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After reading this awesome question, I got to thinking about different animal meat. Upon researching a little, there seems to be different conventions in referring to different meats.

Using 訓読み

(鳥・鶏)肉 → とりにく
豚肉 → ぶたにく

Using 音読み

牛肉 → ぎゅうにく
羊肉 → ようにく
豚肉 → とんにく
鶏肉 → けいにく

[Animal] + の + 肉

子牛の肉 → こうしのにく (veal)
かにの肉 → crab meat

Why is there not one consistent way of doing this?

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When is とんにくused ? –  Jeemusu Aug 29 '12 at 1:27
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@Jeemusu: I don't know, but multiple dictionaries I looked in had that reading. –  istrasci Aug 29 '12 at 3:28
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Using "unexpected things": 桜肉 -> horse meat. –  Axioplase Aug 29 '12 at 7:20
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You can say 蟹肉{かににく}, and 仔牛肉{こうしにく} though. –  nkjt Aug 29 '12 at 10:04
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Chicken is also called かしわ. This word seems to be more common in the western part of Japan. –  Tsuyoshi Ito Sep 1 '12 at 15:21
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2 Answers

There is no convenient rule you can use. The different pronunciations come from the different origins of the words.

There are basically three kinds of words that are written in kanji in Japanese.

  • 和語 were developed in Japan, 訓読み words are likely to be 和語
  • 漢語 originated in China, 音読み words are likely to be 漢語
  • There are also combinations of 和語 and 漢語, and those words are called 湯桶読み.

For more information: http://www.iwanami.co.jp/moreinfo/0802060/top3.html .

By the way there are 鹿肉(しかにく), 馬肉(ばにく) also. Personally I never heard of 豚肉 as とんにく.

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I fail to see how this answers the question any more than what is contained in the comments already. –  Earthliŋ Sep 23 '12 at 8:12
    
@user1205935 Where is 湯桶読み in the comments? –  Teno Sep 23 '12 at 8:31
    
Well, 湯桶読み is not in the comments, but would have fitted easily into a comment and the mention of 湯桶読み by itself doesn't seem to answer the question. (Unless it does, in which case I would suggest you expand on your answer.) –  Earthliŋ Sep 23 '12 at 8:45
    
@user1205935 It provides a clue why there are different variations in reading words, which answers to Why is there not one consistent way of doing this? –  Teno Sep 23 '12 at 9:13
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It's even more inconsistent than that. Gairaigo is sometimes used for meat. Apparently, the animal is still typically referred to with a non-gairaigo word, but the meat is sometimes (but not always) referred to by a gairaigo word.

  • ラム is sometimes used for lamb (the meat)
  • マトン is sometimes used for mutton (meat of an old sheep, hence the English expression mutton dressed as lamb)
  • チキン is sometimes used for chicken (the meat)
  • オージービーフ for Aussie beef

This inconsistency isn't unique to Japanese, though. In English, the words for animals come from different languages than the words for the meat: the animals are of Germanic etymology, whereas the meats are of French etymology, according to this answer on Linguistics Stack Exchange. The Germanic words would be older than the French words.

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