海王星 and other "calques"

Hey everyone, today I was learning the vocabulary item 海王星 (Neptune, かいおうせい) which literally translates into “the ocean god star”. I thought this was really cool, since in ancient Roman mythology Neptune was the god of the ocean as well! This coincidence, of the star being named after “the same” god twice seemed almost too good to be true. This got me really excited about 海王星 and I did some research about it and learned some new things I thought I’d share here with you all!

During my googling my bubble of excitement was slightly burst, as I found out that prior to 1846, Neptune had actually never been formally discovered. In fact, Neptune is so dim it’s not visible to the naked eye, and couldn’t be discovered until the invention of the telescope. There is some evidence that already in the 1600s and later, Galileo Galilei and other scientists had been able to observe Neptune, but it was only in 1846 that Neptune was formally discovered by Johann Gottfried Galle and Heinrich Louis d’Arrest, based on predictions by the Frenchman Urbain Le Verrier (If you’re interested in more details, I thought the wikipedia article was really interesting!)

Anyways, because of it’s late discovery, it’s name was greatly debated, and finally everyone decided on Neptune. Here comes the interesting part, in many languages today, even those completely unrelated to the Roman-Greek language/cultures, a variant of Neptune, god of the ocean, is being used! This name was quite literally borrowed into Chinese first, and the into Japanese, and this is what is called a “calque” in linguistics, and according to wiktionary is defined as:

A word or phrase in a language formed by word-for-word or morpheme-by-morpheme translation of a word in another language.

Or accrding to the corresponding wikipedia page:

A calque or loan translation is a word or phrase borrowed from another language by literal, word-for-word or root-for-root translation.

So to conclude, 海王星 and Neptune were (unfortunately) not independently named after the god of the ocean in Japanese and the Western world, but the Japanese name for the planet is in fact derived by way of a calque.

Anyways, I thought this was really interesting to learn about, some linguistics, some history, some science. I hope you enjoyed it, and I’m curious to hear if you guys have heard of any other examples of these so called calques!

On a final note, a little joke for my fellow Pokemon fans! :wink:

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I noticed the same for the weekdays, they (along with the names of the stars) have come from the gods of roman mythology to both europe and China and then from China to Japan.

Though in English (and also my native Swedish) many of the days have been replaced by norse gods instead, monday (moonday/月曜日) and sunday (日曜日) remain. As well as the english saturday (saturnday/土曜日, compare with 土星/saturn)

EDIT: also many medical/chemical names are direct translations Swedish <=> Japanese. Presumably these have originally come from German.

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Another example of calque is the level 30 vocab 幼稚園, which literally translates to “childish garden” but actually means kindergarten (which is also an interesting word in English because it was borrowed whole from German).

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Thanks for the comments @crihak and @plantron, I think it’s such an interesting concept, and I’d never really thought about it for Japanese (besides the more obvious and literally used katakana words).

I found an interesting addition to what you wrote above, the following article states that before opening up to the West, the Japanese followed a lunar calender without weeks using the names for the days of the month we all know (一日、二日…). Following this they adopted their names from our equivalents (quoting the article here):

The words for Sunday and Mo(o)nday are “‘sun’-yōbi” and “‘moon’-yōbi” respectively. This should be a clue that they are translations of Western names.

The Romans (translating the Greek, presumably) named the days after seven celestial luminaries, the sun, the moon, and the five readily visible planets. The planets had the names of certain gods, so the result was names that would translate into English as “Sun day, moon day, Mars day, Mercury day, Jupiter day, Venus day, Saturn day.” Except for “Saturn day” and “Sun day,” which suffered the effects of Christianity, the days of the week in the Romance languages still reflect those origins. In English we have, for Tuesday through Friday, names based on more-or-less equivalent Norse gods, with Satur(n) apparently filling a blank.

The Chinese had named (renamed?) the “naked-eye” planets after the Five Elements, water, metal, fire, wood, earth (listed in one of two “citation” orders), so Mercury was “water star,” Venus “metal star,” Mars “fire star,” Jupiter “wood star,” and Saturn was “earth star.” The Japanese renderings (go-on) of the Chinese names are, in the same order, kasei, suisei, mokusei, kinsei, and dosei.

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I was literally just about to comment on that. That particular little coincidence has always amused me.

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I was going to comment on this too! In my language (italian) days of the week comes from planet names (or perhaps is the opposite? :shushing_face: they both surely comes from Roman deities) with the exception of Sunday:
Lunedi’ (Monday) -> Luna (Moon)
Martedi’ (Tuesday) -> Marte (Mars)
Mercoledi’ (Wednesday) -> Mercurio (Mercury)
Giovedi’ (Thursday) -> Giove (Jupiter)
Venerdi’ (Friday) -> Venere (Venus)
Sabato (Saturday) -> Saturno (Saturn)
Domenica (Sunday) -> this comes from latin dies Dominici, day of the Lord, but before Christianity was they of the Sun

In Japanese is the same! They use the same kanji for the corresponding days and planets:
月曜日 -> 月
火曜日 -> 火星
水曜日 -> 水星
木曜日 -> 木星
金曜日 -> 金星
土曜日 -> 土星
日曜日 -> 日

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Sabato does not derive from Sabbath? Latin Sabbatum?

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Oh yeah you are right! It was changed like Sunday after Christianity, but in Roman times was Saturni dies , day of Saturn.

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