I recently purchased a copy of One Hundred Leaves: A new annotated translation of the Hyakunin Isshu to try and improve my Japanese reading level. In addition to the English translation, each poem also includes the original Japanese and a rōmaji pronunciation guide.

The second poem in the collection is by Empress Jitō (持統天皇). In the book, the Japanese text is given as (emphasis mine):


The corresponding rōmaji for てふ is given as chou. I understand that pronunciation can change over time, e.g. the particles , , and . But てふ ⟶ ちょう is a less obvious change.

Can someone please explain why てふ is pronounced ちょう?

Related info

I found this page which I think is trying to tell me that てふ is a contracted form of といふ, i.e. と[言]{い}う. Indeed, the English version of the poem on Wikipedia translates the てふ as "So they say". But I still don't understand how this relates to the pronunciation being ちょう.

I also looked for the answer on the Wikipedia page for classical Japanese language, which gives a bunch of examples of differences of pronunciation between modern and classical Japanese, but I don't understand the explanations well enough to determine if some rule or combination of rules listed on that page can explain てふ ⟶ ちょう (or was it ちょう ⟶ てふ?).

Finally, the kotobank.jp entry for ちょう〔てふ〕 mentions something about an [音変化]{おんへんか} and seems to indicate an intermediate step in the pronunciation change, i.e. ちょう→ちゅう→とう? Or maybe I am misunderstanding what the →ちゅう→とう on that page is trying to tell me.

  • 1
    Are you familiar with older Japanese? I've seen a similar case where さうらふ is pronounced そうろう in the old word 候ふ which is a written-form old equivalent of です/ます I believe. Going by this, ふ is read う, and perhaps there's a similar transformation of て to ちょ? Feb 3, 2018 at 6:34
  • @AlejandroWainzinger No, not at all. I'm barely familiar with modern Japanese. Maybe that's why I was so surprised by this pronunciation!
    – appleby
    Feb 4, 2018 at 1:52

1 Answer 1


The best answer that I could find was this answer on Yahoo.jp 知恵袋, which goes:



頭語以外の「はひふへほ」を原則「わいうえお」にする というのは「ハ行転呼」ですが、 これが起こった上で、さらに発音が変化して 「チョー(ちょう)」になっています。






  • This sounds reasonable. I'm guessing it was only downvoted because it's not translated to English. Maybe translate it? Feb 3, 2018 at 6:36
  • I figured that anyone willing to broach a subject so arcane and requiring such extensive experience with the language should not be mollycoddled.
    – BJCUAI
    Feb 3, 2018 at 6:39
  • This probably explains it, thanks! I didn't 100% understand linked the kotobank.jp entry for 「拗長音」, but I was able to get the gist of it and this is the sort of explanation I was looking for. As it happens, the Wikipedia page that I linked to in my question has a section heading for Palatalized long vowel (開拗長音 Kaiyōchōon) rule, but that section is blank.
    – appleby
    Feb 4, 2018 at 1:42
  • I had time to read this answer and the kotobank.jp entries more closely today, and that cleared up my remaining confusion. For anyone else who stumbles on this question, you might want to also check out bannkohukyuu's answer to the linked Yahoo.jp question, in which it is suggested that the change happened like 「てふ」→「てう」→「トョー」→「チョー」. I don't know if that is true or if it was ever actually pronounced 「トョー」, but that intermediate step helped me see how/why the 「てう」→「チョー」change might have occurred.
    – appleby
    Feb 4, 2018 at 18:04

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