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08:19 Oct 30, 2007
Japanese to English translations [Non-PRO] Art/Literary - General / Conversation / Greetings / Letters
Japanese term or phrase:は and わ
I was being asked, why is は used as a particle and not わ. The person was wondering since わ is already pronounced as "wa", it might be used as a particle straight away, instead of using は and changing the pronunciation to "wa".
Frankly speaking, I've never thought of this question before and I had no idea why, despite learning the language for so long.
Can anybody help? I couldn't find anything on Google.
Explanation: ...from classical Japanese.
Until the writing of kana was modernized (I think finally only in the late 1940s) it followed the usage of classical Japanese, which was based on how Japanese was pronounced in the Heian period. So a lot of words were not written as they were pronounced in modern Japanese.
A lot of words which now have a 'w' were then pronounced with an 'h' and this is how they continued to be spelled - so, e.g. 言ふ and 言はない which you can see in books published before 1945.
I think the particle は was considered so basic, though, that to modernize it would have been too strange. Presumably it was in fact pronounced 'ha' in the Heian period.
To sum up information from Wikipedia, the pronunciation of ハ行 was "transformed" into that of ワ行 historically, consequently even though the pronunciation is the same, ハ行 remains in the old Japanese and ワ行 prevails in the modern Japanese. -
A leftover from the post-war kana reform (one theory)
Explanation: See the URL. The theory is that it is a leftover from the postwar reform of the kana script. If you are not aware, pre and postwar written Japanese is significantly different. The hiragana frequently did not look at all like they sounded. Some prominent examples are てふてふ (which was pronounced ちょうちょう） or (けふ which was pronounced きょう). According to one of the answerers of the URL reference, は and the other particles are leftovers which remained unchanged after the reform, possibly due to popular resistance or possibly make it easier to read the different clauses (Japanese at the time had no punctuation).
Rather than trying to summarize all the replies, read through them yourself. Quite interesting.