teased quite often by my folks from up north for the way I pronounce words and in turn, I tease them for them for the way they say certain things.

So really... it's just local dialect. No big deal or anything unless you're really anal about those sort things. :)
 

Brooker

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december said:
It's not that locals are mispronouncing the name of their city - they're just speaking in local dialect. It's not like they do it consciously

But it is possible to mispronounce something using a local dialect. In the example of "New Orleans" the word "new" in "Norlens" is simply represented by an "n" sound. They will argue to the death that "N-e-w O-r-l-e-a-n-s" is not the correct way to pronounce the name of their city.

No matter what state you go to, the dialect and pronounciation of words will be a little different.

Really? ☝

I guess the question is....
Is there a CORRECT way of pronouncing place names (or words, for that matter)? OR Is it up to the user and the back ground of the user to determine the way the word or place name is pronounced.

If there is in deed a correct way of pronouncing the name of something, I would say that "Nihon" is the only correct way to refer to what we know as being Japan. If there is no correct way, then call it whatever the hell you want. As long as other people are somehow able to understand what you're referring to, then it's valid. It seems this is the technique used by the world and I've always thought that was a little strange.

But my (non-American) coworkers in Japan used to always argue about what was the correct way of saying things in English (the American way, the Aussie way, the British way, etc.) which I always thought was silly because I don't think there really is a RIGHT WAY. We've all altered the language and made it our own. However, I do think that people should at least make an attempt to pronounce place names the original way. But the system is the way it is so I'm not going to go around saying Nihon and pronouncing "karaoke" the Japanese way even though I know I'm saying it wrong when I say it to my American friends.

Language: it's a strange thing, eh?
 

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Brooker said:
But it is possible to mispronounce something using a local dialect. In the example of "New Orleans" the word "new" in "Norlens" is simply represented by an "n" sound. They will argue to the death that "N-e-w O-r-l-e-a-n-s" is not the correct way to pronounce the name of their city.

Maybe you're just talking to people from Chalmette? :D:D Anyway, all of the people I know from New Orleans (I'd say ten or so) pronounce it "New Orlinz" (I guess that's a close enough transliteration), and so do I.

Brooker said:
I guess the question is....
Is there a CORRECT way of pronouncing place names (or words, for that matter)?

According to linguists -- no. At least as far as I know. I went to a lecture by the famous American linguist William Labov about a month ago, and he talked about the dialectal differences between the north and the south. Interestingly, "The North" consisted mostly of the midwest, and concerned the great vowel shift up there. "The South" consisted of most of what people think of as being the south, except Charleston, SC, and almost all of Florida weren't considered part of the south at all, and New Orleans was only about 1/5 "The South," according to the southern vowel shift. Interestingly, when we heard sentences spoken by speakers from Chicago and Birmingham, I could hardly understand anything that the native Chicagoan was saying, even with the transcript. Even more interestingly, I could only get some of what the Birminghamer (?) was saying with the transcript, and I'm supposed to speak with a southern accent!

Aside from pronunciation issues, there are some usage issues that arise between dialects. For instance, "lift" in British English is "elevator" in American English. But looking at American English we see that mostly in Northern California (from my experience) people use "hella" to mean "very," and in the northeast (mostly New England), "wicked" serves the same purpose.

Now, as for which dialect is "right," there really is no answer to that. It usually boils down to who's in power at the time when the language is standardized. For instance, the Kantou dialect of Japan is the standard language, but that doesn't mean that the Kansai dialect is inferior, and neither are the other hundred or so. The same holds true for "Chinese," which is a general term for hundreds (I think) of different dialects that use the same writing system and syntax. Really, the existence of a Chinese language is a myth. What is usually referred to as Chinese is Mandarin, the official language (or dialect). But that doesn't make Cantonese inferior in any way. It just so happened that the language of the Tokyo region became standard due to a shift in power to Tokyo, and Mandarin is the standard because of a similar reason.


Brooker said:
If there is in deed a correct way of pronouncing the name of something, I would say that "Nihon" is the only correct way to refer to what we know as being Japan.

I would say that the correct way to refer to it would be "Nippon," but that's just because "Nihon" violates the euphonic change rule and doesn't really make much sense to me.

Brooker said:
If there is no correct way, then call it whatever the hell you want. As long as other people are somehow able to understand what you're referring to, then it's valid. It seems this is the technique used by the world and I've always thought that was a little strange.

Really, language is about communication, so whatever communicates things in an efficient and accurate manner is valid as far as I'm concerned. But I think that it's best to go with the traditional names for things, as they are the ones that we know best.

Brooker said:
But my (non-American) coworkers in Japan used to always argue about what was the correct way of saying things in English (the American way, the Aussie way, the British way, etc.) which I always thought was silly because I don't think there really is a RIGHT WAY. We've all altered the language and made it our own.

This goes back to the question of dialect, and how they are all valid. There really isn't a "right way" to say "New Orleans," either. If some dialect(s) assimilates the "ew" with the "or," then that's just how it is.

Brooker said:
However, I do think that people should at least make an attempt to pronounce place names the original way. But the system is the way it is so I'm not going to go around saying Nihon and pronouncing "karaoke" the Japanese way even though I know I'm saying it wrong when I say it to my American friends.

Well, that gets back to being able to communicate. There would have to be some new change affected on the language for everyone to start calling Japan either "Nippon" or "Nihon," and that's not likely to happen. I don't think it really matters that much how we refer to it, as long as we understand each other. If I started saying "Nippon" when referring to Japan, it would probably come off as pedantic, because everyone else says "Japan" and they aren't too likely to know "Nippon."

So, why not teach it in the schools? Well, I suppose that could work, as it did for the newer forms of kanji, but I doubt that many people would be that concerned with it. It just doesn't strike me as being all that important. There are historical reasons that we call things the way we do, and it isn't necessarily about arrogance.
 

wintersweet

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Brooker said:
I wouldn't like it if America was pronounced "Trixevil" in some other language. It's just too damned confusing!

I agree with you in principle, but in reality, you just have to deal with it. And don't make the mistake of thinking this is an Evil English Thing--the Chinese name for America is pronounced "may gwo," more or less. :eek:
 

december

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Ever heard of Marco Polo? He traveled to Asia with his father. He learned the Chinese over there and went back home. He wrote about about Asia and in it he refered to Japan as "Zipang" which was the what the Chinese called Japan. I guess after translation, it ended being Japan.
 
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