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I recently though about words that have multiple forms as real objects. For example a ticket can be a paper slip, or an email receipt.

Does the way of counting them change based on what it is, or does the unit word belong purely to the word itself (with the traditional meaning)? For example, are 2 tickets emailed to me still 2枚きっぷ if it's not printed?

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Counters apply to words. I was unable to find a specific reference for electronic tickets, but from a related discussion regarding electronic books it is clear that the Kindle store and other vendors use the normal counter for real physical books (冊).

Beyond books and tickets, my personal impression is that unit words relate to the original idea, and not to the various physical or virtual embodiments of that idea. Consider large animals, which are counted using the big-animal counter 頭. One example is alpacas, which are counted as usual on Japanese Wikipedia using 頭 :「1頭のアルパカ」, but small stuffed alpaca toys are also counted using 頭:「頭数が少ない」. The counter 頭 when used for stuffed animals is not directly related to the size of the stuffed animal, but is instead related to the idea of the original alpaca.

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    You are reading the ad for the stuffed animals incorrectly. First, the explanation is about the vicugna, not alpaca. Even more importantly, 頭数 refers to the number of REAL living vicugnas and not about the stuffed animals. – l'électeur Aug 29 '18 at 8:59
  • Thank you. The kindle store example definitely answers what I was wondering about. – viraptor Aug 29 '18 at 9:18
  • l agree I misread my stuffed alpaca example on Amazon, sorry about that! But I think my argument's still correct... here's a more compelling example, where two stuffed animals are referred to as a 「2頭セット」: goo.gl/images/y1pyq7 – ToddP Aug 29 '18 at 9:22
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I would say that counters apply to words, or more accurately, the concepts that those words represent, whether in the literal or abstract sense. The words ticket and きっぷ both represent a flat object which would use the 枚 counter. A digital representation of or a substitute for two tickets is still considered two tickets, especially if you yourself actually use the word 'ticket'.

I really don't see this as a Japanese-language specific question, as in English the same question could be asked. For an example, if you show up to a theater with a digital receipt and say 'I have two tickets to the show' is anybody going to misunderstand that you meant it in the abstract sense? Further, if I sent you an image of two pencils and asked you how many pencils there were, I would be justified to think you a bit too literal if you answered 'There are no pencils, only one image'.

About your email example, you received one email (一通)for the digital equivalent of two tickets (きっぷ2枚). If you want to present it differently (more literally), you can say 2名分の入場券(1通).

  • To be clear, my question wasn't about 1/2 email/tickets. It was just whether tickets in email are still counted using 枚. For a more extreme example, if the tickets you have are actually sticks, is it 2枚きっぷ, or 2本きっぷ ? – viraptor Aug 5 '18 at 4:21
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    Sticks are not counted as 枚, as they are not flat. きっぷ are flat. If the standard were changed and entrance requirements went from tickets to sticks, then they would be called 入場棒. The counter would change to 本, as the shape of the object being referenced had changed (入場棒二本). Incidentally, counters (unit words?) follow what is being counted. 2枚切符 ✘ 切符2枚 〇 Maybe I'm misunderstanding and you just want to use the word 確認書? – BJCUAI Aug 5 '18 at 4:49
  • I'd just like to point out to @user27280 that viraptor isn't actually conflating counting emails vs counting tickets, so you might think about editing that out of your answer. Viraptor is talking about how to deal with countable objects if their shape has been deliberately changed in a way that makes the usual counter "a lie". I'd also like to point out that the vast majority of counters are not "shape based" so this issue is unlikely to occur, but user27280 's first paragraph addresses this. – ericfromabeno Aug 5 '18 at 5:05
  • @ericfromabeno Good points. I should avoid conjecture and have removed the final paragraph. – BJCUAI Aug 5 '18 at 9:20

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