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Why is the name 五右衛門 read as ごえもん?
How can the three kanji 五右衛 be read with only two syllables?

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That originates from the name of the Court's government position. kira03.fc2web.com/zatsugaku/001kanshoku3.html 左衛門 右衛門 – nariuji Apr 24 at 13:04
up vote 5 down vote accepted

Originally, these kanji were thought to be pronounced as:

右衛門: u we mon

But since Japanese u and consonant w have little difference, the actual pronunciation was like:

右衛門: wwe~we mon

Later, undergone the phonological change that merged wi, we, wo into i, e, o:

右衛門: e mon

So the truth is 右 and 衛 share a single syllable, but the fact has been obscured by the sound change.

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Some people say that goemon (五右衛門) and iemon (伊右衛門) are pronounced like that since it's hard to pronounce 2 or 3 continuous vowel sounds, as are supposed to be read as gouemon (ごうゑもん) / iuemon (いうゑもん) per syllable.

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Was the original pronunciation goue or gōe? I guess actually goue, same as iue? That's indeed something of a tongue twister... :) Makes sense. – deceze Jun 25 '11 at 13:14
    
@deceze, I also think goue too, but I couldn't find it in dictionaries for reference, since those are names of people. – YOU Jun 25 '11 at 13:29

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