|A WW2-era poster uses |
Historical kana usage, kyūkanazukai (
For example the kanji 京, now spelt
The change to the modern system was made to bring the writing into line with the modern pronunciation. See Writing reforms in modern Japan.
Dictionaries such as the Kōjien show the old readings as well as the modern.
Some of the differences between historical and modern kana usage are:
The historical kana usage represents the way words sounded during the
Heian era (794-1185). However, some of the historical kana usages were simply
mistakes. For example,
Not all unusual forms of kana are historical kana usage. For example,
Verbs for which the dictionary form now ends in u (
The mashō (
|Old-fashioned spelling in pre-war cartoon "Norakuro"|
These example words show historical kana usage with Sino-Japanese words.
|Current spelling||Old spelling||Kanji||Example words|
|かん (kan)||くわん||緩||緩慢||くわんまん (see also What is the "kwa" in "kwaidan"?)|
They can be seen in dictionaries like the Kōjien, where
the entry for kōjō (
The old kana usage is the katakana クワウジヤウ.
Native Japanese words were also written using different kana prior to the reforms. For example,
|Examples||Meaning||Current Reading||Old Reading|
|Celebrity Kaori Manabe's name is spelt |
Some historical kana usage survives in present-day Japanese. For
example in names, the を (wo) or ほ (ho) kana are used to spell the
name Kaori, as in
This is an edited excerpt from the newsgroup post referenced below.
A few centuries back, all cases of vowel + "u" assimilated to a single long vowel. The "u" may have been written originally as う, the end of a Sino-Japanese reading, or a pure Japanese う resulting from the loss of "k" in く, or else written ふ, a case of where the intervocalic "h [p/f]" had ceased to be pronounced. If the preceding vowel was "u", the sound became just a long "u". If it was an "i", as in the きう of きうかなづかひ or as in the case of 言ふ, the result was a long "u" with a "y" in front.
The actual kana spelling remained rather random (although there were schools of orthography based on all kinds of weird ideas) until rekishiteki kanazukai was recovered and given the nod during the Meiji period (1868-1912). Then about half a century ago, a spelling reform resulted in things being written (with some strange exceptions) as pronounced, and きう became きゅう. いふ became いう, which is an exception--we'd expect ゆう--perhaps due to its being a verb.
The other changes involving う and ふ were their being pronounced "o" after an "e" or an "o". In the case of えう and えふ, the frontness of the first vowel left a trace, the initial "y" sound of the resulting よう.
In the case of what would be like "(-)あう/あふ" in rekishiteki kanadukai, both vowels changed to a lower "o" than the case of "(-)お う/おふ" and "(-)えう/えふ"--we know this only because the Portuguese distinguished them in romanization--but before long the two kinds of long "o" merged into one.
Another oddity is the word for "get seasick/drunk" (now 酔う/よう). Early in the history of Japanese it was pronounced wepu and thus spelled ゑふ. Then "w" ceased to be pronounced except when followed by the lowest vowel, "a", and the original "p" changed to "h" and people quit pronouncing it in the middle of most words (what true exceptions can you think of besides あひる and あふれる?). The remaining pronunciation "eu" then went through the assimilation-to-long-vowel bit, resulting in "yoo". And finally, in the dialects that ultimately preserved a "(-)u" at the end of verbs, we end up with the pronunciation "you" (not "yoo") for the spelling よう.
This answer uses material by Jim Breen based on his Mini-FAQ. Paul Blay assisted with formatting when this was part of the "wiki sci.lang.japan FAQ" (see FAQ Format).
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