The Wikipedia says that Japanese katakana vowels “The gojūon inherits its vowel and consonant order from Sanskrit practice. “. Could expert explains this in easy language?

  • 5
    Just to be clear, this is a question about how Japanese orders its characters and how that might be related to how it is done in Sanskrit. Sanskrit and Japanese as spoken languages have almost no connection at all except for some Buddhist vocabulary.
    – Mitch
    Feb 16, 2018 at 16:08

2 Answers 2


Due to the study of Buddhism and its scriptures in the source language (either Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit or Pali) Japanese scholars were aware of the structure of the Indic scripts finally coming from the tradition of Sanskrit. When they created the Katakana they applied the ordering priciples of the Devanagari Script to it; the deviations (i.e., the ordering of the consonants s and h) can be explained by later sound shifts: The /h/ was a /p/ originally and developped via /ɸ/ to /h/, the /s/ was a /ts/ originally and thus closer to the Devanagari letter ca (च).

EDIT: Incorporated information from the comments

  • I think Japanese Buddhists, like other Northern (Mahayana) Buddhists, read their scriptures in Buddhist Sanskrit, not in Pali.
    – fdb
    Jan 27, 2018 at 15:50
  • /h/ in Japanese comes from OJ /p/, not /f/. As far as I recall, /s/ is a merger of /s/ and /ts/, but nothing more. Jan 27, 2018 at 16:51
  • @jknappen It was definitely /ɸ/ at some point, but as part of the transition from /p/ to /h/. Again, going from memory, the sound change to /ɸ/ almost certainly postdated the creation of the kana syllabaries—though I’ll grant you I have no idea if it postdated the ordering of the kanas according to their Sanskrit equivalents. Jan 27, 2018 at 18:35
  • Roy Andrew Miller certainly suggests that the s-series in kana must have been something like /ts/, at least with some vowels.
    – Colin Fine
    Jan 28, 2018 at 1:26
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    According to Wikipedia: "The earliest example of a gojūon-style layout dates from a manuscript known as Kujakukyō Ongi (孔雀経音義) dated c. 1004–1028. In contrast, the earliest example of the alternative iroha ordering is from the 1079 text Konkōmyō Saishōōkyō Ongi (金光明最勝王経音義)." I was under the impression that the iroha ordering was older (because it's less scientific!) but I guess I was wrong.
    – Nardog
    Dec 1, 2019 at 16:52

hiragana arrived in Japan from Indian monks who were not allowed to enter China, turned to Corée and Okinawa and used a syllabary similar to Sanskrit to start a form of sound of the characters

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    Hiragana certainly did not arrive in Japan from anywhere: it was created in Japan from simplification of existing kana systems (such as Man'yogana). The ordering of the syllabary was influenced by Sanskrit - though the i-ro-ha remained in use as an alternative ordering until quite recently.
    – Colin Fine
    Dec 1, 2019 at 12:14

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