Sunday Soundcheck 64


As I mentioned before there are two characters in the Y column which fell out of use long ago. Today is time for the second, ye, which is written in hiragana as ゑ and in katakana as ヱ.

Yen (ゑん) is the old Japanese word for a circle or unit of money. Since this character has fallen out of use, the current word is en (えん・円). I believe the reason we say ‘yen’ in English is because the word came into English while the old character was still in use.

Yebisu (ヱビス) is the name of a premium beer in Japan. It is written in katakana on the label and using the old character. My dictionary indicates the historical spelling for the god of prosperity and fortune, Ebisu (えびす・恵比寿・恵比須・夷・戎・蛭子) starts with the old character. His name has numerous ways it can be written. I guess that’s what happens when you are around for hundreds of years. Just ask Kris Kringle, Santa Claus, Father Christmas, …


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5 Responses to “Sunday Soundcheck 64”

  1. Navarr Says:

    Isn’t that the “we” character? Both Wikipedia and Google Translate’s Romanization feature mark it as “We.”

  2. Did they really ask that? Says:

    the truth. i like the post.

    Cheap web ads still available on my blog about the stupidest questions people ask online:

  3. びっくり Says:

    Yeah, I’m not sure why they always refer to a W column. There is a ‘wa’, but no ‘wi’, ‘wu’, or ‘we’; and the one sometimes written out as ‘wo’ isn’t quite a ‘wo’.

    It’s more conventional to consider these characters to be in the Y column. I noticed that some IME (input method editors) generate these characters if you input ‘wyi’ and ‘wye’.

  4. Navarr Says:

    Yeah, my google IME will trigger it automatically with wyi and wye, will offer it as an option for wi and we, but won’t display either with yi or ye.

    I see where it comes from though, it does give off a ye sound despite being a we character (how this makes sense, who knows.)

    Uncited on Wikipedia: “Japanese “e (エ)/we (ヱ)” had been pronounced [je] and Portuguese missionaries had spelled them that way. Some time thereafter, by the middle of the 18th century, “e/we” came to be pronounced [e] as in modern Japanese, although some regions retain the [je] pronunciation.”

    However, it seems to “officially” be a part of the W column, which would be further introduced by the attempt to introduce Yi and Ye characters to katakana (as well as a Wu character) during the Meiji era.


  5. びっくり Says:

    On charts here that include the two characters, they usually appear in the Y column. Of course, I haven’t had the chance to ask anyone about the correct pronunciation, since they’ve been out of use so long. I know someone born in the Taisho Era, so she might possibly know. Also, I have a future in-law who was born in Meiji Era, but she is not up to having linguistic ramblings.

    Your links were interesting, but I’m suspicious of the proposed ‘yi’ character, since it is merely an upside down image of ‘i’ which would not be possible to draw properly with a brush. That almost seems like a hoax.

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