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Could you explain the difference between 通りを横断する and 道路を横切る?

  • I image 道路を横切る is like something cross a street quickly and 通りを横断する is like a person cross a street. – Yuuichi Tam Jul 5 '16 at 5:37
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Like a million other pairs of words, the big difference is that the on-yomi word of Chinese origin ([横断]{おうだん} in this case) is more formal, technical, academic, etc. than its kun-yomi Yamato conterpart ([横切]{よこぎ}る). Here. Yamato means "originally Japanese".

The same phenomenon occurs in English as well where words of Latin origin are generally considered more formal and/or technical. "converse" vs. "chat", "profound" vs. "deep", etc.

「[横断]{おうだん}する」 is the Sino loanword 「横断」 with 「する」 added to make it a verb.

「Yokogiru」 is an original Japanese word with no foreign influence. Both "yoko" and "kiru" are originally Japanese words. It should "sound" more Japanese to Japanese-learners after a few months of study.

Thus, as far as meaning, 「横断する」 and 「横切る」 are synonymous at least when talking about "crossing a street".

Finally, the original Japanese word 「横切る」 has an extra important meaning that 「横断する」 does not. It can be used when talking about "idea/thought/emotion crossing your mind". Using 「横断する」 for this meaning is simply out of the question.

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    普通、「道路を横断する」って意味のことを言うのに「道路を横切る」って言います?どっちかっつーと「道路を渡る」って言いません? – Chocolate Jul 5 '16 at 0:48
  • I thought the word for "crossing your mind" was only 過ぎる. Can you use 横切る the same way? – sazarando Jul 5 '16 at 3:37
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    Chocorate is right. We never say "(考えが)頭を過ぎる/頭を横切る。 – Yoichi Oishi Jul 5 '16 at 11:04
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    Continued. "あいつは俺の頭を過ぎて行った" means "He outwitted, and surpassed me." – Yoichi Oishi Jul 5 '16 at 11:14
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    neverは言い過ぎかと。BCCWJにも「不安が横切った」「記憶が横切った」「期待が胸を横切った」といった例や「通路を横切った」「道路を横切った」という例がありますし、どれも別に変な言い方だとは思いません。first choiceではないかもしれませんが。 – naruto Jul 6 '16 at 2:44
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横断(する)is 音読み. 横切る is 訓読み. Both are saying the same thing - crossing the road.

As common with 音読み mode which follows old way of Chinese writing and pronunciation (both 漢音 - Chinese language spoken in 汉 (Han) during Bc 206 through AD 220 and 呉音 spoken in 呉 (Wu) during AD 222 through 280), 横断 might sound a bit stiffer than 横切る. But we say quite casually "道路を横断する - cross the street " and "横断禁止 - Crossing prohibited." We don't say "横切り禁止."

You don't need to be too meticulous about the difference of their usage. It's like arguing the deference between 美味(おい)しい and 美味(うま)い clamoulusly. I don't care the difference at all when I use any one of "横断する、""横切る、"渡る" and "突っ切る”. All sound to me saying the same thing.

Addendum:

As the origin of the word, 横断. Chinese have the word, 横断 (hengduan), but its usage seems to be different from ours. They use ”横断” for the thing like “横断面 - a cross section,” but not for "crossing street." They call ”横断する” as ”十字 (shizi)”, and “横断歩道橋” as ”天桥” or “跨路人行桥.”

I find the word, “横断” being used in the afore-mentioned way in ”現代中国語辞典” edited by 高坂順一 and published by 光生館. But neither "現代汉語詞典" published by 商務印書館 or "他功能常用字典," published by 新华出版社 at hand, both published in Beijing carries the word, “横断” under the heading of "横 - heng."

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This is perhaps irrelevant for your case but 横断する is very tightly associated with a road while 横切る can take something other than a road as an objective:

大名行列の前を横切ったイギリス人
A Brit who cut across in front of the Daimyo samurai parade

Otoh I think it's a bit awkward to say

大名行列の前を横断したイギリス人

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I think 横切る is often more proper when the subject of 横切る interrupts some flow.

道を横切る makes me imagine someone crossing a road by interrupting the traffic flow. 道を横断する doesn't make me imagine such situation.

不安が横切る is like an anxious feeling crosses one's mind interrupting other thoughts.

大名行列の前を/カメラの前を横切る is exactly interrupting a flow of 大名行列 or visible light.

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