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I assume informal. Are there any cases when you would use formal, perhaps to be sarcastic? And general, is informal or formal language used more in life (I mean for the average person - is it around 50-50? Or lopsided to one direction?)

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  • 4
    When you say "Japanese people talk[ing] to themselves" do you mean when a person who is Japanese is thinking out loud, or do you mean when a group of Japanese people are talking amongst themselves?
    – nick012000
    Jan 15 at 4:11
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    "To themselves" means that A talks to A, or B talks to B. Group talk would be "Talking to each other". Jan 15 at 7:53
  • 2
    Yes as @KilianFoth said. In my country "talking to yourself" in English means A talks to A - many people seem to be interpreting my question otherwise...
    – user71207
    Jan 15 at 8:24
  • It seems that many people are misinterpreting your question, so maybe it would help if you mentioned the Japanese word 独り言 talking to oneself in your question and/or the title. Jan 15 at 14:59
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I thought your question was a bit vague. Do you mean to ask if Japanese people use 敬語/polite form when talking among themselves? Or are you asking if they think and talk to themselves in 敬語?

Most of us learners learn 敬語, the formal style, first. That is usually the first style of speech/writing we learn in our Japanese class. But for native speakers it is different. Japanese kids use ため口/informal language growing up, with parents and siblings. I seem to recall several newer Japanese textbooks/online courses claiming that "teaching language learners です・ます first is unnatural", citing as an important reason something to the effect that "the traditional teaching methods have failed to accustom language learners to ため口, but in reality ため口 is widely used by native Japanese speakers."

Most Japanese kids start to correctly and profeciently use です・ます(敬体{けいたい})in 小3、小4 (3rd and 4th grade). (Heard this from my students. Some online sources also seem to suggest age 10 is something of a watershed in terms of formal language use. 「子供が敬語を正しく使い分けられるのは10歳頃からです。」) Enter 敬語(丁寧語・尊敬語・謙譲語)around 小5 (5th grade). By the time Japanese kids enter middle school, they are fully adept at 敬語/formal style. I have taught and tutored a lot of Japanese students from 中1 through 高3 (middle and high school) English and math, and they interact with each other in です・ます(敬語) when they are not yet on familiar terms. This is also the case in 塾 (cram school) where students don't necessarily get to know one another very well or make friends. Of course at school it is a different story. A lot of middle/high school students use ため口 at school with peers and people younger than them. In the workplace 敬語 becomes the predominant style of speech.

@naruto's correction and supplemental information:

Kindergarteners do understand and use basic ですます style. Folktales like 桃太郎 are told in that style, and 1st graders write diaries and compositions using です/ます (it's not something we study explicitly, though). In the 4th grade they start to learn romaji.

In terms of 独り{ひとり}言{ごと}, when they talk to themselves, most Japanese people use ため/informal language, of course.

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    Kindergarteners do understand and use basic ですます style. Folktales like 桃太郎 are told in that style, and 1st graders write diaries and compositions using です/ます (it's not something we study explicitly, though). In the 4th grade they start to learn romaji.
    – naruto
    Jan 15 at 0:27
  • @naruto Thanks! Would you mind if I included that piece of information in my answer?
    – Eddie Kal
    Jan 15 at 0:30
  • Of course not, go ahead.
    – naruto
    Jan 15 at 0:43
  • The asker wanted to know the form that a person would use when talking to him or herself. Like, I am in a house alone by myself and I say, out loud, "I guess I'd better get going on my day" or some such. This is a thing that people do. Jan 15 at 14:45
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    @MarkFoskey that was addressed at the end, and they even kind of indicated they wouldn't be surprised if it was informal. They also asked about the idea of generally which is used more (not in talking to oneself) and there's just more to discuss in that regard.
    – Leebo
    Jan 15 at 15:29
5

Hard to say... until age 18 or so you'll use a lot of informal language because you have a lot of peers around (though if you are in a sports club the situation might be different). Depending on where you work, that can change a lot when you get a job and you have hardly any peers.

When there is an age difference, even if you are friends, you often keep using formal language, so you also use it for very close relationships.

If I had to guess 80% informal and 20% formal? I don't think people think in formal language though I have no proof.

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    I think you misinterpreted the question - OP is asking whether Japanese people use formal or informal language for 独り言, I believe
    – Angelos
    Jan 14 at 22:47
  • @AeonAkechi I was going to say the same thing. I thought the question was ambiguous.
    – Eddie Kal
    Jan 14 at 22:49
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    I think it's also just a case of multiple questions... They asked the question in the title, and then a different one (or multiple different ones) in the body.
    – Leebo
    Jan 14 at 23:32
3

This question is interesting, but hard to answer with confidence, because you don't talk about what you talk to yourself to others very often?

When one talks to oneself, especially in inner speech, I'd assume 敬語 doesn't appear in most cases. This is because you don't have to be formal to yourself, and because talking to oneself is more akin to thinking rather than communication. Using 敬語-style is essentially a matter of relationships, which is irrelevant to some degree in thinking. (Playful uses 敬語 can be seen, though.)

A supportive, albeit indirect, observation could be sought in dramas and anime (and manga): when a character's thoughts are inserted verbally (soliloquies), I feel that 敬語 is less likely to be used even in those polite characters. I might be proven to be wrong.

On the other hand, I do have occasions where I strongly tend to use 敬語 in internal monologue or talking aloud to myself. It is when I talk to myself as another me. For example, I often talk to myself at work in order to organise my thoughts: it's kind of consulting another professional, which happens to be me myself[*1], about the problems at hand. In such cases, my speech is similar to those I make to my colleagues.

I consider myself to be highly talkative-to-onself, so this may or may not happen to many people. But I think it's true that which style you choose when you talk to yourself depends on the distance between you (the talker) and yourself (the listener).


*1: I'm not dissociative and I don't hear back :)

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