There's this manga that is called へうげもの. However, this name is romanized as Hyouge Mono. Although I know little Japanese, I think the kana there spell something like Heuge Mono.

Cover for Hyouge Mono

Why does this happen, and what does it mean?

3 Answers 3


This is a difference between historical kana use (歴史的仮名遣) and modern kana use (現代仮名遣い).

The kana orthography has been changed over time to reflect newer pronunciations. In this case, the title is written using an older spelling. Take a look at this official cabinet announcement (from 1986) and scroll down to the bottom half. It contains a rather large chart, and in this chart you can find へう under historic spellings. According to the chart, this spelling corresponds with the modern spelling ひょう and the modern pronunciation ヒョー.

I suppose spelling it the old way gives it a more authentic historical feel, but I don't think it changes the meaning. It's still the same word.

  • 6
    This is correct. However, linguistically, it was only /eu/ that becomes [joː] (ヨー). This is a regular phonological change . The other related changes are /au/ > [ɔː] > [oː] and /ou/ > [oo] > [oː].
    – Dono
    Apr 5, 2013 at 0:24

へうげもの is old kana usage (see for example here for some tables of current/old spelling). According to the wikipedia article on this manga, the reading for へうげもの is ひょうげもの, so it is being romanised as it would be pronounced.

  • 5
    "so it is being romanised as it would be pronounced". Only partially. It ignores the long vowel.
    – Dono
    Apr 5, 2013 at 6:03

It is called the history kana orthography, in Japanese [歴史的]{れきしてき}[仮名]{かな}[遣]{づか}ひ.

Around the time this kana orthography was introduced, Japanese sounded different than today, words were pronounced differently. As the language changed, the old spelling was preserved.

The technical details of the following are taken from "A History of the Japanese Language", Frellesvig, Cambridge 2010, 1st ed. (Look up "historical kana spelling" in the index.)

This kana spelling was established at the beginning of the 13th century. Kana had been introduced earlier, and around that time certain phonological (sound) shifts took place so that the mapping kana:syllable was not 1:1 anymore. For instance, the loss of "w", as in ゐる>居る.

Leaving aside the details, as a result some syllables could be written in multiple ways, eg 川 could be spelled either かわ or かは, and to resolve this and settle upon a unique spelling, the historical spelling principle was introduced, first proposed by Fujiwara no Teika, after whom it was also refered to by the name 定家仮名遣い. In essence, this principle meant that words should be written the way they were pronounced earlier.

The situation is similar to English. A main factor as to why English orthography is not very phonetic (writing the way you speak), is the great vowel shift and that English spelling is based upon how words were pronounced earlier and upon their etymological roots - historical.

Note that the people of that time could only reconstruct from source texts how were pronounced much earlier, andmistakes are bound to happen, eg 遠 was spelled とを, while とほ (as in Old Japanese) would have been correct etymologically.

Also, small kana were not officially introduced until the spelling reforms after WW II, and traditionally, there was no distinction between voiced and unvoiced consonants in writing. Syllables beginning with more than one consonant (きゃ, にょ, くゎ etc.) arose from around 800AD onwards. ん and っ also entered Japanese around that time, and several ways of dealing with them were developed, including (a) leaving it out [もて for 持って, late 9th century; しし for 死んじ); (b) む; (c) つ; as well as some other letters. つ might have been inspired by its use to denote a syllable final -t, used ti transcribe imported Chinese words ending in -t and pronounced without a vowel until well after 1609AD.

Fortunately, the historical kana spelling was abolished in favour of a much more phonological one. Thus, we do not need to possess active knowledge of it anymore, being able to read it suffices.

When given a text with old spelling and/or non-modern grammar, here are a few practical guidelines to convert it into modern Japanese, which is fortunately much easier than the other way around.

  • っ/ん not found in the old te-form of quadrigrade verbs (u-verbs): かひて, もちて, よみて, とひて, etc.. Their equivalents in modern (standard) Japanese grammar and spelling are 買って, 持って, 読んで, and 飛んで.

  • ha becomes wa in non-intial positions: かは>川, は>わ (the particle, a survivor in the new orthography), あはん>会わん, はな remains 花

As an exception, はは stays 母.

  • h becomes silent before other vowels: かひあけ>買い上げ, さへ>さえ (as 子供にさえ分かる), はひ>這うい, へ>え(the particle); ひま stays 暇

  • kwa becomes ka: せうくゎい>商会

  • we becomes e, wi becomes i: ゐる>居る, おうヱん>応援, を>を (the particle)

  • du becomes zu, di becomes ji: つつ(=づつ)>ずつ, みづ>水, ちちい(=ぢぢい)>爺(じじい)

Many vowel changes:

  • au becomes ou, except for verbs in the standard dialect(会う, 買う etc.): かんさう>乾燥, きゃうき>狂気, あうき>扇,とはう (from 飛ばむ) > 飛ぼう

  • ou>long ō, ei>long ē

  • eu > yō: せうせつ>小説, えういん>要因, せつめう>絶妙, てうさ>調査,

  • iu > yū: いう>言う,いうか>優雅, まむゆう>漫遊

  • Ciu>Cyu: しうき>周期, きうかく>休学, こひう>誤謬

  • multiple changes may apply: さふらふ (h silent) > さうらう (vowel contraction) > そうろう(=候う), わうゐ>あうい>王威, けふ>けう>今日

  • Use context to infer when つ>っ, む>ん, and when to apply ゛and ゜.

  • It was common to use katakana instead of hiragana. 世界八其々ノ時代二其々ノ課題ヲ有シ、其解決ヲ求メテ、時代カラ時代ヘト動ヒて行ク。

  • Also, の and other okurigana were frequently omitted with nouns: 此恨は初め… > この恨みは初め…

  • 1
    There's some confusion here between old forms of Japanese words and old spellings. とびて has never been a valid spelling for 飛んで; rather, in Old (and Middle) Japanese, the "gerund" of 飛ぶ was 飛びて.
    – Zhen Lin
    Sep 20, 2013 at 18:18
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    You're still confusing spelling and actual language change. There's modern Japanese spelled in a historical orthography (c. 1900 to 1945) and then there's classical Japanese. Much like the Canterbury Tales is not just modern English spelled in a funny way.
    – Zhen Lin
    Sep 20, 2013 at 19:44
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    That's the exact opposite of what I said! It's not possible to write 飛びて and mean for it to be read 飛んで. Go have a look at this, for example: we have 待つて (pronounced まって, of course) instead of 待ちて, 書いた instead of 書きた (which is not even valid classical Japanese), and 選んで instead of 選びて.
    – Zhen Lin
    Sep 20, 2013 at 20:15
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    書きたり does not mean 書いた except in Meiji/Edo-style half-Classical Japanese, where it was analogized with the modern た. 書きたり means 書いている.
    – ithisa
    Sep 20, 2013 at 22:16
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    Zhen Lin is correct here. Pre-war modern Japanese used an etymological (note, NOT "historical" per se) orthography that essentially backtracked regular sound changes through etymology but not grammar or irregular sound changes. Example: 赤い, not 赤き because k->nothing is an irregular (though often appearing) sound change. 読んで, not 読みて, because /mite/->/nde/ is an irregular sound change.
    – ithisa
    Sep 20, 2013 at 22:19

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