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Why is "America" written "亞美利加"?


ÀiHuá
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In Mandarin, "亞美利加" sounds like "Yà měi lì jiā". "阿美利卡" would be closer: "Ā měi lì kǎ".

In Cantonese, '亞' can sound like 'A', but '加' is 'ga'; '卡' would still be better.

Is there some dialect where "亞美利加" works?

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加 is a pretty common transliteration for "ca". For example

加拿大 (Canda)

哥斯达黎加 (Costa Rica)

多米尼加共和国 (Dominican Republic)

牙买加 (Jamaica)

尼加拉瓜 (Nicaragua)

"Why" questions are often quite futile when it comes to natural language, writing, and transliteration, because there often is no clear answer. My favorite example is "why is gh pronounced as g in the word ghost, but as f in the word enough?".

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Also because, according to here and here, the name 亞美利加 comes not from a transliteration of "America", but a transliteration of the name in Italian (or Latin, I'm not sure), "Amerigo Vespucci". [EDIT: thanks renzhe; you know why!]

Also, keep in mind that the pronunciation of Chinese has changed over the centuries, so what was close at one point can drift over time.

My favorite example is "why is gh pronounced as g in the word ghost, but as f in the word enough?".

Or why is "w" pronounced as "double-u", not "double-v"? :P

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I must say I've never really come across America translated as 亚美利加, but a common one that a previous poster brought up, 加拿大, has a pronunciation much closer to "Canada" in Shanghainese than it does in Mandarin. Specifically, 加 is pronounced something like "ga" in Shanghainese.

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@jbrador

Since you asked "why is "w" pronounced as "double-u", not "double-v"?", here is what I found.

"W ...In other Germanic languages including German itself, ...is pronounced like an English V."

And

"The earliest form of the letter ‹W› was a doubled V used in the 5th century by the earliest writers of Old English; it is from this ‹uu› digraph that the modern name "double U" comes. This digraph was not extensively used, as its sound was usually represented instead by the runic wynn (‹Ƿ›), but ‹W› gained popularity after the Norman Conquest, and by 1300 it had taken wynn's place in common use."

And

"During the Late Middle Ages, two forms of ‹v› developed, which were both used for its ancestor ‹u› and modern ‹v›. The pointed form ‹v› was written at the beginning of a word, while a rounded form ‹u› was used in the middle or end, regardless of sound. So whereas valor and excuse appeared as in modern printing, have and upon were printed ‹haue› and ‹vpon›. The first distinction between the letters ‹u› and ‹v› is recorded in a Gothic alphabet from 1386, where ‹v› preceded ‹u›. By the mid-1500s, the ‹v› form was used to represent the consonant and ‹u› the vowel sound, giving us the modern letter ‹u›."

Aren't you sorry you brought this up? :rolleyes:

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That's pretty interesting. I assumed it came from ancient Roman times, in which 'u' was written as a 'v' due to ease of making a 'v' with a chisel. It seems I was wrong, and the 'u' is a more modern invention. At least in English, assume the same in Latin as well.

"W ...In other Germanic languages including German itself, ...is pronounced like an English V."

That I knew. And reminds me of the joke:

The answer: 9W

The question:

Do you spell your name with a V, Herr Waisman?

It's better spoken....

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I don't know if it's really the source but the "chisel" reference is quite plausible. Especially when you think about how the media or the tools are believed to have influenced the origin and evolution of various scripts.

You're right. I had to "say" it to get it. Thanks for the "yuk". :D

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米国 is I think only used as cutesy Internet slang, not sure you'd see it in much off-line usage or anything vaguely respectable. Wouldn't be surprised if most people just think it's a funny way of saying 美国, same way that 同学 becomes 同鞋。

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It's true that in Japanese "America" IS written both "アメリカ" and "米国", and '加' IS pronounced "ka", but '亜' is "ya", not "a", '米' is "mi", not "me" or "mei", and if you expanded the kana of "アメリカ" to the kanji that they're based on, you'd get "阿女利加".

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Why would you get that? It's 亜米利加, via the conversion (ことえり, on a Mac). Those have always been the characters that the Japanese used for "America" until they started using katakana for it, as far as I'm aware. I've never seen it realized 阿女利加. Where did you see that?

By the way, I don't understand why you say that 加 is "ka", but then 亜 is "ya" and 米 is "mi". You're switching up the readings.

