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Translation is cultural

I was reading an article about disintegrating relations between Japan and China, and this quote struck me as interesting. The parentheticals were put in by Reuters.

“If we can successfully coordinate the dates, (Chinese) President Hu (Jintao) and (Japanese) Prime Minister (Junichiro) Koizumi may be able to hold a meeting later this week” in Indonesia, when they visit the country for the Asia-Africa summit, the minister said.

Now, in Japan, they say “Koizumi Junichiro”, but in this article, they put his given name first. Typically when we (in the West) talk about Japanese people, we put their given names first. But China apparently managed to keep its name order intact, even in our rendering of their names.

There are all sorts of intriguing things to notice in how we discuss other countries. The fact that “Japan” isn’t even the name of Japan, for example. “Japan” was how a Portuguese (I believe) person pronounced the name given to Japan by China, back when trade relations were first pursued. The Japanese call their nation “Nihon” or “Nippon”.*

Before Japan was Nihon/Nippon, the majority called themselves the “Wa”. Now, of course, Japan has embraced “Japan”, though typically only for advertisements and other pop culture artefacts.

(The h -> p/pp transformation is common, also occurring in the counter for minutes, e.g. “ippun”, “nihun”, “sanpun”, “yonhun”, “gohun” for 1-5 minutes, respectively. The more clever may notice that the p is single after a consonant and doubled after a vowel. Also, note that I am using a different romanization style than About.com. In Japanese, h/f is written with the same character, and understood culturally to be the same sound. Some romanizations will take the instances that sound more like an f and write them as f to aid in our pronunciation. Example: “Fuji”)