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To provide context, I stumbled upon this new term for me when reading this sentence:

田舎の山道を車で走っていたら、突然サルが飛び出してきた。

I looked 山道 up in a dictionary and I saw there are two possible readings. さんどう and やまみち. Is there a difference in usage or nuance between both readings? I've been researching for something relevant on this but I couldn't find a definite answer. According to my research, some people just prefer to use one reading over the other without a particular reason. Is it just a matter of style?

I found this passage of an online discussion particularly useful, though not conclusive (italics added by me):

厳密にいえば、状況によって、読み方が変わります。 ネイティブスピーカーでない区場合、別しなくても問題ありません。 どちらでも理解してもらえます。

権威ある辞書では 「さんどう」を先に紹介しています。 その次が「やまみち」です。 Yurika_I (another interlocutor) は「さんどうと読む方が多い」といっています。 山で働いている人も「さんどう」と読むでしょう。

しかし、文学作品では、以下のようになっていて、 圧倒的に「やまみち」と読まれています。

85.7% やまみち.
9.5% やまぢ
4.8% さんどう

私も「やまみち」と読むことがほとんどです。

If I understood correctly (I struggled to translate the passage), people who work in the mountain and such tend to say さんどう, while in literature やまみち is by far more used. The author of the post themself prefers やまみち over さんどう, but other people in the discussion just prefer さんどう over やまみち.

So, is there an objective criteria to read 山道 one way or the other based on the meaning or such?

よろしくお願いします!

  • Was it an anime text? – JACK Sep 29 at 19:13
  • No, it's an isolated sentence from a list of exercises in my textbook – jarmanso7 Sep 29 at 19:14
  • 2
    By the way, if it was an anime passage, I would have heard the reading in the first place xD – jarmanso7 Sep 29 at 19:16
15

さんどう is often an alternative name for a 登山道【とざんどう】 (a mountain trail/path where cars cannot pass). Modern hikers/trekkers normally use さんどう or とざんどう. For example 増毛山道 is a さんどう. When 山道 is combined with another kango noun (e.g. 山道整備, 山道調査), it's read さんどう.

Outside trekking contexts, やまみち and さんどう are largely interchangeable, but I feel it tends to be read やまみち when 1) it's surrounded by other wago, 2) it's in a literary work, and/or 3) it's mainly for cars. In your example sentence, I think the majority of people read it やまみち.

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