Also, as a usage note, I'd say 米国 is more like "the US" and アメリカ合衆国 is "The United States of America", with "America" being アメリカ.

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Are you saying that 米国 is becoming more popular amongst Chinese speakers? Where did you hear/read that 亞美利加 comes from Japanese? I wouldn't have figured that, given the different second character.

I said in the internet

base on my experience, when people use 亚美利加/米国 they usually either are imitating a japanese voice with sarcasm (mainly in those 愤青 forums) or take it as a funny way of saying 美国. this is how i've seen it's being used and why i say it's from japanese.

美国 becomes 米国 from chinese to japanese, i dont think it's that unreasonable that 亜米利加 becomes 亚美利加 from japanese to chinese.

It's true that in Japanese "America" IS written both "アメリカ" and "米国", and '加' IS pronounced "ka", but '亜' is "ya", not "a", '米' is "mi", not "me" or "mei", and if you expanded the kana of "アメリカ" to the kanji that they're based on, you'd get "阿女利加".

afaik 女 is never pronounced as "me" in japanese

亜米利加 is the set kanji for america in japnaese, so is 仏蘭西 for フランス France 露西亜 for ロシア Russia etcetc, though only katakana is used nowadays. But still if you type these countries' names in romaji using a japanese ime, there are usually both a katakana form and a kanji form.

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I don't really get what you're saying. As far as I've read (today), 亞美利加 is used to refer to 美洲 and 美國 refers to... well, the country (via 百度百科 and that other site jbradfor linked to above; yeah, I'm a little late). I still don't see where you're showing that the characters originated in Japanese and moved to Chinese. How do you know they didn't develop separately, independent from each other and just fit the needs of the respective languages? I don't see why the Chinese couldn't have just started using 亞美利加 and the Japanese 亜米利加 completely independent of each other, especially considering the different second character. Is there some link you have that says this? I'd like to see it, if you do. I'd be interested to see how the word got imported whichever way it did, if indeed it did.

afaik 女 is never pronounced as "me" in japanese

It's the character the hiragana め and katakana メ came from, and it's read that way in 女神 (megami), for instance.

Back to the original question, are we pretty much leaving it at "they use 加 for 'ca' all the time" and leaving it at that? I don't suppose anyone knows why that would be the case, would they?

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亚美利加 was from cantonese. so was 英吉利(english)。

canton was the only place where foreigners can come in before the 1840 opium wars. so naturally all things foreign would start off with cantonese translation.

in english, its counterpart would be 'tea', which should be pronounced as 'teh' (i think the french still use it), a fujian xiamen pronouciation. and interestingly xiamen was 'amoy' in english, which is an inaccurate translation of 'eh-meng', in fujian dialect.

米国 was used by both japanese and chinese alike before the 20th century. it is still used by japan, but became an internet slang in china. the old chinese form was 米利坚.

华盛顿,异人也,起事勇于胜广,割据雄于曹刘,既已提三尺剑,开疆万里,乃不僭位号,不传子孙,而创为推举之法,几于天下为公。骎骎乎三代之遗意。其治国崇让善俗,不尚武功,亦迥与诸国异。余尝见其画像,气貌雄毅绝伦。呜呼!可不谓人杰矣哉!米利坚,合众国以为国,幅员万里,不设王侯之号,不循世及之规,公器付之公论,创古今未有之局,一何奇也!泰西古今人物,能不以华盛顿为称首哉!

the reason 米 and 美 could both be used, they both sounded alike in cantonese, hokkien and japanese.

cantonese: mai and mui

hokkien: both bee

japanese: bei and bee

徐继畬《瀛寰志略》,1848.

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I personally don't like the use of the character 亞 in any translation. 亞 originally means "2nd rate" or "inferior" like 亞軍. I mean, it's a ideogram of a deformed man! It makes it seem like "it sucks!" Yeah I know, most people don't care about that anymore... but when Asia was first transliterated as 亞細亞 boy did that make people mad way back then. Now Asia is 亞洲... so Asians are 2nd rate? I mean if we called it 阿洲 instead or something that'd be better... right?

Imagine the whole 東亞病夫 bit back then. Instead of "Sick Man of East Asia" it mean "Inferior Sick Man of the East" ... no wonder we were pissed.

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but when Asia was first transliterated as 亞細亞 boy did that make people mad way back then.

HUH? Since Chinese did that transliteration (I assume), if it bothered them that much, why would they do that?

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