I was reading this article on 香川県 in the early 明治 period when I encountered this phrase:


I've seen stuff like ふ meaning う (思ふ→思う), but that doesn't seem to apply here. I'm guessing this means 山峰少くて平地多く.

Is this transformation of く → ふ common? If so, why is it 少ふして and yet the transformation is not applied to 多く to become 多ふ as well? A source describing this would be awesome.

  • 1
    These may be related. Understanding the conjugation 危のう, 恋 written as 恋ひ and 恋ふ?
    – aguijonazo
    Commented Jul 29, 2023 at 14:18
  • I do not think that there was any phonological or grammatical change /k/ → /ɸ/ (which might be romanized as "f") in Japanese. Searching in internet finds some instances of 少ふ / 少フ, but I have not been able to find exact reading or meaning of this word. The only match in Japanese Wikipedia is in 志村三珠樹 entry. It seems that 少ふ was a 四段活用 / 五段活用 verb. Modern standard kun'yomi readings with 少 are only すくない and すこし, but kotobank.jp/word/少-530370 mentions several historical readings like すけない, すくな, すなき, すこ, すこうし, すない, so maybe 少ふ was something similar.
    – Arfrever
    Commented Jul 29, 2023 at 17:01
  • If it was verb, then possibly derived with 〜ふ iterative suffix, or with 〜なふ suffix.
    – Arfrever
    Commented Jul 29, 2023 at 17:08
  • And シテ is most likely conjunction して "and then, so then".
    – Arfrever
    Commented Jul 29, 2023 at 17:59
  • I doubt 少ふ was a special verb because looking around I also found things like 大ふして, 広ふして, 狭ふして etc. I suspect it's a grammatical pattern
    – Ringil
    Commented Jul 29, 2023 at 20:24

1 Answer 1


It is a technically wrong, but then very popular sort of spelling for 少【すくな】うして (canonically 少【すく】なうして).

After multi-syllable coalescence in the Late Middle Japanese period took away a considerable portion of phonological distinction manifested in the traditional orthography (based on Early Middle Japanese), people usually spelled words while inferring from the correspondence between their own pronunciation and the common pattern of spelling. That makes representation of word-internal or long vowels quite unstable in the actual world.

As a general tendency, vowel morae that are derived from grammatical alteration were likely spelled as if having //h// consonant (はひふへほ in place of あいうえお) regardless of etymology, probably after the quantitatively dominant ハ行四段活用 verbs.

用ひる (correctly 持つ + 率【ゐ】る > 用ゐる [[motiwiru]] > 用いる [[motɕiːru]])
書ひて (correctly 書きて [[kakite]] > 書いて [[kaite]])
来ねへ (correctly 来なへ *[[kənape]]? > 来ない [[konai]] > 来ねえ [[koneː]])

In the (modern) Western dialects, many conjugative endings are smoothed down to long vowels. The original form すくなくして has developed into スクノーシテ (//sukunoːsite//). In this case, such long vowels were often written like //oː// → あふ/おふ, //juː// → いふ, //joː// → えふ.

Despite historical incorrectness, some of those once widespread spellings are still used today (even after the orthographic reform) to set some ye olde atmosphere.

  • かほり (correctly かをり [[kawori]] > かおり [[kaori]]) シクラメンのかほり
  • どぜう (correctly どぢゃう [[dodjau]] > どじょう [[doʑoː]]) 合羽ばし どぜう 飯田屋
  • せうゆ (correctly しゃういう [[(t)ɕaũ.iu]] > しゃうゆ [[ɕau.ju]] > しょうゆ > [[ɕoːju]]) 料理のさしすせそ

why is it 少ふして and yet the transformation is not applied to 多く to become 多ふ as well?

Because the change in Classical adjective 連用形: 少なく > 少なう (> 少のう) never affected the 中止法 usage. In a nutshell, it only applies when the 連用形 form connects to (i.e. modifies or modified by) the right next word. 中止法 has become so rare in the spoken language that I don't know whether there are dialects that universally applies this mutation.

山峰(少なく/× 少なう)、平地多し

This is somewhat parallel to the split of verbal 連用形 (so-called masu-form and te-form).

酒を買い、家へ帰る。 (written language; 中止法)
酒を買って、家に帰る。 (Tokyo)
酒を[買うて]【コーテ】、家へ帰る。 (Osaka)

  • Thanks for the answer. But I'm curious why this only applies to すくなく -> すくなう but not to おおく -> おおかう (or is it おおう), which is in the same sentence.
    – Ringil
    Commented Jul 30, 2023 at 2:36
  • @Ringil Because it is a standalone 連用形 without modifying the next word (中止法). Some dialects may have such mutation in that case as well, but it was never taken into any prestigious written language. If you search 多ふして or 多ふて on NDLDC, you will find many examples (of course much more with 多うして and 多うて). Commented Jul 30, 2023 at 3:18

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