Well, here we are at the second entry for the Y column. Last week I promised that we would write about five characters even though there are only three characters in this column. Have you ruminated on this enough already? Or perhaps you know the answer already.
Most columns have five characters corresponding to the five vowels (a, i, u, e, o); however, this column has only three characters (ya, yu, yo). I’ll write about those characters in Soundcheck 61, 63, and 65. Today, being number 62, let’s take a look at yi. What’s that? Yes, there are indeed characters for yi and ye, but they are no longer in general use. My understanding is that they passed from use over a hundred years back. In hiragana we can write yi as ゐ or in katakana as ヰ.
Words using these characters are still in use, but the characters have been replaced with i and e. I am amazed at how complete the change is. Virtually no Japanese person I meet can make the old sounds, and only a small percentage of the population are aware of the characters.
I can think of similarities in English, for example the disappearance of people who make a distinction between words like ‘whether’ and ‘weather’, but it doesn’t seem so complete.
Today, I’ll just list one word as an example. Yinaka (ゐなか・田舎) is the word for ‘country’ as in country bumpkin, not as in “I love the country of Japan”. We use this word today, but it is written いなか or in kanji as 田舎.
Next week, back to characters that are still in use.