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

1.1.2. Is there a kana symbol for ye or yi?

"Yebisu" beer

No, there is no hiragana or katakana for either of these, because there was no "ye" or "yi" sound in Japanese at the time that hiragana and katakana were invented, around 800 to 1000 A.D.

Because the "ye" sound at least did exist in the Japanese language of the period before the creation of hiragana and katakana, the man'yōgana system (see 1.3.10. What is ?), which predated hiragana and katakana, did contain representations of ye, "江", and a kana ei (曵) that was maybe also ye. (One kana per "sound" is a relatively modern development.)

The distinction between e and ye was lost by the time of the development of hiragana and katakana (see 1.1.1. How did and originate?); many people think the ye pronunciation won out (and that is the one used in southern dialects, to a large degree), to change to e during the Edo period.

The kokugakusha of the Edo period (1603-1867) investigated the spelling of the late Nara/early Heian period and it came to be reinstated as rekishiteki kanadukai (歴史的仮名遣い) (`historical kana usage', see 1.1.7. What is historical kana usage?) and is what was taught--until about 1950--in Japanese schools. Wa, wi, and wo (vs. ha, hi, ho and i, o) were also revived as spelling distinctions, something like distinguishing "right" and "rite" in English, or "knew" and "new." However, there was no attempt to revive the e/ye distinction in spelling.

The "y" in the name of the Japanese currency, "yen", and such names as "Yebisu beer", is actually an artifact of a romanization system. See 5.2. Where does the word yen come from?.

Acknowledgements

Edited from posts by Bart Mathias and NAKANO Yasuaki. Thanks to Ben Monroe for some more input.

References

  1. Seeley, Christopher (1991). A History of Writing in Japan

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