A Brief Introduction to Classical Japanese
There are many different points in how MJ and CJ are spelled vis-à-vis how they are pronounced. This historical orthography (in Japanese, rekishiteki kanazukai) was in use up till the end of WWII, when the Ministry of Education rewrote the rules on how Japanese would be written and read to bring the spelling more in line with the pronunciation. In this process, they eliminated two kana (namely wi and we) and retained as the solitary function of their row-mate wo that of the object-marker.
[H-] becomes [w-] in the middle of words, and later the sound /w/ disappeared before all vowels except before the [a]. At the beginning of words, they are clearly pronounced, but in all other cases, [ha, hi, hu/fu, he, ho] are read as [wa, i, u, e, o] respectively.
Classical Orthography Modern Orthography Pronunciation Meaning ka·ha ka·wa kawa river ko·hi ko·i koi love ma·he ma·e mae front o·ho·ki·mi o·o·ki·mi ôkimi great lord
[Au] and [afu] become [oo] or [ou] either way pronounced as the long-o [ô]. (This rule doesn't apply to verbs ending in [u]. See note* )
Classical Orthography Modern Orthography Pronunciation Meaning ta·u to·u tô east ta·fu to·u tô tower ha·ya·u ha·yo·u hayô early a·fu a·u au to meet
[Iu] and [ifu] become [yû].
Classical Orthography Modern Orthography Pronunciation Meaning i·fu i·u yû to say shi·fu shi·(yu)·u shû collection
[Eu] and [efu] become [yô].
Classical Orthography Modern Orthography Pronunciation Meaning ke·fu ki·(yo)·u kyô today se·u·shi·n shi·(yo)·shi·n shôshin small stature
[Wi] becomes [i], [we] becomes [e], [wo] becomes [o].
Classical Orthography Modern Orthography Pronunciation Meaning wi·do i·do ido well su·we su·e sue end wo·to·ko o·to·ko otoko man
A final note: the distinction between [zi] and [dzi] and [zu] and [dzu] were lost in the Edo period; in CJ, they are distinctly different in writing and were possibly so in pronunciation as well.
* This does cause some confusion: although the rule is clear, verbs are accepted as being pronounced with modern orthography (e.g., in CJ warafu, is pronounced as the MJ warau). However, in the Japanese dictionary produced in the end of the 16th century by the Jesuits, the pronunciation for many afu verbs is different; they clearly indicate, for example, that the CJ tamafu is not pronounced as the MJ tamau, but as /tamô/. Return
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