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I have recently bumped into the Japanese mathematician 吉田{よしだ}耕筰{こうさく}. I was wondering two things about his surname:

  1. Why is it so often spelt Yosida instead of Yoshida? And taking lead from it, when did し change sound from /si/ to /ɕi/? That is, is it possible that at the time this mathematician was working his name was actually read /Josida/, hence the spelling? Or is it an older scheme of transliteration that stuck for some reason?
  2. Where should I stress Yoshida? /'joɕida/, /jo'ɕida/ or /joɕi'da/? Naturally, the answer to this lies in the Japanese pitch accent, so how is the pitch accent of this particular word?
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    し is si in the nihonshiki romaji (日本式ローマ字) which tries to keep the romanization of the hiragana table regular, hence why it also maps つ to tu
    – user11589
    Dec 17, 2015 at 21:11

2 Answers 2

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  1. Spelling conventions are different. It's almost certainly not the case that the pronunciation has changed since then, as evidence suggests that /si/ has been [ɕi] since Old Japanese in the 700s (and also suggests that /se/ was once [ɕe], meaning that the overall direction might well be from [ɕ] to [s] rather than the other way around). Some romanisation systems (such as Hepburn) prefer to represent as accurate a pronunciation as can be conveyed in letters (hence ‹shi›); other systems prefer either internal regularity or 1:1 phoneme-to-letter correspondences (giving ‹si› to be consistent with ‹sa› etc). These days the most common system for names is some variant of Hepburn; this was not always the case in the past (which is likely why your mathematician's name isn't in proper Hepburn).

  2. As for the accent, my (admittedly non-native) gut instinct suggests [jòɕídá] or [jòɕídà] and [kóòsàkù]. Others can correct me.

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There is no /si/ in Japanese. /ɕi/ is the valid reading of し

し is romanized as SI and SHI, but it is always pronounced SHI (ɕi).

  1. The stress I think comes naturally on the YO. YOsheeda. KOosaku.
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    That is such a non-standard way of pronouncing 吉田.
    – user4032
    Dec 18, 2015 at 1:53
  • would you stress the Shi?
    – sova
    Dec 18, 2015 at 3:04
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    @sova 普通は「[よしだ]{LHH}」「[こうさく]{LHHH}」「[よしだこうさく]{LHHHHHH}」って感じになると思います。
    – chocolate
    Dec 18, 2015 at 5:59

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