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In various dictionaries, the word "市立" has "しりつ" listed as the main reading. However, they then go on to list the reading "いちりつ", with a note saying "when spoken to avoid confusion with 私立【しりつ】". This makes sense, as having the same pronunciation for two words that are completely opposite to each other would be... confusing, to say the least.

But in that case, when is しりつ actually used for 市立? If people pronounce it いちりつ "when spoken", is there at all a case where しりつ is used? And why is it listed as the main reading in dictionaries?

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If I encounter unprefixed 市立大学, I would probably read it as いちりつだいがく to avoid any confusion. But when I read 市立 as part of a longer proper noun including the city name, I would use しりつ.

  • 横浜市立大学 よこはまりつだいがく
  • 川崎市立川崎高等学校 かわさきりつかわさきこうとうがっこう

Private schools never have the word 私立 as part of their proper school names. So whenever you hear Xしりつ, it should mean X市立, and you don't have to use いちりつ. (Reading it as いちりつ is not wrong, though)

By the way, in conversation, if you hear a mother say うちの子供をシリツの学校に行かせたい, it usually means 私立の学校に行かせたい. The opposing idea of 私立 is 公立 (government-run schools) in general, and people usually don't say something as specific as 子供を市立の学校に行かせたい.

The same is basically true for 科学/化学, etc. While it's common to read 化学 as ばけがく, longer compounds like 化学反応式 are almost never read as ばけがくはんのうしき or such.

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    Aha! So since 公立 is used by itself more than 市立 is, there's usually no confusion in practice! And when 市立 is used in compound names (which it most often is, if I understand correctly), context makes it clear that it's not 私立. Let me know if I haven't understood correctly. If I have, however, I'm satisfied enough with your examples and explanations. Thank you! – obskyr Jun 27 '17 at 12:16
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しりつ is the "proper" reading, but because there is ample opportunity for misunderstanding, say, 市立大学, "municipal university" as 私立大学, "private university", people often say いちりつ for the sake of clarity. In the same way, because situations often arise in which かがく could be either 科学, "science" or 化学, "chemistry", people often pronounce 化学 as ばけがく. A similar case in Englsh is "oral" and "aural". People often pronounce "aural" as "ow-ral" (first syllable rhyming with "cow") for the sake of clarity. I think all native-speakers are aware that いちりつ has a limited special purpose, and if reading a written text, either to themselves or out loud, would use しりつ.

  • This doesn't help me too much - I'm not sure what you mean by "the 'proper' reading". What I'd really like to know is when it's actually used. – obskyr Jun 26 '17 at 8:34
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    I meant that いちりつ is only used when the speaker thinks that he/she may be misunderstood. When there is no possibility of misunderstanding, しりつ is used. For example, since in the context there would be no possibility of misunderstanding, the word would be pronounced しりつ when saying 横浜市立大学 or 横浜市立図書館. I'd say, in short, only use いちりつ when you wish to avoid or clear up a possible misinterpretation. If you hear someone say しりつだいがく, for example, you might ask 「いちりつですか、わたくしりつですか」 – Graham Healey Jun 26 '17 at 8:54
  • So Japanese speakers use しりつ when speaking too? – obskyr Jun 26 '17 at 8:55
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    Yes, we use しりつ when it's not confusing, eg [市立]{しりつ}図書館に行ってみるわ cos we don't have 私立図書館 here (in Kyoto at least) – Chocolate Jun 26 '17 at 9:17
  • @Chocolate Oh, is that so? That sounds a bit confusing, but I guess it's not a problem in practice, huh. Thank you! – obskyr Jun 26 '17 at 10:48
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When 市立(中学校{ちゅうがっこう})and 私立(中学校)are well known in the same degree among the members of the conversation, abruptly to say しりつ(中学校) may cause confusion. In order to say which 中学校 you want to tell without confusion, you should say 市立{いちりつ} or 私立{わたくしりつ} instead of しりつ.

I think you know the term "the universe of discourse", whose simple definition is: All things under consideration during a discussion, examination, or study.

いちりつ or わたくしりつ is only used when 市立{しりつ} and 私立{しりつ} are in "the universe of discourse" and also the speaker thinks to say しりつ may cause confusion.

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    例えば大人の同僚同士が世間話で「青春の思い出ですか? 私の高校はワタクシリツの女子高だったので…」といきなり言うのはヘンだ、最初に会話に持ち出す時にはまずはシリツと言うべきだ、ということでしょうか。個人的には別に最初からワタクシリツでも構わない気がするのですが…。 – naruto Jun 27 '17 at 6:21
  • @naturo: シリツと言ったとき「私立、市立のどっち?」と聞き返されるなら、最初から「ワタクシリツ」というべきでしょうね。両者の間で「私立と市立」がthe universe of discouseの中にある。すると、「シリツ」といったら混乱が出る可能性がある(相手が聞き返しそうである)。そのときは、「ワタクシリツ」というべきだと記載したつもりですが、もし、そう読めないのなら、私の英語力不足でしょう。 – mackygoo Jun 27 '17 at 9:35
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    もしかすると、"the universe of discourse"の意味を誤解されているのでは…。この回答だと、「会話の中でまず最初の1回はシリツと言うべきで、それからじゃないとワタクシリツという表現は決して使ってはならない」あるいは「市立と私立の両方の学校が話題に出てきたときにだけ、初めてワタクシリツ/シリツの表現を使いなさい」というようなことを言っているように思えます。 – naruto Jun 27 '17 at 9:55

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