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The 車 in Chinese chess is pronounced jū. Why isn't it pronounced chē?

Is this pronunciation used outside of Chinese chess?

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There are inconsistencies. Some older people say jū in 学富五车 (this is also the standard pronunciation in Taiwan) while others say chē (current prevailing pronunciation in mainland China). On the other hand, note that standard Taiwan mandarin pronunciation reflects more older and regular pronunciations than the mainland mandarin. –  user58955 Oct 29 '13 at 18:22
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1 Answer 1

It is an ancient pronunciation of that Chinese character. Because Chinese chess has been created for more than 2000 years. During this period of time, pronunciations of many characters have changed, "車" is one of them. But because this game has been widely spread, this ancient pronunciation has been retained.

This pronunciation is only used in this game.

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Do you have sources to back up the age of Chinese chess? According to wikipedia, the commonly accepted theory is that it was derived from the Indian chess game Chaturanga, which dates to 6th century AD. Not sure if this affects the rest of your answer though. –  congusbongus Oct 29 '13 at 10:14
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I'm not sure this is a good explanation. Historical reconstructions suggest that there have been two very different pronunciations of 車 for a long time (MC & OC). –  Stumpy Joe Pete Oct 29 '13 at 15:42
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车 belongs to 鱼部 in Old Chinese (that means it rhymes with 鱼). The 鱼部 was pronounced as -a in Old Chinese and still today in many southern dialects 车 indeed rhymes with -a/-ia. @StumpyJoePete I do not think the Old Chinese pronunciations (even there were two) could be very distinct (maybe one for noun and the other for verb). They should both end with -a, but the preceding consonant might affect how the sound evolved. –  user58955 Oct 29 '13 at 18:15
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@user58955 Baxter gives distinct MC and OC for the two pronunciations of 车 (here and here), but both OC pronunciations do end in -a. Your explanation is actually different and much better than this answer--it's not an "ancient" pronunciation that's been retained. It's a(n initially small) distinction that has become larger through phonological change. –  Stumpy Joe Pete Oct 30 '13 at 1:00
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@user58955 The Latin is unrelated (it derives from PIE *krsos). The Burmese might be related, but in general, you need to provide good, systematic reconstructions to prove relation ("sounding similar" is not good evidence). –  Stumpy Joe Pete Oct 31 '13 at 17:28
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