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I wanted to know the correct way to spell a compound word in Japanese, and was wondering if there is a verb that correlates to "to spell" in the Japanese language. I found 綴る, but was told this is used only for foreign languages; as I was told, it may be used in a linguistic context to speak of spelling in Japanese, but in common usage it is used mainly to refer to the spelling of foreign words. To sum it up, if I want to know the kana spelling of a word or compound word (for instance 1件)what would be a few ways to ask this? Is the word 綴る used primarily in linguistic contexts? If I want to ask friends or acquaintances, are there other terms besides 書く, スペル or 読む to use? Would 仮名遣い be okay to use in this context? (I wanted to avoid saying something like そのスペルを教えてください。/そのスペルは? as this seemed too easy)

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The different ways to say "to spell" (or their equivalent in Japanese). –  yadokari May 27 '12 at 17:43
sorry for the sloppy question, I posted it before going to sleep. –  yadokari May 27 '12 at 17:44
You can see many examples goo.gl/YrWJP and goo.gl/d2u8C –  oldergod May 28 '12 at 0:06
@oldergod i see 綴る used a lot there but it is not clear if it is used when asking general kana spelling. I was told by two Japanese people not to use it with japanese words so I asked the question. –  yadokari May 28 '12 at 0:24
When I looked up the definition of "spell", it most commonly refers to "giving letters in a certain order". Since the morphemes of Japanese are syllables, can you really apply "spell" to this language? –  Chris Harris May 31 '12 at 1:27
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1 Answer

up vote 3 down vote accepted

The best way to request anything in Japanese (in Japan, to Japanese) is to say as little as possible and to leave as much wiggle room as possible.

I think you want [読]{よ}み[方]{かた} 'way of reading' when you have kanji to point at, and [書]{か}き方 'way of writing' when you have sound. 'Spelling' is not safe to use because there are so many ways to be wrong with kanji.

Of course always start with the usual self deprecating set-pieces about how stupid you are and how difficult Japanese is. You may think you don't have to do this with friends and colleagues, but this is part of friendliness and good manners.

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I edited and separated your answer. The second paragraph after the edit seems to be on a good line. 読み might be a slightly better term than 読み方. I have no idea how the other paragraphs are relevant to the question, and what they mean. –  sawa Jun 12 '12 at 23:45
@sawa thanks for your work here. "tart" should be "start." Actually 読み方 is correct. JDIC lists it as (n) way of reading, how to read, (P). 話 (はなし) is 'a story', 話し方 is 'way of talking' and 作り方 can mean a recipe. 音読み (おんよみ) is a good use of the noun 'reading'. As for the rest of my answer, it sounded like yadokari is living in Japan and feels his Japanese isn't working because of vocabulary. My experience there was that body language, social conventions, and pronunciation were often the true culprits. –  medmal Jul 18 '12 at 5:41
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