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At first I thought that Japanese people pronouncing Qantas as カンタス was an urban legend (the start of "カンタス" matches a vulgar four letter word in English), but I've since found out that it's real, with Qantas' Japanese homepage having "カンタス航空|ホームページ|航空券|旅行情報 - Qantas".

By contrast, there's almost always a "w" style sound when Australians pronounce it. Wiktionary gives an IPA of /ˈkwɒntəs/, and the second sentence of the Japanese edition of Wikipedia's article on the airline mentions how Australians pronounce it with three citations.

Why is Qantas spelt "カンタス" in Japanese?

As far as I can tell, it isn't because it resembles how non-Australian English speakers pronounce the word - in the American movie "Rain Man" they pronounce it with a "w" sound.

"カンタス" could be seen as matching a phonetic spelling of "Qantas", like how English-speakers pronounce "Qatar", but I thought katakana was typically based on how words are actually pronounced.

Alternatively, is it possible that katakana lacks the capability of indicating the "w" sound in this scenario?

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    Fun question as usual, but English-speakers have done the exact same with our word 「怪談{かいだん}」: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kwaidan_(film)
    – user4032
    Jul 30, 2017 at 2:19
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    @l'électeur I always assumed the spelling of that title was due to the rending of 怪 as くわい prior to mid-century spelling reforms in Japanese.
    – A.Ellett
    Jul 30, 2017 at 2:24
  • 期待する答えは何ですか。このサイトでなく、カンタス航空の本社に理由をお聞きください。
    – user20624
    Jul 30, 2017 at 5:13
  • @mackygoo I'm assuming that native speakers of Japanese would have determined the pronunciation of the Japanese word for Qantas, rather than a focus group belonging to Qantas HQ. Qantas has been flying to Japan since 1947, and I don't think such a focus group would have existed back then.
    – Golden Cuy
    Jul 30, 2017 at 5:29
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    given that "kw" would be an unusual pronunciation in modern japanese, how might you have expected qantas to be rendered in japanese?
    – A.Ellett
    Jul 30, 2017 at 5:41

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It's not impossible to render is as クワンタス but it's not really commercially advantageous to adopt such a peculiar pronunciation. After all, I don't know how they decided their own name since it's a proper noun like mackygoo says.

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