Tristan McLeay wrote: > > the rule could be expressed in terms of kanji, e.g., > > ha/hi/fu/he/ho = > > wa/i/u/e/o in the middle of a kanji and in > > inflections. > > I'm a little confused by this. What I mean (probably poorly phrased) is that, for example, the furigana over the "river" kanji was _kaha_, and since _ha_ is in the middle of a group of kana over a single kanji, you know it's pronounced _wa_ rather than _ha_. On the other hand, in _nihon_, you have _ni_ over one kanji, and _hon_ over the next, thus, _ho_ is at the beginning of the kanji's furigana, and is, therefore, pronounced _ho_, not _o_. However, pure kana in the historic orthography would be a little trickier. Even if you added word spaces, you'd have to know the origin of words to know that _nihon_ was /nihon/ rather than /nion/, while _kaha_ was /kawa/ rather than /kaha/ Incidentally, _hawa_ for "mother" is attested in some Tokugawa-era novels and Noh plays. I've read a theory that _haha_ was re-created by analogy with _chichi_, which uses reduplication. Of course, the most amusing thing about that word is that /h/ comes from /P/ which in turn comes from /p/, so the Old Japanese called their mothers "Papa"! :-) There's an old riddle from the Heian era (794-1160) which is slightly ambiguous (the key to the riddle). The normal interpretation would be "What meets its mother twice, but never its father? The lips". The key to the riddle is that _haha ni_ can be a location as well as an object, thus "What meets [itself] twice in 'mother', but never in 'father'? The lips". The answer only makes sense when you realize that alternate interpretation, and know that "mother" was [papa] at one point. :-) > Given the phoneticity of the modern orthography, it > seems amazing that they'd keep something around for 11 > centuries... Well, for much of that time, the various _wo_ kana were used interchangeably with _o_ (since there were already so many alternates for kana, it was easy for formerly distinct kana to be reinterpreted as alternate forms of the same kana), it was only sometime during the Tokugawa era (17th to 19th century) that the distinction was reintroduced, based on older spellings.