Re: Fwd: Kana and Case (was [totally OT] Unicode terminology)

From: Kenneth Whistler (
Date: Wed Nov 22 2000 - 18:17:13 EST

Rick said:

> For what it's worth, in this oh-so-important discussion...
> I have seen this length mark used with both Katakana and Hiragana
> (I suppose that puts me in the good company of 'Leven Digit Boy,
> only he can prove it and I can't). Call the usage nonce or
> whatever... So what? It would be fair to say this length mark
> is not NORMALLY used with Hiragana, which NORMALLY uses the
> vowel "u" to indicate lengthening. Katakana likewise NORMALLY
> uses the length mark, but is not prevented from using the "u"
> vowel, and in some contexts does so.

It isn't really nonce usage, but rather the adoption of the formal
spelling mechanism of Katakana into Hiragana to indicate prosodic
length. The place you'll see this usage of the prolonged sound
mark fairly frequently is in Japanese comics, which are rather
loose and inventive in their use of spellings and "paraspellings"
to convey tone of voice and other prosodic information.

In glimpsing through some magazine examples, I see a fairly
freeform appearance of a prolonged vowel mark -- which can turn
into a long rule (and may be wiggly) to convey e------xtra long
sounds. This use of a prolonged vowel mark, or long dash, or long
rule also alternates with sequences of dashes or sequences of
dots (a kind of secondary usage of the ellipsis) for similar
effect. It contrasts with the also nonstandard spelling, but
widespread usage of a final small tsu (U+3063) to indicate the
prosodic glottal stop that Japanese often use to shorten up
final vowels to indicate surprise or other strong emotions.

I'm looking at one particularly fine example that starts off
a character balloon comment with:

   3093 30FC 3080 (literally: hiragana-n + length mark + hiragana mu)

i.e. "Hmmmmmm, ..."

Come to think of it, English spelling doesn't allow sequences
of "mmmmmmm" letters, either. Hmmmmmm.

> I suppose the bicameral name of this thing,
> Great Mysteries Buried in Time, the answer to which only Dr. Whistler
> knows. (I would lay a handful of soft currency on the truth of the
> proposition that there exists an ancient meeting document on yellow
> lined paper of the pre-Consortium Unicode Working Group which could
> shed light on the question of this name, but I digress.)

I'm sure there is, but I can't lay hands on it right at the moment.
It's sitting in a box in the basement somewhere.

The great Ur-character-set, the Xerox Character Code Standard of 1980,
calls it "Long vowel bar" and codes it in the Japanese punctuation
section, in JIS order, rather than with the Hiragana syllables or the
Katakana syllables. Where it ended up in Unicode 1.0 was probably
a matter of matching the Katakana repertoire up with the various
legacy 7- and 8-bit Katakana sets that included it. But if I recall
correctly, the choice of name reflected what we knew then, as we
know now, that the prolonged vowel mark also was used with Hiragana,
though not as part of lexical spellings.

> At least
> the name indicates that one is not nominally prevented from using
> it for Katakana, thus pre-empting perennial requests from the
> Completist Fringe for the addition of a second length mark for use
> with Hiragana.



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