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When looking at the hiragana ぬ (nu), ね (ne), and る (ru) one notices a small circle in the symbols. In fact that circle is the only difference when comparing them with the hiragana め (me), れ (re) and ろ (ro).

In the history of hiragana, is there any special reason that lead to this. And while I could see the relation of ね/れ and る/ろ (given that they sound similar), why are ぬ and め so different in their pronunciation?

“Mahoraba” by Kojima Akira

(Image was taken, and slightly adjusted, from the manga “Mahoraba” by Kojima Akira)

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Trivia: I actually spotted this about a month ago and waited for Japanese.SE to go live so I could ask it. – poke May 31 '11 at 19:22
There are a lot of good on-topic questions in the definition stage of this site. – Ali May 31 '11 at 20:52
But those don't get answered, right? :P – flamingspinach Jun 5 '11 at 23:10
up vote 28 down vote accepted

They all originate from the cursive versions of kanji with the same/similar pronunciation as the hiragana. Here's a picture from Wikipedia to illustrate:

origin of the hiragana

To answer your question - there is no deep connection between the kana with circles. The kanji they came from just happened to have a circle when written in cursive.

And just to be complete, Wikipedia also has a picture on the origin of katakana. They're a bit more obvious because they're taken from the "plain" forms of the kanji.

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