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For the number zero, [零]{れい} is a Chinese origin word that is pretty much familiarized in Japanese. Nevertheless, it seems more popular to use the Western origin word ゼロ, which probably appeared later. Why is that? They are both two morae, and I don't see any phonological reason.

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The answers given seem completely reasonable but I wonder also if prestige has anything to do with it. It seems like there's a fairly high level of prestige associated with using recently borrowed loan words as long as they have been sufficiently disseminated. – Mr. Wizard Nov 9 '12 at 6:37
up vote 12 down vote accepted

ゼロ has almost 0% ambiguity (when spoken) and, only requiring katakana, is much easier to write.

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I see. That makes sense. – user458 Dec 22 '11 at 4:09
Also, it sounds cooler ;D – silvermaple Dec 22 '11 at 5:04
unfortunately, many younger Japanese people seem ignorant about where the word zero comes from and assume it is Japanese. – Claytonian Dec 22 '11 at 7:45
Claytonian, that's fair; we stole it from the French, who stole it from the Italians, who stole it from the Arabs, and we probably think it's an English word :). If young people think it's Japanese, and everyone eventually believes them, then it will become true. – AHelps Dec 22 '11 at 19:40
@Pacerier So a little more digging indicates that both the concept and the word (sifr in Arabic) were taken by the Arabs from Sanskrit (sunya), and I remember someone indicating that the Indians may have lifted the concept from the Chinese. But at some point, you're digging around in the dawn of history for a curious cultural game of one-upmanship. Suffice it to say that humans have been able to conceptualize "nothing" for a very long time, and we should give our ancestors some credit ;). – AHelps Apr 12 '12 at 23:31

I've heard れい still being used when pronouncing phone numbers. But other than phone numbers (and maybe sports scores,) ゼロ is generally easier for listeners to pick up because it has more of a 濁音{だくおん} (voiced sound.)

More analysis for this can be found on this page, as well.

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Interesting hypothesis. – user458 Feb 25 '12 at 23:45

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