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When Japanese incorporates a Western word, especially English, often the spelling rather than the pronunciation is respected in the transcription, thus, ending up with a transcription that is not the closest possible within the limitation of Japanese phonology. And then, later on, on some occasions, (often young) people start to use a form that is closer to the original pronunciation, and there arise two forms. What examples can you think of for such cases?


  • Michael

    マイケル (traditional)
    マイコー(recent slang, especially referring to Michael Jackson)

  • Volley ball

    バレーボール (traditional)
    バリボー (recent slang)

  • People

    ピープル (traditional)
    ピーポー (recent slang, as in 一般ピーポー)

  • Apple

    アップル (traditional)
    アポー (recent slang, especially referring to Apple computer Inc.)

The following are examples of different forms both respecting the original pronunciation, and are not examples of what I am asking:

  • Benjamin

    ベンジャミン (as with the American president)
    ベンヤミン (as with the German philosopher)

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Is this considered free variation? –  Flaw Mar 8 '12 at 3:27
@Flaw It is not (yet) a free variation. The recent slangish forms still have some sort of wierdness, and you cannot use them if you wanted to sound usual. –  sawa Mar 8 '12 at 3:29
Not trying to discount this question, but the open-ended request here for further examples almost seems better suited for a community wiki type of post. –  summea Mar 8 '12 at 5:44
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5 Answers

up vote 3 down vote accepted

Actually, there are also examples of a different, almost opposite phenomenon. For example, ドル, which looks like it represents the sound as heard, and the modern form オイルダラー based on American English pronunciation. I'm also reminded of the story I heard once that the word カメヤ (I think) was current during the Meiji period as a word for 'dog'. It was based on 'Come here!', which would now be カムヒヤー (yuk!). Also ズロース for 'drawers' (clothing), which is a wonderful rendition of the actual English pronunciation, much closer than ドロアーズ would be.

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Here are some:


1 - Original spelling in katakana
2 - Newer spelling in katakana (tends to be closer to pronunciation)

1. アステリスク
2. アスタリスク 

Anything with ファフィフェ, etc. <--- Originally were not in Japanese (introduced in Meiji Era, but many elderly still use フア and フイ)

1. フアン
2. ファン

1. フアイル
2. ファイル

1. フイート
2. フィート

1. デズニ-ランド
2. ディズニーランド

1. キャンデー
2. キャンディ

Another more recent trend is adding the ッ to make it more close to the English pronunciation.

1. ドーナツ
2. ドーナッツ

Also the use of ヴィ instead of ビ (This example doesn't actually fit the pattern, both ビ and ヴィ have the same pronunciation, but since ビ and be also "bi", to make a distinction between "bi" and "v", ヴィ was introduced):

1. ビンテージ
2. ヴィンテージ

There are 2 versions of the word "smooth" in katakana, however according to the comment from @Matt there are historical references to スムーズ from 1918 which date before スムース, so it may not be applicable, if anyone has any evidence as to the etymology between the two words it would be appreciated:

1. スムース
2. スムーズ
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Why is ビンテージ closer to the original pronunciation than ヴィンテージ? I think otherwise. Also, why is スムース closer to the original spelling than スムーズ? –  Tsuyoshi Ito Mar 11 '12 at 23:20
(1) Well, why is ビンテージ closer to the original spelling than ヴィンテージ then? I do not think that ビンテージ vs ヴィンテージ can be explained by spelling vs pronunciation. (2) I do not think that “th” in English was first transliterated as ス and later corrected to ズ to reflect the actual pronunciation. At least, neither of the pages you linked to states that. –  Tsuyoshi Ito Mar 11 '12 at 23:48
@TsuyoshiIto: (1) Yes, you are correct (thank you for being an alert reader), I added an explanation. (2) The links state two things that I want to point out about "th", THもSもカタカナで書くと「ス」 and -th で終わる語は「ズ」でなく,「ス」の場合がほとんどのようです。, they both don't talk about the history, but I think those 2 points say something (If I find a history link, I will post it). –  Jesse Good Mar 11 '12 at 23:57
I don't mean to be a jerk, but I think that a specific historical reference is definitely needed for this. The 日本国語大辞典's earliest reference for "smooth" is スムーズ, in 1918; スムース appears later, in 1938. If we accept word-internal instances, under "マザー" they have the very interesting "「『ファーサー』や『マアザー』が」", quoted from 開化の入口 (1873-1874). The choice between s- or z- may have been conditioned by Lyman's Law-type issues (like, arguably, final ズ vs ス representing the English plural morpheme (スワローズ vs タイガース), putting it in a different class from フィルム vs フイルム. –  Matt Mar 12 '12 at 5:00
@Matt: Yeah, I did quite a bit of searching concerning the etymology of スムーズ and スムース, but I could not find anything conclusive (I will make a note that it might not be applicable and see if anyone can give any conclusive evidence about it). Thanks for the information. –  Jesse Good Mar 12 '12 at 5:14
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Not sure if this one counts:

ボディー body, talking about wine etc
ナイスバディー nice body, talking about physical appearance. ナイスボディー also gets Google hits, though


Remembered another:

パイナップル Dictionary version
パインアップル Not sure where this came from. Possibly thought to be truer to the English word pineapple in some sense.
パイナポー Apparently there's a TV program called おはようパイナポー

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There're also a not-insignificant number of hits for "ナイスバデー", doin' it Meiji style. –  Matt Mar 9 '12 at 8:45
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Excuse me if I'm beside the point but, I think most people pronounce and write クレイジー, フェイク, フェイス, サブウェイ, メイク instead of クレージー, フェーク, フェース, サブウェー, メーク. But they still write ケーキ, セーフ, セーフティ, ステーキ, プレート rather than ケイキ, セイフ, セイフティ, ステイキ/ステイク, プレイト. Wonder what causes this difference.
Ah and now we rather write コンピュータ, ナイスバディ, スパゲッティ, プリティ while we still say コンピューター, ナイスバディー, スパゲッティー, プリティー.' But we don't say/write カレンダ, フラワ but カレンダー, フラワー. Hmm, why.
Do you say/write プリンター or プリンタ btw?

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Does anyone actually pronounce コンピュータ as his/her natural pronunciation? I have heard someone speaking in that way in a video, but it sounded quite unnatural to me. –  Tsuyoshi Ito Mar 11 '12 at 23:23
@TsuyoshiIto: It's very common (you must be living outside Japan for too long :) ). –  Jesse Good Mar 11 '12 at 23:37
@sawa-san, Ah, all right then, maybe I should say more like 'We write コンピュータ, ナイスバディ, スパゲッティ, while we still say コンピューター, ナイスバディー, スパゲッティー'...? –  Choko Mar 12 '12 at 8:39
@Jesse: I am talking about pronunciation, not spelling. I know that many people write コンピュータ (although I know better than trusting Google counts). –  Tsuyoshi Ito Mar 12 '12 at 20:55
@Jesse: You are again confusing the spelling and the pronunciation. Your link is about spelling. I will stop this discussion here, because I do not want to keep sending irrelevant messages to the Stack Exchange inbox of Chocolate. –  Tsuyoshi Ito Mar 13 '12 at 0:10
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I'm not sure how often some of these are used, but I think this might be one of them: "Tyrannosaurus".

  • The most commonly used today: ティラノサウルス
  • Others currently used: ティランノサウルス, タイラノサウルス, テュランノサウルス
  • The classical forms: チラノサウルス, チランノサウルス
  • Others which I found in Edict: ティラノザウルス, タイラノザウルス
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protected by snailboat Feb 12 at 10:34

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