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gembun itchi

("unification of the spoken and written language"). Process through which the classical styles of the written language (bungo) used in the Meiji period (1868-1912) were replaced by colloquial styles (kōgo). The written language of the late Edo period (1600-1868) comprised an almost continuous chain of styles ranging from pure classical Chinese to pure classical Japanese. None of these styles were close to spoken Japanese, and they were incomprehensible without concentrated study. Gembun itchi refers to the development of a colloquial standard to replace the mixture of classical styles. The first great achievement in employing a colloquial style in writing was Futabatei Shimei's novel Ukigumo (1887-89; tr in Japan's First Modern Novel: Ukigumo of Futabatei Shimei, 1967). Other writers followed suit, and by 1908 all novels were in the Colloquial Standard. Primary school textbooks completed the switch by 1903, and the transition of the newspapers to the Colloquial Standard was completed in the 1920's. The contemporary Colloquial Standard (Standard Japanese) uses basically the same grammar as contemporary spoken Japanese, but many of its written styles are considerably different from the spoken language in their complicated syntax and in their vocabulary. (adapted from Japan: An Illustrated Encyclopedia. Tokyo: Kodansha, 1993)

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