Teach Yourself Japanese
Subject: ancient Japanese vowels
From: TAKASUGI Shinji (tssf.airnet.ne.jp)
Date: Fri, 27 Aug 2004 18:15:42 GMT
References: 1, 2
> So there could be a whole bunch of different /ji/, /je/, /i/, and /e/ kanjis
Japanese has never had /ji/ because it's the same as /i/ phonetically.
> I've heard all the theories that Japanese used to use different kanji for 3 extra vowels that were in the ancient language.
We only know each of the modern /i/, /e/, and /o/ had two different pronunciations in ancient Japanese, and we don't know how they were actually pronounced. Some linguists say the lost three were the mid vowels [ï], [ë], and [ö], some say they were the diphthongs [ui], [ai], and [oi], and some say they were palatalized [ji], [je], and something else. Since Japanese was a syllable-timing language before and became a mora-timing language only 500 years ago or so, I think the diphthong theory is very probable.
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