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Email language

Speaking of polite speech in Japanese, I often wonder in what manner I should write email messages to my wife (well, I occasionally email her, though we usually stay in the same house all day, ha ha ha), friends, or students. Using polite Japanese is a little weird, but there's no reason to sound too casual either. Not quite knowing how to do, I will write like talking to them anyway, but often feel funny myself. And especially, writing to my old students is a headache.

Email language is a new phenomenon, and maybe it's in the kind of transitional phase in the Japanese language now.

Oops, time to work.


We have this problem in English, too. People tend to write email with the same informality as they speak, rather the tone they would take in a standard letter. They are not as careful about punctuation, spelling, or phrasing. You can tell that they don't go back and read what they've written before sending it.

This causes problem when the reader is reading more carefully than the writer is writing. At work coworkers tend to sound more pushy or complaining in carelessly written email. Employees are cautioned not to write anything in email that they wouldn't write in a memo or letter. I've seen misunderstandings escalate because of badly written email.

In our class we are now learning the informal tense. Our book says that it is used by newspapers and in writing diaries. Are Japanese-language blogs typically written with the informal tense, too?

I agree with M. Too often have I typed an email and hit send (ctrl/enter) without F7-ing first.

Writing to friends is usually quite informal. You write things like "catcha later" and "hiya buddy", and that's fine, but I must admit I really hate the shortened spellings. "Thanx" or "U" or "R" are fine in SMS, where there is a certain amount of space per message, but I absolutely hate these in an email!

I agree with both of the previous comments. I have received some terrible emails which, by virtue of the immediacy, means the writer feels more at liberty to be less formal than he or she might otherwise be.

My policy is this - any email that is not to a family member or friend, should be written in the same style as a formal letter.

Even to people I know on a first-name, but professional basis, I still use Sir/Madam or Mr/Ms/Mrs as these emails can often be forwarded to other members of an organisation whom I do not know.

I also find people are less likely to read emails as carefully as a letter (time pressures, 50+ emails received per day), and so I make sure to write in more exacting terms. In fact, I often write the email as a formal letter and send that as a PDF attachment for example - forcing the recipient to print it out and read it off the page in a format I know won't be affected by whatever browser or mail package is being used.

As the author of an email it is also invaluable to read it off a printed copy first yourself. It is amazing how often your eye skips certain mistakes like doubled doubled up words when reading from a screen.

Just my 2 cents.

I agree with you all. Nanchatte. ;) Thanks for nice feedback, guys. It's interesting that in Japanese too, simple mistakes will catch my eyes when reading.

M, my impression is that the informal tense is widely used in blogs too. I do. So does Ken Loo.