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The meaning of 話, as a kanji, is "tale, talk", but as a word, it means the same as 話し: "Talk; speech; chat; story; conversation."
In the official jouyou kanji chart, there's only 話, for the isolated word, and 話し in a composed word (like 話し合い).
On the dictionary it says that 話し is "irregular".
Searching on Google for both variations, have 25,5 million more matches than 話し.
Also, the dictionaries have both 話言葉 and 話言葉, but there's no indication of what is the most appropriate or if there is a irregularity on the し.

With all this, would 話 be the most adequate/common for use? Or not?

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    This wikipedia article should be useful. It has virtually translated the entire official guideline in Japan. – broccoli forest Dec 5 '14 at 8:22
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    "searches on google" don't reveal accurate numbers at all. Also "話し" will give false positives from 話した and other such constructions. – virmaior Dec 5 '14 at 9:02
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This is the descriptive answer.

Google hits

A word of warning about google hits. They are not accurate. Google tries everything to reduce computation time and costs, and it will not give you an accurate full-text search of the entire (public) net. Try going to page 20 or 30, and Google informs you it cannot provide any more results.

Furthermore, a search for is going to turn up many false positives, such as (1) read as part of a compound, eg. 対話, and most importantly (2) read はな as part of the word 話す. Searching for includes results such as 話しを.

You should always inspect some of the results manually and look for possible unwanted results.

Trying to avoid these false positives, a google search yields:

  • 面白い話を 9 pages, 460,000 hits
  • 面白い話しを 12 pages, 30000 hits

As this is kind of inconclusive, I tried a different corpus.

The noun form 話

A balanced corpus of contemporary written Japanese, searchable via shonagon yields the following results. I add particles before and after 話/話し to avoid false positives.

  • の話しを 56 results
  • の話を 4420 results

And with other particles to make sure these results are not specific to の話を:

  • の話しに 19 results
  • の話に 1496 results

Thus, the spelling for the noun form appears to be about 80 times more frequent than 話し.

話し vs. 話

This article on bunsho-labo gives a prescriptive rule: Use 話し when used as a verb semantically, and when used as a noun.

For example, the correct spelling would be

  • 最近、とある女子中学生とお話しをする機会がありました。
  • それは、学校生活での悩みに関する話でした

See the link above for more examples.

The official okurigana rules prescribe added okurigana for nouns nominalized from verbs, but list and several other words as exceptions.

However, the "translation" of the official guidelines for okurigana usage on wikipedia are concerned with semantic extension: Use 話し in the sense of the act of talking, and in the extended sense of story.

I think it can makes a difference in a sentence such as this one taken from the bunsho-labo page above.

PCの向こう側には、彼女が話しをしているときの深刻な表情が浮かぶようでした。

They use 話し because this sentence is about the action, but she might as well be telling a story, which would suggest the non-okurigana form. But never mind grey areas, let us take a look at the actual usage.

Querying the above-mentioned corpus for this distinction:

  • お話しして 174
  • お話して 181

Therefore, the prescriptive rule does not seem to be observed in written Japanese, at least as far as the form おXをする is concerned, and this form clearly uses it in the sense of 'speaking`.

Furthermore,

  • お話しを 65 results
  • お話をし 238 results

The second search yields about 4 times as many results, even though it is more specific by following 話を with the verb する.

However, regarding the compound 話し言葉, it seems to be the preferred spelling:

  • 話し言葉 129 results
  • 話言葉 4 results

Conclusion

At the very least, I cannot find much evidence supporting the rule concerning the distinction in usage between 話し and used as the nominalization speaking in this corpus. If used as a noun talk, the spelling occurs more frequently in this corpus.

Also, as the rule is concerned with the semantic interpretation of the nominalized form and whether it is used in an extended sense, there may be some grey areas.

Note that prescriptive rules exists, be they observed on average or not. In formal writing, you may be well advised to stick to any rules you are expected to follow.

  • Regarding the Google search, if you see the link I used to the searches, there's "lr=lang_ja" that limits to only Japanese pages, and "話" between quotes that limits to only the kanji alone (without inflections and okurigana). Despite that 話{わ} is also listed. Of course that the number of results is not a conclusive information, it just gives an idea about the estimate frequency of the word. Regarding your answer, let me see if I understood: 話 is used when as a noun, and 話し when as a verb, but 話 can also be used as a verb, is this correct? – Yuuza Dec 5 '14 at 21:04
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    Regarding google, even if all search parameters are correct, the number of hits hardly means anything, even as an estimate, unless you get only < 10 results or so. A search for "なりない"yields 69400 hits, most of which are spelling mistakes for ならない. The corpus linked in my answer only gives 1 result for ならない. Just be super careful, and try other corpora. I noticed the quotes around , but I looked through some results and they included 清話会 and 話し, try going beyond the first few pages. – blutorange Dec 6 '14 at 6:59
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    Regarding the distinction in spelling, basically yes. as a noun, especially in the sense of story. Especially in the pattern 話しをする etc, where it means to do talking, with okurigana. That's what the rule says, but see above, お話をする is quite common. – blutorange Dec 6 '14 at 6:59
  • Are you sure about your Google hits? I get 30.6k hits for 面白い話しを and 461k hits for 面白い話を – 3 to 5 business days Dec 6 '14 at 12:39
  • Thanks, fixed. Well, it seems I forgot a zero and it is indeed 460k. But now I'm only getting 9 pages for 面白い話を, but 12 pages for 面白い話しを. Conclusion: forget the hit count... Google is supposed to return the relevant pages for your search within the first few results. – blutorange Dec 6 '14 at 13:15
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OK, there is an official rule, but I must say this is really really difficult and even most native Japanese do not follow the official rule.

As a noun, it is「話」. As a verb, it is 「話す」and its 連用形 is「話し」.

  • 「お話になる。」"(It) becomes a story."
  • 「お話しになる。」"(Someone) speaks."

The same thing happens between「光」and「光り」.

  • 「港の光」"The light of the harbor."
  • 「港の光り」"The harbor is sparkling."

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