Answer solved: 日本語 for spoken language, 日本語 for written language

I learned a little bit ago that “日本語” refers specifically to the spoken language (actually can anyone verify this?) so I’ve been wondering if there’s a specific word for the written language? Or do people just use the words ひらがな、カタカナ、漢字? Thanks guys and gals!

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Where did you hear this?


日本語 covers all of it. The other three are for writing as they are the written forms of the language. If I ask you what is apple in 日本語 then you reply リンゴ. Even though this is text it is still 日本語.


Yeah this doesn’t make sense. Japanese language manga is called 日本語. There’s no other term I’ve ever seen used.

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We’ll have to wait to see what the OP meant, but in the meantime, there are a variety of words to talk about where words in Japanese came from.

There are things to distinguish words of Japanese origin and words from other languages. Like 和語わご is words of Japanese origin, 漢語かんご is words from Chinese or which use Chinese characters to make new words, and 外来語がいらいご basically covers anything else. 和製英語わせいえいご is the term for things that look like they came from English but were actually invented by Japanese people with inspiration from English like ベッドタウン.

和語 is itself a 漢語, so if you want to say “word of Japanese origin” using a word of Japanese origin, that’s actually 大和言葉やまとことば.


Thanks everyone! I’m not actually sure where I heard it, I think it was a podcast? But the specific wording was that it refers to “the spoken language of Japanese” and I took it to mean spoken only, so maybe it was just a misunderstanding on my part. Anyways its been bugging me forever so thank you for clearing it up!

I’m not aware of that distinction, though it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist as ancient technicality.

For modern, practical use, you’ll often see/hear 書き言葉 (language used primarily for/in writing) and 話し言葉 (language used when speaking) used to draw a difference between more formalistic written text and what sounds natural in speech. Sometimes this distinction even applies to variations on the same word between text and conversational uses, a la やはり (written) and やっぱり (spoken).

It isn’t a concept unique to Japanese though.


I guess someone could have been discussing the fact that Japanese existed before writing was introduced at all. Like, the word 日本語 is a 漢語, so that puts it in a weird situation where it was a word created using a different language to name this language.

I don’t actually know what pre-kanji Japanese speakers would have called their own language. I don’t think it was やまとことば, because the Japanese Wikipedia suggests that that term was used to just refer to poetic language in the past and only now refers to words of Japanese origin.

I’ll see if I can find out more.


I think the only distinction is that there are some more casual conjugations or ways of saying things that generally only appear in speech as opposed to writing. For example, しかし v. でも。After using the former via text, I was told by a super-friendly Japanese woman that しかし is really only used when spoken and seems weird to use in a text/writing. I think may be って as a subject marker may be another (not 100% sure about that though).


She might actually have been telling you off of しかし because it’s a slightly more formal word than でも, and sounded out of place in a friendly text message?

Both are used in both speech and writing, though.

Yeah, って is speech only/colloquial writing only, since it’s a contraction of という(のは).

Also, update to post above: Other 書き言葉/話し言葉 equivalents: 文語 (ぶんご) vs. 口語 (こうご), 文章語 (ぶんしょうご) vs. 口頭語 (こうとうご).


I agree with all that 日本語 is both spoken and written. Just because I found it interesting, I did see a reference in a novel I’m reading (which was written, I believe, in 1941) to a newspaper being 日本字.


In Mandarin Chinese, 漢語 (Hanyu) is the spoken language and 中文 (Zhongwen) is the written language, but no such distinction exists in Japanese.


Sort of unrelated but kind of interesting, there is also 国語 (national language) which is what the Japanese learn in school as opposed to 日本語 that foreign people learn. They mean the same thing though.


Conversely, those of us who are from English speaking countries didn’t study 英語 in school, but 国語. It’s just that our 国語 happens to be 英語. That’s a fun conversation to have with Elementary students if anyone ever gets the chance :joy:


In Dutch we do a similar thing: in primary school (up to 12 yo). Dutch language studies are actually just called taal collectively, which literally means language, without specifying which one.

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