My inclination is that 沈黙 is more about the objective lack of sound/talking, while 静寂 has a more serene feeling to it (like a "quiet" picture of a lake; a baby sleeping in its mother's arms; swinging on the porch at sunset; etc.)

Am I correct, or am I looking too much into it and they are more-or-less interchangeable?

Edit: Hmm, maybe my Google Image search of 静寂 confirms this?

  • Some insight can be gleaned from the spellings. 沈黙 = 沈 "sinking" + 黙 "shutting up, not speaking", suggesting a human context as in Naruto's post. 静寂 = 静 "quiet" + 寂 "lonely; quiet; mellow", with the second character suggesting more of an emotional sense. – Eiríkr Útlendi Mar 22 '18 at 18:22

沈黙 basically only refers to the lack of talking (e.g., at a loss for words, or with the intent of keeping a secret). 沈黙 can happen in a noisy classroom. The subject of 沈黙する is almost always a human being, and occasionally an organization like White House. The only exception I know is "Angels" in Evangelion, where people say 使徒は完全に沈黙 instead of 使徒は完全に停止/死亡, but this usage is fairly idiosyncratic.

静寂 is the lack of all kinds of sound. And yes, it often has a positive connotation and implies the tranquility due to the silence.

  • 1
    So what if I'm in the forest, and I can hear birds chirping and the wind blowing through the trees but nothing else? Is that not 静寂 since there are still some sounds (even though in English we would probably still say that there's a "silence" or "quietness" to it)? – istrasci Mar 22 '18 at 19:37
  • You can use 静か or 静謐 for that, but 静寂 is total silence. – naruto Mar 22 '18 at 23:03
  • 使徒のやつは"target down"の意味の「沈黙」だと思います – broccoli forest Mar 23 '18 at 2:30
  • @broccoliforest もしかして、軍隊で「潜水艦は沈黙」とか「敵基地の沈黙を確認」みたいな言い方をすることって普通にあったりしますか? 個人的には聞き覚えがないですが… – naruto Mar 23 '18 at 2:34
  • @naruto 軍隊に入ったことはないので正確にはわからないですが、動く兵器・兵士に対しては「沈黙」というのを創作の中ではよく聞きます。基地についてはたぶん言わないです。 – broccoli forest Mar 23 '18 at 2:39

Your intuition seems to be correct.

According to the デジタル大辞泉, the main definition of 沈黙 is 「だまりこむこと。口をきかないこと。」 Whereas 静寂 means 「静かでひっそりしていること。」

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