This is the descriptive answer.
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
話 is going to turn up many false positives, such as (1) read
わ as part of a compound, eg.
対話, and most importantly (2) read
はな as part of the word
話す. Searching for
話 includes results such as
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
の話しに 19 results
の話に 1496 results
Thus, the spelling
話 for the noun form appears to be about 80 times more frequent than
話し vs. 話
This article on bunsho-labo gives a prescriptive rule: Use
話し when used as a verb semantically, and
話 when used as a noun.
For example, the correct spelling would be
See the link above for more examples.
The official okurigana rules prescribe added okurigana for nouns nominalized from verbs, but list
話 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
話 in the extended sense of
I think it can makes a difference in a sentence such as this one taken from the bunsho-labo page above.
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:
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`.
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
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
At the very least, I cannot find much evidence supporting the rule concerning the distinction in usage between
話 used as the nominalization
speaking in this corpus. If used as a noun
talk, the spelling
話 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.