Places, Images, Times & Transformations


Style of written Japanese used mainly for letters and certain types of documents. Sōrōbun developed in the late Heian period (794-1185) and the Kamakura period (1185-1333) from an earlier documentary style called hentai kambun, which was itself a form of classical Chinese heavily modified by an admixture of Japanese words and grammatical constructions. The distinctive feature of sōrōbun is the frequent use of the polite auxiliary verb sōrō (originally meaning "to serve"), which eventually lost its independent semantic value and came to correspond in function to the auxillary verb arimasu ("to be") or merely to the polite verbal suffix -masu of modern Japanese. Sōrōbun orthography made extensive use of Chinese characters and Chinese word order and omitted Japanese particles and conjugational suffixes wherever possible, thus to a certain extent requiring the reader to perform a rather complex decoding operation to read a sōrōbun text as Japanese. Sōrōbun was the standard form for all formal correspondence until the end of World War II. (adapted from Japan: An Illustrated Encyclopedia. Tokyo: Kodansha, 1993)

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