sci.lang.japan FAQ / 1. Writing / 1.1. and

1.1.3. What is the use of the "we" and "wi" kana?

Ebisu beer written webisu
Photo credit: Toby Oxborrow
Used under a Creative Commons licence.

Although kana for wi and we exist, namely hiragana ゐ and ゑ, and katakana ヰ and ヱ, these kana are not used in modern Japanese. These kana exist because the sounds they represent existed in Japanese at the time the kana were created. (See 1.1.1. How did and originate? for more on the origin of the kana.) Even after the sounds disappeared from the language, the we and wi kana continued to be used in historical kana usage, not to represent sounds "wi" and "we" but the sounds now represented by kana い and え, i and e respectively. See 1.1.7. What is historical kana usage?.

Although the we and wi kana are hardly ever used any more, they do have a few uses. One archaic system of representing the English "v" sound used dakuten marks on the wagyō katakana. This system is represented in Unicode: ヷヸヹヺ. There is no kana for "wu", so this element is missing from the list. However, modern Japanese either uses ba, bi, bu, be, bo to represent the v sound or ヴ (katakana u with a dakuten) plus small vowels, thus "ヴァイオリン" for violin. See also 5.1. How do I write an English word in Japanese?.

The wi is also used sometimes to write brand names, for example "Nikka whisky" is ニッカウヰスキ and "Yebisu Beer" is ヱビスビール. See also 1.1.2. Is there a symbol for or ?.

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