hiragana は

Sherlok

Member
Russian
why hiragana は somewhere is read like "wa"

For example: (わたし) は なかむら です。
 
  • Flaminius

    hedomodo
    日本語 / japāniski / יפנית
    A Proto-Japanese phoneme, *p, has undergone a curious course of changes. It first experienced fricativisation, ɸ, until the tenth century. Then, it turned into w, and finally into h. This is a general trend and does not account for irregular cases. One of the exceptions to the change was the topic marker ⟨は⟩. It is stuck at the w-stage.

    The post-WWII language reform abolished most of the historical spellings including remnants of *p, but retained two *p-related exceptions for the ease of reading. They were postpositions ⟨は⟩ and ⟨へ⟩ (illative; pronounced /e/).
     

    ktdd

    Senior Member
    Mandarin - Beijing
    It's because of historical sound change. A bit long story, so bear with me.

    はひふへほ, or what is called the "ha" row today, originally represented the /p/ sound, i.e. pa, pi, pu, pe, po.
    One piece of evidence is in the arrangement of 五十音図, which was modeled on the Sanskrit syllabary: a (vowel) -> ka (glottal) -> sa, ta, na (dental) -> pa, ma (labial) -> ya, ra, wa (liquid).

    But the bilabial plosive /p/ began the process of becoming bilabial fricative /ɸ/ from very early on. By the time the Japanese-Portuguese Dictionary was published (ca. 1600), it was complete, and the Portuguese transcribed はひふへほ as fa, fi, fu, fe, fo.
    (The /p/ sound was only retained in a "doubled" position, e.g. りっは (rippa). European missionaries found this unsatisfactory, so they invented the so-called 半濁点 or maru mark, and the Japanese people happily accepted it and 'rippa' is written りっぱ now.)

    And this bilabial fricative /ɸ/ continued to change. At the beginning of words, it became ha, hi, fu, he, ho; in other positions, wa, i, u, e, o. For example, はる = haru, ふむ = fumu, but いふ = iu, いはない = iwanai, いひます = iimasu, いへる = ieru.
    Japanese being an agglutinative language, particles are considered part of the word they follow. Naturally the particles は, へ have come to be pronounced 'wa' and 'e' respectively.

    It's all a bit confusing, so during the Japanese script reform it was decided that words should be spelled as pronounced, i.e. いう, いわない, いいます, いえる.
    But exceptions have been made for three particles, because they are just too essential to the Japanese Language. The topic marker 'wa' retains its historical spelling は instead of わ; the direction marker 'e' continues to be written へ instead of え; the object marker 'o' is を instead of お.
    (I believe I've read somewhere that there was supposed to be a grace period, but it got indefinitely prolonged. So here we are, 'konnichiwa' is still spelled こんにちは because that は is a particle in the elliptical phrase 今日は…)

    So to answer your question. は is read like 'wa' only when it acts as a particle, e.g. in "Watashi-wa Nakamura desu."
     
    Last edited:

    gengo

    Senior Member
    American English
    And this bilabial fricative /ɸ/ continued to change. At the beginning of words, it became ha, hi, fu, he, ho; in other positions, wa, i, u, e, o. For example, はる = haru, ふむ = fumu, but いふ = iu, いはない = iwanai, いひます = iimasu, いへる = ieru.
    Japanese being an agglutinative language, particles are considered part of the word they follow. Naturally the particles は, へ have come to be pronounced 'wa' and 'e' respectively.

    What a great post! Thank you for taking time to write that all out. I learned a couple of things.
     
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