If my textbook didn't get it wrong, then China is ちゅうごく while Korea is かんこく. I checked the dictionary and 國 is certainly written as こく. So why is it ごく in China's case?

  • One possible reason is rendaku.
    – Zhen Lin
    Nov 29 '14 at 19:24
  • I don't know how relevant this is, but the term "中国" pre-dated it being used for China - it was and is used for the Chūgoku region, apparently as 中国地方. Dec 5 '14 at 11:47
  • @AndrewGrimm Could be. But then how did Japan refer to China historically? Just by the respective dynasty names(like Han, Tang, Ming etc.)?
    – xji
    Dec 5 '14 at 15:29
  • You guessed right. Or they used から or もろこし to roughly refer to continental areas. I'd say that China was no more a country for pre-modern East Asians than Italia was for medieval Europeans. Dec 15 '14 at 17:15
  • @broccoli forest Nice answer. Though I think China certainly was hugely different than Italy? As Italy was just a region composed of scattered cities-states, while China was a centralized kingdom.
    – xji
    Dec 15 '14 at 17:23

First, it's a phenomenon called rendaku voicing, in case you don't know.

Still, it remains as a tough question why China is read as ちゅうごく, which has been asked in a Japanese forum too. The only sure thing is, [中国]{ちゅうごく} ("China") is an exception among other country names ([韓国]{かんこく}, [米国]{べいこく}, [英国]{えいこく} or even [日本国]{にほんこく}).

Possible explanations are:

  • 中国 is considered as one solid word as a whole, while other countries are seen as compounds of 韓(Korean) + 国(nation), 英(British) + 国(nation) etc. Sino-Japanese compounds are less likely to rendaku.
  • Maybe analogy to that of 中国地方 in Japan.
  • Exception is exception, like you can't tell why Germans call some countries like Turkey with an article ("die Türkei"), or Polish say that they are in Ukraine as if it's not a country ("na Ukrainie").
  • [EDIT] I came up with another one: Most country names could be also analyzed into "State X" that is appositive, but 中国 is adnominal: "the middle country".

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