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Why is Particle wa spelled like ha?

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Why is Particle wa spelled like ha?

Postby ELM » Tue 06.18.2013 3:46 pm

Every Japanese particle lesson I take tells me that the わparticle should be spelled like はbut no ones ever explained why. Why is it spelled like that?
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Re: Why is Particle wa spelled like ha?

Postby Kodama_30 » Fri 06.28.2013 11:38 am

Your question is a bit like asking why does English have silent letters - silent w in 'sword' for example. Consider it a quirk of the language; usually these things come about because of a colloquialism that took off or perhaps even it just being easier to say in a spoken conversation.

Does this help, or were you looking for the exact etymological background behind it?
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Re: Why is Particle wa spelled like ha?

Postby furrykef » Wed 07.03.2013 1:35 am

Up until a little after the end of World War II, Japan had something called "old kana orthography". Japanese spelling was messed up much as English spelling is today. For example, the word きょう (今日) was spelled けふ. This is because these hiragana spellings were hundreds of years out of date (in some cases maybe even a thousand years).

After World War II, for some reason or other there were some reforms to make Japanese easier to read and write. Some kanji were simplified, the Toyo kanji list was made (this later developed into the more familiar Joyo kanji list), and kana words were respelled to better match how they are pronounced in the modern standard dialect. However, some vestiges of old kana orthography remain, such as using おう instead of おお for long "o" (except in some native Japanese words). Using は for particle "wa", へ for particle "e", and を for particle "o" are among these vestiges. Why exactly these three particles were singled out to be spelled in old orthography is beyond me, except distinguishing を from お does seem useful since you know that (in the new system) を is always a particle and never part of a word. That's not true of は and へ, though... still, I think words are rather more likely to end with わ and え than with は and へ, so perhaps it still makes them easier to distinguish as particles and not part of the word.

I know at least one Japanese guy who prefers the older style of Japanese writing (he doesn't use it, of course; he just laments the reforms). He's not too old, either; I think he's in his 20s or 30s. Oddly enough, this same guy complains endlessly about English spelling and how the Great Vowel Shift made English difficult to learn. I find this incongruity hilarious.
Last edited by furrykef on Wed 07.03.2013 10:48 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Why is Particle wa spelled like ha?

Postby jimbreen » Wed 07.03.2013 7:05 pm

furrykef wrote:After World War II, for some reason or other there were some reforms to make Japanese easier to read and write.

There's a good summary of this in the Wikipedia page at:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_w ... rld_War_II (part of which I wrote.)

"The period immediately following World War II saw a rapid and significant reform of the writing system. This was in part due to influence of the Occupation authorities, but to a significant extent was due to the removal of conservatives from control of the educational system, which meant that previously stalled revisions could proceed."

Must-read books on this are:
Seeley, Christopher (1991). A History of Writing in Japan. University of Hawai'i Press. ISBN 0-8248-2217-X.
Twine, Nanette (1991). Language and the Modern State: The Reform of Written Japanese. Routledge. ISBN 0-415-00990-1.
Unger, J. Marshall (1996). Literacy and Script Reform in Occupation Japan: Reading Between the Lines. OUP. ISBN 0-19-510166-9.

Cheers

Jim
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Re: Why is Particle wa spelled like ha?

Postby pauro03 » Thu 07.04.2013 6:30 am

I'm curious either, but never to a point of asking... I doesn't post that much difficulties anyways... But as they said, it's like words with silent pronunciation of letters... xD
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Re: Why is Particle wa spelled like ha?

Postby Shiroisan » Thu 07.04.2013 7:00 am

Asking "why" a rule exists implies that languages are a science... :sweatdrop:

It's an art.

Some rules will seem more logical than others.
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Re: Why is Particle wa spelled like ha?

Postby Ongakuka » Thu 07.04.2013 8:18 am

Asking "why" a rule exists implies that languages are a science...

It's an art.

Some rules will seem more logical than others.


Surely language as a set of rules and constructions is a science, and the way one uses it to express themselves is an art?
なぜなら、おまえは・・・・・・人形だ
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Re: Why is Particle wa spelled like ha?

Postby Shiroisan » Thu 07.04.2013 2:38 pm

Ongakuka wrote:
Asking "why" a rule exists implies that languages are a science...

It's an art.

Some rules will seem more logical than others.


Surely language as a set of rules and constructions is a science, and the way one uses it to express themselves is an art?


The set of rules and constructions is made by the way people have used it to express themselves :dance: And continues to be made that same way. I sort of think of it as a large painting painted by as many brushes as there are people who have spoken it.

How many dictionaries does my odd mannerism have to enter before it becomes a part of your 'science', I wonder? 僕今、科学者ですか?
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Re: Why is Particle wa spelled like ha?

Postby SomeCallMeChris » Thu 07.04.2013 11:43 pm

If you were to ask me, I would say that 'a language' as a set of words, grammar rules, writing and pronunciation methods is an massive edifice that has not only been built by all the efforts of those who have gone before, but one that continues to be continually remodeled by the very act of using it.

You can try to understand it either scientifically or artistically, just as you can with actual ancient architecture.

And you can ask why very meaningfully. There are very thoroughly understood and well-documented reasons for the question that prompted this thread, that I won't get into because Jim Breen already pointed the way. When a good answer has already been given, I don't know why you would doubt the value of asking the question.

It -is- of course important to understand that when you ask 'why' of a language structure, the answer (if it can be found) is one of history, not one of grammar 'science'. Grammar, to the extent that it is a science, is an observational science and cannot be used to provide reasons only to describe functionality.
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Re: Why is Particle wa spelled like ha?

Postby Shiroisan » Fri 07.05.2013 3:34 am

Indeed "why" questions are used to analyze art, but\assuming this thread was made for practical use/ learning (this is the grammar 'help' board), the answer to "why" in art is often very subjective (not just our interpretations, I mean the course of it's history was made through subjective choices) and counter-intuitive to what the most simple/ logical course of action could have been to express an idea.

English is absolutely infamous for this.
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Re: Why is Particle wa spelled like ha?

Postby Ongakuka » Fri 07.05.2013 4:05 am

If this is about whether the question is a valid one or not, yes it is valid. All questions are valid.
なぜなら、おまえは・・・・・・人形だ
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Re: Why is Particle wa spelled like ha?

Postby Shiroisan » Fri 07.05.2013 5:53 am

Ongakuka wrote:All questions are valid.


賛成ですね
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