Why were ゐ and ゑ eliminated?



Sometime in the early 20th century, usage of the now-historical kana ゐ and ゑ (and their katakana equivalents) dropped off, being replaced with い and え in modern Japanese. What exactly happened here and why?


Posted 2011-05-31T22:20:42.663

Reputation: 3 137



Because the pronunciation was lost. "Wi" and "we" are still in some dialects, but standard Japanese does not have those sounds. These characters were just spelling. Similarly in English, we pronounce "through" as "thru" because the "gh" sound is long gone and "thru" is now a common variant spelling used in the US (I.E. Drive Thru)

After World War II there was a massive language overhaul, and they changed/standardized spelling and also made the Toyo (revised to Joyo) kanji list.

Nate Glenn

Posted 2011-05-31T22:20:42.663

Reputation: 3 819


As Nate said, it was because there was confusion with other characters which sounded similar. Wikipedia has more info for Wi and We

– Chris Gaunt – 2011-05-31T23:30:59.740

2Man, I wish we could have a Language overhaul for english and drop all the silent characters in our spelling conventions. – Nathan – 2012-06-07T16:07:05.083

2Note that Japanese had a huge language overhaul during the Meiji period as well, which did the rather different thing of standardizing how to spell the silent stuff :P – ithisa – 2013-08-15T02:12:03.397

1I would be very interested to know in which dialects these sounds still appear. – hippietrail – 2011-06-01T09:22:16.747

1@hippietrail: ask it as a new question :) – Nicolas Raoul – 2011-06-02T00:57:05.770

repecmps seems to think in an answer to http://japanese.stackexchange.com/questions/376/in-which-dialects-have-the-sounds-wi-and-we-been-preserved-and-are-t that these are not used in any dialects after all - who is right?

– hippietrail – 2011-06-02T04:49:41.657

2These are not used in any dialects, as long as you don't count Ryukyuan languages (such as Okinawan or Amami) as a dialect. – Boaz Yaniv – 2011-06-03T10:03:37.007

The distinction in pronounciation between ゐ-い and ゑ-え has not existed in standard Japanese since the end of the Kamakura period (1333) and while it might have lingered in some regions for some time after that, it has for sure not stayed until modern days. – a20 – 2018-01-23T17:39:31.283