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?

  • 1
    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
    Commented Jul 28, 2019 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
    Commented Jul 28, 2019 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
    Commented Jul 28, 2019 at 7:08
  • @jogloran Thanks + wow, I am impressed!
    – Tuomo
    Commented Jul 28, 2019 at 8:26

1 Answer 1


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.


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

  • reconstructed 8-vowel system? If you did not mean seven, what's the other? Commented Sep 18, 2019 at 16:49
  • @Anton Sherwood there's also an i1 and i2
    – Ezra
    Commented Dec 24, 2019 at 19:53

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