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I'm wondering what the reason for the mispronunciation of 円 in English came to be "yen". I can understand how some words like 東京 became "Tokyo", but "en" to "yen" seems strange. On a side note, why is this symbol 「¥」 used to denote currency? And would you pronounce that the same as 円 as well?

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Actually, this is a question about English rather than a question about Japanese. Also partly about the currency Japanese Yen, the area where it is used is not exactly the same as that of Japanese language (Just like the distribution of American dollar is not the same as that of English). –  user458 Jun 20 '12 at 0:36
    
@sawa I think asking how the two symbols act (in Japanese) could pass as an acceptable question without any problems though. –  atlantiza Jun 20 '12 at 0:47
    
@atlantiza That is the side note part. Not the main part. If the question is edited as to leave only that part, then it would be different. –  user458 Jun 20 '12 at 0:55
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@Sawa: However Atlantiza's second comment could not have resulted from ELU... –  Chris Harris Jun 20 '12 at 15:22
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@sawa: The reason is from historical Japanese, and anyway the "yen" pronunciation is not specific to English, so I say it's on-topic here. –  Mechanical snail Aug 23 '12 at 23:03

2 Answers 2

up vote 14 down vote accepted

Why is it pronounced "yen"?

I was actually wondering this a month or so ago, but found the answer on the Wikipedia article for yen/en.

The spelling and pronunciation "yen" is standard in English. This is because mainly English speakers who visited Japan at the end of the Edo period to the early Meiji period spelled words this way. ... In the 16th century, Japanese /e/(え) and /we/(ゑ) both had been pronounced [je] and Portuguese missionaries had spelled them "ye". Some time thereafter, by the middle of the 18th century, /e/ and /we/ came to be pronounced [e] as in modern Japanese, although some regions retain the [je] pronunciation. Walter Henry Medhurst, who had not come to Japan and met any Japanese, having consulted mainly a Japanese-Dutch dictionary, spelled some "e"s as "ye" in his An English and Japanese, and Japanese and English Vocabulary (1830). In the early Meiji era, James Curtis Hepburn, following Medhurst, spelled all "e"s as "ye" in his A Japanese and English dictionary (1st ed. 1867). That was the first full-scale Japanese-English/English-Japanese dictionary, which had a strong influence on Westerners in Japan and probably prompted the spelling "yen". Hepburn revised most of "ye"s to "e" in the 3rd edition (1886) in order to mirror the contemporary pronunciation, except "yen". This was probably already fixed and has remained so ever since.

The Symbol ¥

As long as you are in Japan, ¥ is pronounced the same as 円. I'm not sure exactly why the both exist, but I'd guess that it's the same reason that we have "dollar" and "$" as well as "euro" and "€" - ¥ is not a kanji or word, but rather a symbol. Similar to these examples, even though ¥ comes before the number, you would still pronounce it at the end of the number; ¥100 and 100円 would both be pronounced ひゃくえん.

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Thanks, I was confused about it for awhile :) –  Chris Harris Jun 19 '12 at 20:21
    
"Yen" is also mentioned in en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historical_kana_orthography#Romanization –  Andrew Grimm Aug 31 at 13:20

To add to the second point to atlantiza answer, note in general that currency symbols have two parallel bars crossing a letter for the main unit and a single bar crossing for the sub unit (Recently, I see only single bar with the dollar symbol, though). In case of American dollar, the main unit uses what looks like "S" today, which is not straightforward, and the sub unit uses "c", which is related to "cent". With Japanese, it is "Y", and should be clear that it comes from "yen".

For asking why "¥" is used, I think you have culture bias. Why is "$" is used instead of writing "dollar"?

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-1 For the completely superfluous judgment on why the poster is asking a question. –  Questioner Jun 20 '12 at 0:23
    
I don't think it is biased to ask about. The poster didn't even know if ¥ was actually pronounced the same as 円. Not knowing something but wanting to know the answer is not bias; it's just curiosity and eagerness to learn. –  atlantiza Jun 20 '12 at 0:45
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@sawa And who is to say that you can just automatically apply rules from one language to another? Rather, I think you are being biased from already knowing. Just because it is common sense to you does not mean that it is so obvious to everyone else. –  atlantiza Jun 20 '12 at 1:10
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"Why is '$' is used instead of writing 'dollar'?" Because it is an abbreviation. But ¥ is not an abbreviation of 円 in any meaningful sense (both are just one character long). It was clearly invented by analogy with $, but why bother when 円 (or 圓) already existed? This is a reasonable question (not really about "Japanese", admittedly). Furthermore, since ¥ was clearly modelled on Western usage, and we say "yen" in English for no obvious reason, it does not seem prima facie unreasonable to wonder whether ¥ is pronounced /yen/ in Japanese too, distinct from 円 /en/. –  Matt Jun 20 '12 at 1:10
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@Sawa: I understand what you mean by the cultural bias! I guess I didn't really think about 円 being like "dollar". Just for reference "$" is borrowed and was originally "8" for "pieces of eight". I believe it is from Spain. So there is some straightforward-ness. –  Chris Harris Jun 20 '12 at 2:07

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