1

A very naïve but logical question:

Why are these missing in the Hiragana chart?

  1. yi,

  2. ye,

  3. wu

If there are, where can I find them? How to write them?

enter image description here

2
  • 6
    Do you mean "yi"? や (ya) is right there at the top of the y row.
    – Leebo
    May 31, 2021 at 21:48
  • 3
    You should also know that even though 'wi' and 'we' appear in your chart, they are no longer part of standard Japanese.. May 31, 2021 at 21:54

3 Answers 3

5

They're not "missing", these hiragana characters aren't needed as they don’t exist in modern Japanese language. The language doesn't have these sounds so they did not need to be represented. You cannot write them in hiragana.

Some additional conventions exist to write foreign sounds in katakana but there are still limitations as both systems were originally designed for writing Japanese words. Until recently, these characters were only used to represent sounds that exist in Japanese that can be spoken by a Japanese reader. For example "wu" in chinese names is pronounced as "bu" in Japanese, "gim" in Korean names is pronounced as "kim" in Japanese, "va" in European names is pronounced as "ba" in Japanese. Furthermore "fu" and "hu" or "ra" or "la" are not distinguished in Japanese loanwords from other languages.

There are several exceptions for historical reasons. "wi" (ゐ) and "we" (ゑ) are used very rarely for names but are now pronounced the same as "i" (い) and "e" (え) respectively. There is no longer any need to write them differently as the sounds in modern Japanese are the same. Some brands still use it as their original historical name such as "Yebisu" (ゑびす/ヱビス) beer.

Another source of confusion is inconsistent romanisation. The "ye" sound for example, doesn’t exist in modern Japanese but ゑ was written as "we" or "ye" since romanisation was not standardised at the time. This is also why 円 is written as "Yen" in English, it was historically read as "wen" (ゑん) and is now read as "en" えん. So despite non-standard romanisation suggesting it, the sound "ye" doesn't have a hiragana character as it is not spoken in Japanese.

8
  • 2
    Minor point -- in Old Japanese, //e//, //we//, and //je// were apparently distinct phonemes. See also え#発音の歴史 on the Japanese Wikipedia. In brief, //e// and //je// merged into //je// around the 900s. Then //je// flattened out to just //e// during the Edo Period, with //je// persisting in certain cases until the first half of the 1800s. Thus, 円 was probably pronounced as yen when it was borrowed into English. Jun 1, 2021 at 21:14
  • 1
    Thank you both for your kind feedback. I didn’t know there were older characters no longer used. I’ve updated the answer to reflect this.
    – Tom Kelly
    Jun 2, 2021 at 7:13
  • 1
    @Ninj0r, to my knowledge, there has never been an accepted and used kana for either //ji// or //wu//. Kana for these were invented during the Meiji period, apparently out of some kind of completionist movement to "fill in" the apparent gaps in the 五十音表, but I think these were never really used outside of rare texts in academia. Have you read differently? Jun 2, 2021 at 17:15
  • 1
    Spring boarding from what @Eiríkr Útlendi said, there's no evidence that Japanese has ever had /ji/ <yi> or /wu/ <wu> as sounds separate from /i/ and /u/ as far back as linguists can reconstruct. Jun 2, 2021 at 21:42
  • 1
    Yet another minor point. Saying “gim” in Korean is pronounced as “kim” (or “kimu” to be more precise...) in Japanese is a bit misleading, at least in this context. It’s not that Japanese has no /g/ sound. /g/ in Korean represents an unaspirated sound, as opposed to aspirated /k/, and it could be either voiced or unvoiced. /k/ in Japanese represents an unvoiced sound, as opposed to voiced /g/, and it could be either aspirated or unaspirated. The Korean /g/ at the beginning of a word tends to be unvoiced and sounds more like the Japanese /k/ than the Japanese /g/.
    – aguijonazo
    Jun 3, 2021 at 8:38
3

These syllables simply don't appear in Modern Japanese, so there are no standard symbols to represent them. This also goes for the "we" and "wi". Their pronunciation has shifted from "we" to "e" and "wi" to "i", so in native Modern Japanese words, you can find them written as pronounced.

Even if these syllables appear sometimes in loanwords, the katakana used to represent them isn't the traditional "we" and "wi" katakana, rather the "U" katakana plus a small vowel symbol, like in ウェスト [WeSUTO] (waist)

3

As others have said, they're not used in modern Japanese and the characters aren't taught in Japanese Elementary schools. However, saying they don't exist isn't technically correct; they do exist in an old textbook on Wikipedia. You can find them here: ヤ行イ

Links to the specific kana charts for reference:

Edits: I misread the question originally and missed the specific context of "yi", "ye, "wu". I don't know a modern specific situation where those have been used.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .