Interesting Romanization problem

Since the Japanese writing system was developed entirely independently of the Roman alphabet, there are a few different Romanisation systems in use. I have to admit I don't follow the ISO standard myself; for the word 富士, I prefer "fuji" to "huzi", and I like to include all the vowels ["Junichirou", not "Junichiro-with-a-macron", and also note my lack of distinction between に and んい] -- and on top of that, I usually let personal preferences override my system, e.g. the talent who writes her name YOU but pronounces it yuu.

Korean I am sure has similar problems although I am not familiar with them.

Why do I bring this up? Well... my Japanese-resident readers will already know this, but there's a Korean star who's very big here right now. I don't know how to enter his name in Hangul, but he's listed in the IMDB as Yong-jun BAE -- although he seems to prefer the romanization "BAE Yongjoon". The standard katakana version of his name seems to be ぺ・ヨンジュン, PE Yonjun. (The "P" and "B" thing, I think, has to do with aspiration of the sound.)

However, the women who have made him a superstar in Japan generally refer to him as ヨン様 -- Yon-sama, which is the Yon of his given name plus "sama", a more formal version of "san" which is, if I understand these things correctly, being used to playfully (or terrifyingly seriously) imply that he is like unto royalty.

Note that all of these Japanese pronunciations are romanised "Yon" and not "Yong". This is because, to make a long story short, Japanese doesn't distinguish between /n/ and /N/ ("ng") the way Korean does, and before a /d/ or an /s/, you get /n/ not /N/. (You get /N/ before a /k/.) [Update: I lied. Before an /s/ you get a nasalised version of the preceding vowel. But, hell, it's pretty close to /n/ and the important thing here is that it ain't "ng".]

So, when writing news stories in English, do you call him "Yon-sama" to reflect how the nickname is actually pronounced in Japan? Or do you form a hybrid, taking the "Yong" direct from Korean and affixing the Japanese "sama" to it to get "Yong-sama"? And then there's the complicating factor of those die-hard Japanese fans who make sure to pronounce his name the Korean way...

As those Google news links show, the editorial community hasn't arrived at a final decision, but "Yon-sama" seems to be winning.

Oh, and I started thinking about this upon reading that Yon[g]-sama has donated about 30 million Yen to tsunami relief and inspired many of his fans to do the same. Hurrah!

Popularity factor: 7


This may be a little off-topic, but there are a couple orthographic facts about Chinese and Korean that, as a student of Japanese, just about knocked me out of my chair. You probably know these already, but think of the children.

First, in Chinese, the vast majority of characters have exactly one reading. No on/kun. No 30+ readings for 生. It's a big scandal in Chinese that 不 can be spoken with two different tones, depending on context, which of course is nothing compared to the mess of Japanese.

What surprised me about Chinese characters in Korean, which they call Hanja, is that they aren't used for native words at all. It's not like Japanese, where Kanji have been shoehorned into the native language. If you toss a Hanja in your Korean (as you would only do in the South, since North Korea only uses Hangul), that character is read with a Korean-ized Chinese reading, and it doesn't have a native reading at all. One nice benefit here is that all Hanja have a one-syllable reading and thus can be written with one Hangul, making a one-to-one character relationship.

In summary, the student of Japanese faces a challenge that is probably unmatched by any other language on Earth. がんばって!


The thing I find really odd about his Japanese naming convention is the fact that they refer to him by a chunk of his given name. Korean names (like Japanese names) have the family name first and then a given name (usually 2 characters, but occassionally one). So to call him Yon/Yong-sama is like calling a guy named Tony Smith, Mr. To.
Oh and if you care, his name is written 배용준 in Hangul. I don't even know if that will show up.


I don't know as much about the Korean writing system as I should. I feel shame. I didn't know that about Hanja at all. Huh!

Wyatt: oh, I care... half of the reason I made this Unicode is so that I can get my commenters to fill in gaps for me, like you just did. And it did show up! Thanks!

It is weird that they only use half his name. In Japanese (like in English) given names are often shortened among friends. Hiroyuki can become Hiro, same as Matthew can become Matt. Is that generally not done in Korean?


The don't shorten names to my knowledge, seeing as how given names are only one or two syllables long...there's not alot to shorten. Though I could be wrong.


Makes sense.


Apparently there is a yojijukugo contest every year in Japan. I'm not exactly sure who organizes it or anything...heard about it from my Japanese professor.

The compound that won this year was 様様様様 - Yon-sama.


That last one was me.


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