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My understanding of the word 音沙汰【おとさた】(news, letter) is that in terms of usage, it functions the same way that 連絡【れんらく】(contact, communication) does. It refers to modes of communication between people.

The context in which I read it was a book, written recently, where the author spoke about communication from a girlfriend at that time. The author seemed to deliberately choose 音沙汰 over 連絡 to convey a different feeling of how communication was in the sixties, when the relationship happened.

So you could say:

音沙汰がなかった

or...

連絡がなかった

... and they would have the same essential meaning, but the former says, "there was no contact by phone or letter," and the latter says "there was no contact by phone, letter, email, text, etc..."

So my question is, does 音沙汰 mean communication in a sense of writing letters and making phone calls, and therefor has a 昭和【しょうわ】 era (or earlier) feel to it?

And has 音沙汰 been more or less entirely replaced in modern Japanese by 連絡 because now we use email and text messaging and a wider variety of more immediate communication technologies?

Or am I just totally off base about the meaning and usage of 音沙汰?

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2 Answers 2

up vote 10 down vote accepted

AFAIU, 音沙汰 doesn't limit what the media of communication is. You could refer to email, facebook etc when using 音沙汰.

連絡 is more "materialistic" than 音沙汰. Or more bureaucratic. 音沙汰 is I guess more "dramatic" than 連絡. Basically you can use 連絡 for insignificant things as well as significant things, but 音沙汰 is more natural when it's used for significant things.

To give you an example, it would be a (tiny) bit strange if you'd use 音沙汰 in this way:

今日の午後配達だと言っていたけど、宅配便の人から音沙汰はない

whereas it sounds perfectly normal to say:

今日の午後配達だと言っていたけど、宅配便の人から連絡はない

I guess the former sentence would become ok if it were

昨日の配達だと言っていたけど、宅配便の人から音沙汰はない

because you'd expect 宅配便の人 to call etc. if it's been already a day.

On the other hand, both the below sentences sound perfectly ok:

必ず弁償すると言っていたが、その後音沙汰はない

必ず弁償すると言っていたが、その後連絡はない 
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Whereas 連絡 is neutral about the expectation, 音沙汰 implies expectation of its happening, and is used only within a negative context, like しか, at all, 一銭も, a red cent. Following this fact, it is unnatural to use 音沙汰 with as in Enno's examples. It should be used with .

音沙汰がない
'She hasn't sent a single letter'
'She hasn't given a single phone call'
'She hasn't given a single e-mail'

連絡がない
'There is no communication from her'

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2  
It is interesting that you use the word "unnatural" as Google suggests 170,000-odd hits for "音沙汰はない" and most of the first few pages seem to be in the context of unremarkable Japanese writing. Also, I assume (perhaps incorrectly?) that Enno Shioji is a native speaker, and yet it was not unnatural to him. Do you suppose that this represents a recent change in usage which is not in your idiolect? –  Matt Aug 24 '11 at 23:28
    
(Noted, however, that 音沙汰がない has about 20 times more Google hits, and the same proportions are seen in 音沙汰はなかった vs 音沙汰がなかった, so clearly が wins overall. Still, 170,000 hits seems like an awful lot to appear for something that would be considered unnatural by all speakers.) –  Matt Aug 24 '11 at 23:33
    
Not sure if this is new or not, but I have discussed when to use が and when to use は many times with my peers etc so I guess I'm not the only one! Basically IMO they are not interchangerable and are used for different effects. –  Enno Shioji Aug 25 '11 at 2:08
    
@sawa I don't know how it's like in your area but when someone you are expecting/longing for in a long-term timespan has disappeared without any hint or news (where in Japanese we'd say 蒸発), it is appropriate to say 音沙汰はない, whereas the 宅急便 is someone we are sure will come back soon and is not considered 蒸発, therefore is not approriate for 音沙汰. Heck, I'm having hard time to put this nuance into words! –  syockit Aug 25 '11 at 6:10

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