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The modern Japanese vowels /e,o/ each represent two Old Japanese vowels, arbitrarily written e ë o ö in romaji. I assume that Japanese philologists don't all use romaji, so is there a convention for distinguishing these vowels in kana?

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    Welcome to the site! If you have some concrete example, it would probably help, but just in case, do you mean like the the e in Ebisu beer which is normally written as ヱビスビール and not エビスビール? If so, a google search taught me that there is also a hiragana version: ゑ Source: detail.chiebukuro.yahoo.co.jp/qa/question_detail/q1435087399 I don't know about the o (since I think Orion beer is written in romaji ;-), but it I would presume there are some similar kanas for them as well. – Tuomo Jul 28 at 1:54
  • After some more googling I start to think the ヱ was related to your question, so maybe I should have posted this as an answer instead of a comment, but anyway: It seems it is not only e and o, but there are more of those "weird kanas", e.g ヰ would then presumably be written as ï in romaji (Source whitebear0930.net/archives/5323 ) – Tuomo Jul 28 at 2:17
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    @Tuomo, the poster is referring to the paired vowels in the Old Japanese vowel reconstruction, and not the obsolete わ行 kana. – jogloran Jul 28 at 7:08
  • @jogloran Thanks + wow, I am impressed! – Tuomo Jul 28 at 8:26
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Good question. The poster is referring to the reconstructed 8-vowel system for Old Japanese (上代特殊仮名遣) which is inferred from the presence of two ways of transcribing /e/ and two ways of transcribing /o/ with man'yōgana.

According to the Wikipedia article on 上代特殊仮名遣, there was no consistent way of indicating these in kana (naturally, since at the time the sound changes were still current, "kana" in their current form didn't exist), but that the notation 甲 or 乙, or an underline to the left or right, or katakana, or the diacritics used in transcription, may be used.

上代特殊仮名遣が廃れてから「かな」が発達したため、これを表現する仮名文字は存在しない。そのため、文字上で甲乙の区別をする必要がある時は「甲」「乙」等といった明記、右左の傍線、外国語で使われるウムラウト等の流用、カタカナ化などで対応している。

Later on in the article, 甲エ or 乙エ are used to refer to each vowel.

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