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It looks like Japanese text don't use spaces between words, not even in informal messages (yes perhaps in textbooks, but I digress). This page claims that a sentence with spaces inbetween just looks weird, example:

私の名前は ゆかです。

But it seems like Japanese subtitles in Jdramas / animes etc use spaces, not just once or twice, but all the time.

On the contrary, the comma is almost non-existent. It's almost as if each comma in a subtitle is replaced with a space instead.

I'm using the subtitles posted on d-addicts as an example. Out of over 2000 Japanese sub files, only roughly ~5%* contain the character. In some files, the comma actually only appeared once or twice.

Some threads like 東野圭吾 and 秘密諜報員 エリカ did not state the original source of the subtitles, but others like 医龍 3 and ちりとてちん do claim to have the subtitles extracted from the TV broadcast:

These subtitles were extracted from the corresponding TV broadcast. Text wasn’t edited in any way. Due to some technical reasons there might be several missing characters and/or lines. Timing is not perfect but still good (at least not worse than original timing for TV).

D-addicts' examples of using spaces instead of comma:

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Anime mkv files also have "built-in" subs using spaces instead of comma, for example the movie Mugiwara Chase:

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Why is it that instead of using commas, Japanese subtitles use spaces instead?

What is the reason for this oddity?

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*List of d-addict files with comma:

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(1) What is Jdrama? (2) It is a long time since I watched a movie or a TV program with Japanese subtitles, but I think that the use of spaces is rare and that 読点 (、) is much more common except for subtitles for song lyrics. –  Tsuyoshi Ito May 28 '12 at 23:04
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@Tsuyoshi Not quite sure myself, but for example people that have hearing problems, or kids etc, and besides it'll benefit those mega screens fixed onto buildings because people don't really get access to the audio part. –  Pacerier May 29 '12 at 5:31
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@TsuyoshiIto I think you might be surprised by how many Japanese TV shows have subtitles (in Japanese) these days. Look for the little 字-in-a-box symbols in a TV guide, like this one: tbs.co.jp/tv/daily/?20120529 . –  Matt May 29 '12 at 9:32
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If Paceirer's subtitles are all from D-Addicts, then they were extracted from the original broadcasts' transport stream. They are intended for people who are hard of hearing, so you'll see things like バイブレーターの音 and ドアベルの音 to help people understand what's going on. That site uses them to help the translators work more quickly instead of by ear, or instead of going from Eng->Spa and such, and some use them to study. –  Louis May 29 '12 at 13:20
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Honestly, I'm not terribly concerned over this question, but it seems like a lot of effort was put into finding examples for/against the theory. So +1 from me. –  atlantiza May 29 '12 at 13:45

1 Answer 1

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Yes, you are right. There is an old rule in the industry to substitute [半角]{はんかく}スペース for [読点]{とうてん} and [全角]{ぜんかく}スペース for [句点]{くてん}. 半角スペース are counted as 0.5 spaces and 全角スペース are counted as 1 space respectively. However, television shows are less strict than movies and generally only omit 読点 only, whereas movies omit both.

So, why is there this rule?

I think there are several reasons why. First, I think it should be noted that [句読点]{くとうてん} were not originally part of the Japanese language to begin with. There use originally started when text was being translated from other languages, such as English to Japanese in the Meiji Era. If you look at any old Japanese text before this you will probably not see there use. Some sites I have read point out this fact and claim that this "leftover tradition" is the reason why 句読点 are not used. However, there also is a strong notion that subtitles are [邪魔]{じゃま} and should only be used sparingly. Most companies have a rule that only allows up to 12 to 16 characters per line and a maximum of only 4 characters per second. Because of these restrictions, any extraneous stuff is left out. Also, some people claim that omitting 句読点 makes it easier to read without them and a lot of Japanese people don't use them to begin with.

By the way, +1 from me for a very nice observation :).

share|improve this answer
    
Cool =) so before the invention of punctuation, words are separated using only spaces? –  Pacerier May 30 '12 at 10:13
    
@Pacerier: They probably weren't seperated at all. I thought even the period was a reasonably recent addition to Japanese. This is starting to stray well into the territory of 'this should be another question'. –  jkerian May 30 '12 at 20:30

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