THE WORD 'YEN' AND WHAT SURROUNDS IT (PART I)
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In 1871, the Japanese government introduced a new currency whose name has ever since been represented as yen in most languages spelt in the Latin alphabet, even though the name of the currency is pronounced (en) in Japanese. The sound value of the Chinese character (kanji), respectively of the kana symbols, used to be (wen) that subsequently changed into (jen) in the Kamakura period, and then in the Endo period, sometime in the 18th century, into (en). Thus, there is no obvious linguistic reason why in the late nineteenth century (and ever since) the name of the currency should be transliterated as yen. However, the language manuals and dictionaries published in those days retained ye-type transliterations of a-, ya- or wa-line syllables with an -e nucleus - whose phonemic value was, and is, uniformly /e/ -, with special regard to the 1867 first edition of James Curtis Hepburn's Japanese-English dictionary in which e-initial Japanese words do not figure at all, such items being represented as ye-initial. For chronological reasons, the word denoting the new currency does not occur in that dictionary, although the system of transliteration employed by Hepburn allows one to reconstruct the spelling yen, a form that does actually occur as an entry in the second edition of 1872. In the third edition of 1886, following the transcription system elaborated in 1885 by 'Romajikai' (Romanisation Club), all ye-initial words were written as e-initial, except that both en and yen occur as separate entries, though Hepburn himself exceptionally preferred yen over en. On Japanese banknotes, yen made it début in 1872, in an English environment (hundred yen, two yen, etc.). The shape - considered as an English form - is acceptable; yet it is difficult to understand why the Bank of Japan (Nippon Ginko) persists in using the Latin-letter inscription e.g. NIPPON GINKO 5000 YEN on the banknotes it issues.
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