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Why is ローマ字 spelt without an ン?

As far as I can tell, it's not because you can't have an ん sound before a じ sound, because 漢字 has an ん sound before 字.

Did early Europeans' term for Roman letters not use the letter "n"?

Also, does the ローマ in ローマ字 refer to the Roman empire whose language influenced the script used in many European languages, or did it refer to the main headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church, the religion of the Portuguese?

Background: I want to know the etymology for the word ローマ字 so that the next time someone misspells the English word romaji (derived from the Japanese word ローマ字) as "romanji", I can not only say that the English word should be spelt "romaji", but I can explain why it's spelt that way. And the more detailed and authoritative the explanation of "ローマ字"'s etymology is, the more likely it is to be remembered.

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Why do you think that ローマ字 might be spelled with ン? Your question sounds just like “Why is アメリカ spelled without ボ?” –  Tsuyoshi Ito Jan 5 '13 at 13:49
I think there's more merit to this question than you give him credit for. For one, it's not uncommon to hear English-speakers refer to ローマ字 as "romanji," although it's generally just said among people that have never studied Japanese at all. And if we start from the assumption that the root of the word is "Roman" (which, as snailplane points out in his answer, is incorrect), then it seems reasonable to wonder why the 'n' sound doesn't appear in ローマ字. Apologies for the 'unconstructive' flag, Ito-sensei, but I felt your comment was essentially just saying "I think your question is stupid." :( –  ghorahn Jan 5 '13 at 20:15
@Tsuyoshi ローマ can pronounced ローマン in english, hence why the OP's question makes sense, well to me. I think your comparison to “Why is アメリカ spelled without ボ?” is a little bit insulting. –  Jeemusu Jan 18 '13 at 2:48
@Jeemusu: As you and ghorahn wrote, OP's implicit assumption behind the question is that the Japanese term for "Roman letters" should be based on the corresponding term in English. I was hoping that my first comment would make the OP aware of his implicit assumption and allow him to resolve his question by himself, but apparently it did not work as I intended. (I find the OP's assumption far more insulting than my first comment, but that is not the main point.) –  Tsuyoshi Ito Jan 18 '13 at 12:43
Yes. So what? . –  Tsuyoshi Ito Jan 18 '13 at 13:42

1 Answer 1

ローマ字 is ローマ plus 字, not Roman plus 字.

ローマ is a Japanese noun, derived from a noun (from Latin "Roma", meaning Rome), while Roman is an English adjective, derived from an adjective (from Latin "Romanus", meaning "of Rome, Roman").

Since ローマ字 does not come from the English word "Roman", it has no ン sound.

(Although ローマ is probably not directly from Latin, it doesn't appear to be certain which intermediate language(s) the word passed through. Wiktionary suggests that it was perhaps Spanish or Portuguese, but it doesn't list a source.)

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My dictionary says: 「古代ローマ人がラテン語を表記するのに用いた表音文字。その後もヨーロッパを中心に多くの国語を表記するのに用いられている。ラテン文字。」which suggests you are right. Also it is worth adding that these words often come from their original language/country name not English (Tsuyoshi's point) so we have Italia-go not Italian-go and ビエン(Wien) not Vienna. –  Tim Jan 6 '13 at 0:36
@Tim ビエン>>>ウィーン? –  user1016 Jan 6 '13 at 13:50
@Chocolate: Thanks - somehow ビエン did not feel right. –  Tim Jan 7 '13 at 6:32
The Roman empire did cover a fair bit of territory, but I don't think it got as far as Japan! +1, though. –  Andrew Grimm Jan 7 '13 at 6:47

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