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A Japanese friend of mine asked me if this existed in English. For example, in Japanese, when referring to the company of your client, you say onsha (御社) when speaking, and use kisha (貴社) when writing.

Does the same kind of thing happen in English? I know it's very common to abbreviate words in speech but I can't think of a situation in which there would be a completely different word used for speaking.

  • It happens in casual speech, but for a given level of formality there's little difference, aside from the specific use of contractions, abbreviations, etc, and the simple tendency in speech to omit sounds. – Hot Licks Sep 5 '19 at 23:56
  • This occurs quite often when inviting people to a party. The formal written invitation will often read “and guest”, but this would almost always be spoken as “your wife”, “your husband” or something more specific, unless the host was truly at a loss for words. – Global Charm Sep 6 '19 at 6:05
  • I think this is something a bit different to what you guys are imagining. In Chinese they use the word Ni for you but in a formal writing or letter you would use Nin a more respectful form. In earlier years they would also have spoken like this to a high ranking person although I have not heard it used in a long time. We used to have a similar respectful attitude in the UK, the boss would have always been referred to as "Mr" Ashley etc but we have no words that would have been changed. – Brad Sep 6 '19 at 7:05
  • This is a rather common phenomenon in (all or most of) the Oriental languages: a "bookish" (not "formal") version and a "conversational" (not informal) version, each with distinct words. – Kris Sep 6 '19 at 10:22
  • However, Onsha (御社) and kisha (貴社) apparently have the same root. They are not distinctly different words per se. So it is with Ni and Nin. – Kris Sep 6 '19 at 10:24
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I don't know if it's analogous because I don't speak Japanese, but how about the fact that when writing, we apply the honorific "Mrs." before a married woman's name to address her, which is actually an abbreviation of the word "mistress," but when speaking to her, we address her using the honorific "Missus"?

Another example might be dates. We rarely say dates aloud how we right them, not even when we're reading. If the date is written as "September 5, 2019" or "9/5/19," which are the two standard ways of writing dates in the US, I never speak that as "September five, two-thousand nineteen" or "nine slash five slash nineteen," instead, I invariably read it aloud as "September fifth, two thousand nineteen."

Even numbers themselves use written characters when they appear as numeral that do not jibe with any phonetic representation of what they convey. Now, we're so used to that, we see past it, but other languages at the very least use letters to represent their numbers, like Hebrew, the number one being the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, the number two being the second letter, and so forth. In English, though, there's no association at all, the symbols for numbers (i.e., numerals) being completely arbitrary of independent of our spoken language.

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