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I have read in grammar dictionaries some words/phrases that are labelled as "Written Japanese" and should not be used in normal speech.

Let's take for example the sentence-ending こと indicating a command:

プールサイドを走らないこと。 "Do not run on the pool deck"

(This was taken from A Dictionary of Intermediate Japanese Grammar and it's labelled as "Written Japanese".)

What I want to know is what happens to "Written Japanese" when:

  1. I read it silently

  2. I read it aloud to myself

  3. I read it to someone else

For the above, do I read it as it is written or do I convert it to a "Spoken Japanese" equivalent?

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Curious. What justifies the downvote for this question? –  Flaw Dec 1 '11 at 17:03
@Flaw I am not the one who downvoted this question, but I think the reason for downvote is because your example sentence is not a grammatical Japanese sentence, and it seems to include a typo. –  sawa Dec 2 '11 at 6:18
Maybe I am being unduly harsh, but although it is on-topic, I do not think this is a good-quality question: honestly, asking if there is a difference between the sentence when you "read it silently" and "read it aloud to yourself" is somewhere between a parody of zen koan and empty sophism... Certainly not a really helpful step to learning Japanese. –  Dave Dec 3 '11 at 8:09
@Dave: I think the question is much more about the instructions you see in all sorts of Japanese text books which can lead one to believe that there is this huge difference between written and spoken Japanese, as if they are wildly different. Clearing up that misconception seems useful and on topic to me. –  Dave M G Dec 3 '11 at 8:19
@Dave: Agreed the question comes about it in a roundabout way. I would have never have thought to interpret that "written Japanese" could mean that it be replaced with other words if spoken outloud, or that one should think of different terms in one's own head. Flaw definitely came at this from an angle that is a little odd. But I think, in a way, that's the strength of the question, in that it shows how people can think very differently and need help in ways others wouldn't think of. In other words, if the question were phrased as I would like, people who think like Flaw might not be helped. –  Dave M G Dec 4 '11 at 9:16
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3 Answers

up vote 9 down vote accepted

"Written Japanese" doesn't mean "forms that can only be expressed in written form". It means "forms that are generally used in writing rather than speech".

So there's no need to replace anything on the fly as you read it. You read it as written, whether it's 走らないこと, 走るべからず, な走りそ, whatever. It doesn't matter if it would be weird as a conversational utterance... because it isn't one. It's "written Japanese" that you happen to be reading out loud.

Update 12/2: Actually, let me add one caveat: If you are reading Classical Japanese, or most pre-WWII, then "reading it as written" doesn't mean the same thing as it does for modern Japanese. For example, 思はぬ is pronounced as if it were 思わぬ. This is called historical kana orthography (歴史的仮名遣) and it is related to the particles は, へ and を being pronounced わ, え, and お. But it even in this case, you don't change the actual words -- you wouldn't change 思はぬ to 思わない, for example. It's just that the rules for pronouncing certain kana in certain contexts are different.

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You just read it as it is written. These kind of "written language" sometimes do appear in conversations, but rare. However, if you are reading it out (to yourself or to anyone else), the "spoken" "written language" will perfectly OK.

I don't know if I've made myself clear ...

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As the other answers say, talking about "written Japanese" versus "spoken Japanese" is just another way of talking about style and form.

I thought it just worth pointing out that the same thing happens in English, and I would assume almost all languages. Thinking about the differences in written and spoken English might help illuminate the idea that, likewise, written and spoken Japanese do not have mutually exclusive terms and grammar, just different feels.

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