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I understand that place names often undergo changes separate from regular language, but I always wondered if there was any phonetic rule behind reading for the word 馬場. Meaning "horse riding grounds" and being a designated area in most castle towns, it converted into contemporary place names, yet in some areas it is pronounced mostly ばば, but in some places ばんば. Most notably:

  • 東京 高田馬場{たかだのばば}
  • 大阪 馬場町{ばんばちょう}

This wiki page shows ばんば only in Ishikawa, Aichi and Osaka Pref. However having visited a few castles I remember seeing ばんば elsewhere (e.g. 桜の馬場{ばんば} in Kumamoto).

1) Is there a more general phonetic rule behind this? Are there other examples of words in which repeated syllable gets an ん before?

2) Could such rule (if existed) be tied to a regional dialect (like ん is placed where や is used in areas where や replaces だ ...though I doubt)?

Or is it just purely customary?

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Section 1 of the appendix on Japanese phonology in NHK 日本語発音アクセント辞典 suggests that pre-nasalisation of /b/ is found in dialects in what it describes as 東部方言, covering all of Japan east of 石川県 and north of 愛知県, precisely where you observed that the wiki page has ばんば. This should indicate that there's an isogloss somewhere in the region.

I have no information on why Osaka or Kumamoto would have ばんば place names though: the book indicates that pre-nasalisation only occurs in Western dialects (西部方言) before /g/ and /d/. The book does not describe pre-nasalisation occurring in any Kyushu dialects.

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    I think it's a bit of a stretch to call 2 out of 3 locations matching your hypothesis to be "precise". Moreover, if you consider other 馬場 compound names; you'll find the opposite of your observation: this phenomenon probably is found more often in the Kansai area than anywhere else (e.g., 柳馬場{やなぎのばんば}, 松{まつ}ノ馬場{ばんば}). Here's some very anecdotal evidence to back me up on this – Will Sep 13 '15 at 6:21

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