There was an order for letters, iroha was it's name-oh!

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2007/03/18 13:51 -04:00, original URI: http://blogs.msdn.com/b/michkap/archive/2007/03/18/1908209.aspx


(Apologies to the farmer's dog Bingo!) 

So the question I got from a customer the other day was an interesting one:

Does Windows support the Iroha ordering Kana? I did not see an option for it.

Windows doesn't support it, no. Though maybe I should say a bit more about this, it being a blog and all....

The basis of the Iroha ordering is a poem, one that is a nearly perfect pangram1 for Kana. The poem goes like this:

いろはにほへと
ちりぬるを
わかよたれそ
つねならむ
うゐのおくやま
けふこえて
あさきゆめみし
ゑひもせす

Now this is a common ordering that many Japanese students in Japan may have learned during their youth while learning the language, but it doesn't really get used much after that (the Gojūon ordering is favored).

In fact, after talking to some colleagues of mine who grew up in Japan the only real uses that came up were somewhat random, like the ones mentioned in that Wikipedia article I pointed to above:

So let's back up to the original question -- if it is used all of these places, then why is it not an alternate collation for Kana in Windows?

Well, first the simple reason -- it really hasn't been requested (or, if it has, the request has not made it here yet!).

Second is the fact that most of the cases where the ordering is used don't necessarily make sense in the context of an alphabetical ordering in a call to a function like CompareString.

Which leads to the more complex reason, in the definition of what I meant by request. I mean with an actual scenario, a time when the ordering would make sense (and make sense morally and ethically!) to use (and of course I would not count masking it easier to cheat on primary school exams in Japan when students own Windows Mobile devices as an acceptable reason, due to ethical concerns!).

Now would such an ordering actually be useful in some scenarios? It is an interesting problem to contemplate (the person who asked did not give a specific reason but might well have had one in mind). Or would the results be confusing at this point to speakers of Japanese?

 

1 - A pangram is a sentence that uses each and every letter an alphabet at least once; a perfect pangram is one that uses each and every letter only once.

 

This post brought to you by (U+3044, a.k.a. HIRAGANA LETTER I)


# Carl on 18 Mar 2007 7:36 PM:

Iroha order is sometimes used for multiple choice questions, as in: Would you say, i) this is the answer ro) or this ha) how about this chi) and this?

Also CSS technically allows iroha to be used for ordered lists instead of 1, I, or a. But I don't think there's a huge demand for that issue to be addressed before others.

wagana on 18 Mar 2007 8:28 PM:

I am a software engineer in Japan.

We have an internal alias for reporting issues.

After so many reports, I got tired with the same ordering system (1, 2, 3...) when submitting repo steps. Lately I switched to iroha order. Some of my colleges get a chuckle out of it.

We all learn it in grade school. However, few native speakers can repeat the poem in its entirety. Most people only know the first line (7 letters). A lot of people can not read ゐ or ゑ anymore.

Besides completeness and historical curiosity, I really doubt that there is any need or priority for Windows to support it. However, if you ever do decide to implement it, how about support for the older Ametsuchi ordering as well?

# Michael S. Kaplan on 18 Mar 2007 10:40 PM:

Hello wagana -- is Ametsuchi used for ordering as well? When is it used?

# wagana on 19 Mar 2007 8:36 AM:

Michael,

Yes, Ametsuchi was also used for ordering as well in old texts around the 9th and 10th centuries. It was later replaced by the Taini (old Tawini) system, which in turn was replaced by the Iroha system.

None of these systems are in any regular use anymore in Japan. Iroha lasted the longest with regular usage throughout the 19th century. Usage dramatically reduced in the early 20th century.

# Michael S. Kaplan on 19 Mar 2007 12:12 PM:

Wow, that is really amazing (I am trying to imagine the English alphabet being based on the order of the jackdaws pangram or the fox one, I just can't picture us having the discipline!).


referenced by

2008/04/20 Alphabetically inappropriate emergencies

2007/12/25 While vacationing, idle random thoughts on the potential influence of Unicode on 'alphabet soup'

2007/03/18 In Vista, jackdaws appear to be somewhat endangered

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