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Friday, April 11, 2008

4 Obsolete Kana Characters

Studying the Kana characters is one of the most essential things that you should take in order for you to be proficient in Japanese language. Kana is a writing system which is composed of 92 characters—46 under the hiragana (ひらがな), and 46 under the katakana (カタカナ). But did you know that the number of the Kana characters before was 96?

Before 1946, there were Kana characters which bore the “we” (/ɰe/) and “wi” (/ɰi/) sounds. These characters, to date, are obsolete—old-fashioned and no longer in general use. Instead of using them, ウィ and ウェare preferred as substitutes to signify “wi” and “we”, respectively, for onomatopoeia and foreign words.

The image on the right shows the Kana characters for “we”. The above is “we’ in hiragana while below is its katakana equivalent. It is thought that during the Kamakura Period, was being criticized as a character having the same pronunciation as which is イェ. This might be the cause of its removal from the official Kana writing system.

Meanwhile, on the left are the Kana characters for “wi”. The main possible reason for its elimination in the official orthography is the fact that and bears the same pronunciation which is /i/. This issue rose somewhere between the Kamakura and the Taisho Periods.

If you got the East Asian fonts installed in your computer, you can still type the , , and characters on your computer. You can use them if you want at any time. But don’t ever expect that your young Japanese friends will be able to read it.

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