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So we all know that most (all?) countries' names can be written in kanji as well as kana. And occasionally kanji from these names are used to represent the language of those countries. For example, we can see 「独逸」の「独」 here:

「ドイツ統一の中心人物であり、「鉄血宰相(独: Eiserner Kanzler)」の異名を取る。」

How is 独 read in this context? Is there a consistent rule that applies to all similar instances (米, 伊, 英, etc.)?

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I personally just read it as the country name, but I don't know if that's correct. –  istrasci Apr 25 at 18:03
    
独{どく}蘇{そ}戦争, commonly written as 独ソ戦争 = ドイツとソ連れんとの戦争, Also 米{べい}英{えい}戦争, 伊{い}土{と}戦争,米{べい}墨{ぼく}戦争、普{ふ}仏{ふつ}戦争, 日{にち}露{ろ}戦争... –  Yang Muye Apr 25 at 18:30

1 Answer 1

up vote 10 down vote accepted

Generally speaking these are read using the 音読み, and most frequently occur in pairs (e.g. 日米【にちべい】, 日独【にちどく】).

I actually did some trolling through EDICT and a couple other sources to create a master list of these, and came up with the following list:

豪   ごう  Australia
爾   る   Argentina
墺   おう  Austria
白   ぱく  Belgium
戊   ぼ   Bolivia
伯   ぱく  Brazil
勃   ぼつ  Bulgaria
加   か   Canada
智   ち   Chile
中   ちゅう China
華   か   China
漢   かん  China
哥   こ   Colombia
玖   きゅう Cuba
捷   しょう Czech Republic
丁   てい  Denmark
埃   あい  Egypt
英   えい  England
洋   よう  Europe
芬   ふん  Finland
仏   ふつ  France
独   どく  Germany
銀   ぎん  Guinea
希   き   Greece
蘭   らん  Holland
洪   こう  Hungary
氷   ひょう Iceland
印   いん  India
尼   に   Indonesia
愛   あい  Ireland
イ   い   Israel
伊   い   Italy
日   にち  Japan
和   わ   Japan
約   やく  Jordan
良   ら   Latvia
馬   ま   Malaysia
満   まん  Manchuria
墨   ぼく  Mexico
蒙   もう  Mongolia
緬   めん  Myanmar
乳   にゅう New Zealand
児   に   Nicaragua
朝   ちょう North Korea
諾   だく  Norway
帛   はく  Palau
巴   ぱ   Panama
秘   ひ   Peru
比   ひ   Philippines
波   ぽ   Poland
葡   ぽ   Portugal
普   ふ   Prussia
羅   ら   Romania
露   ろ   Russia
新   しん  Singapore
南阿  なんあ South Africa
韓   かん  South Korea
蘇   そ   Soviet Union
西   せい  Spain
瑞   すい  Sweden
瑞   すい  Switzerland
叙   じょ  Syria
台   たい  Taiwan
泰   たい  Thailand
突   とつ  Tunisia
土   と   Turkey
烏   う   Ukraine
宇   う   Ukraine
米   べい  USA
瓦   が   Vanuatu
委   い   Venezuela
越   えつ  Vietnam

Some notes on the above:

  • It's not an oversight that Sweden and Switzerland have the same character; that's how they're listed in the dictionary.
  • Japan and China each have several variations. Generally speaking it's hard to go wrong defaulting to 日中【にっちゅう】 when talking about international relations. Beyond that it's probably best left to a native to clarify the nuances of each.
  • Hungary also has two characters; of these my impression based on research is that 洪【こう】 is the preferred one in Japanese.

Also, if you're looking for continents, you've got the following:

阿   あ           Africa
南極  なんきょく       Antarctica
亜   あ           Asia
欧   おう          Europe
北米  ほくべい        North America
南米  なんべい        South America
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Nice list :) Being Polish, it was always interesting for me if Japanese knew which kanji is used for Poland. So far I haven't met one who knew off the top of their head (not that I met that many Japanese people). I think some of those kanji are not used very often. –  Szymon Apr 25 at 21:55
    
Indeed, it's largely an academic interest for anything beyond the most common ones. I remember passing by a Berlitz location near a train station with some Japanese friends when I was living in Saitama and I asked them what language the 西 in the window was supposed to refer to. It took about 5 minutes of thinking before getting a tentative "Spanish" in reply. –  Kaji Apr 25 at 23:10
1  
Neither a country nor a continent but 欧米 is useful too. –  virmaior Apr 26 at 0:54
3  
こんな表がありました。 ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/… 読‌​み方が載ってませんでしたけど・・・ –  Choko Apr 26 at 6:53
1  
どういたしまして!Chocolate and snailboat both deserve some credit as well; they nearly doubled the list when they found the Japanese Wikipedia entry. –  Kaji Apr 26 at 18:30

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