When a new item/concept is brought in from another country, we need to come up with an idea – how to call it in our language. There are mainly two ways to do so in Japanese.
‘Telephone,’ for example, is called ‘denwa‘ in Japanese. ‘Den’ means electric and ‘wa’ means talk. This is a case that the meaning or should I say, the nature of the item, was interpreted and then translated to Japanese using the already existing words. ‘Smartphone,’ on the other hand, is called ‘sumaatohon‘ in Japanese. Obviously, this is the result of figuring out how the original word sounds in the phonetic system in Japanese.
So, how about ‘vaccine’ then? It is actually called ‘wakuchin‘ in Japanese. This is similar to the case of ‘sumaatohon,‘ or don’t you think so!? Okay, let me explain how come it ends up with ‘wakuchin‘…
Japanese language does not traditionally have the sound ‘va’. When we refer to the words like ‘vaccine’ in Japanese, we need to find a compromised solution. In the case of ‘vaccine’, we settled with ‘wa’ to cover ‘va.’
But be careful – ‘wa’ is not automatically used to cover the sound ‘va’; if you want to refer to ‘violin’ in Japanese, it is to be ‘baiorin‘. Isn’t it interesting😲!?