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I recently encountered the word 随着, which was translated by my text as a figurative "following", as in "Following X, Y". At first glance, this "following" translation sounds very formal, almost too formal for conversational English, but it was unclear to me if my text author had intended to convey this connotation.

When learning a new word, how can I tell if it's used more in written or spoken speech? When a word is used predominantly in one register, how can I find what words substitute for it in other registers?

I've considered using corpora for this, but publicly accessible corpora for spoken Chinese are few and far between.

I ask in part because I've previously studied Japanese, where the distinction is strong enough that major references will distinguish written and spoken expressions, see the discussion here. Are there any Chinese references that make this distinction? Or are the registers similar enough that separate word choice is rarely necessary? This blog post seems to suggest otherwise.

I should be clear that I'm not talking about elasticity here, I'm thinking of cases where 2 synonyms or grammatical constructions have non-overlapping distributions of felicity.

  • 1
    On further research, CUHK's A Learner's Handbook of Modern Chinese Written Expressions seems to be a really great resource for distinguishing at least very formal writing. I wonder if a comparable handbook exists for words and expressions that are more in-the-middle of spoken and written speech but tend to lean way or the other. – Dragonsheep Sep 30 at 11:20
  • your suggested book is interesting books.google.com/… – wada Sep 30 at 18:57
  • Do you have a teacher? If so you could just ask them. But quite honestly, you will learn this through experimentation. As you get more advanced you'll realize that the gap between spoken language and written language is much greater in Chinese than in English. If you read a newspaper you will find examples of written language that no one would ever use in spoken conversation (or at least outside of a very formal occasion). – Jack Pfaffinger Oct 1 at 18:00
  • While in the real world one has context to understand the register of a word or grammar point, for textbooks this context doesn't exist and leads to many questions about proper usage. My textbook has both reading passages and dialogues in every lesson. I've just realized that this is a subtle hint from the authors that grammatical structures used in the passages lean written, while passages in the dialogues lean spoken. This was a subtlety in textbook design that had been completely lost on me until now. – Dragonsheep Oct 7 at 0:23
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Maybe this is an inappropriate answer.

Dictionary for I know, doesn't make such distinction extensively (I remember few words did have a mark indicating its formality).

The reason is simple. Unlike Japanese the language itself has a clear oral and written distinction, with quite different grammar, it's definitely fine to write something the same as you say it.

It doesn't mean there isn't any difference in wording. The words you put to use reflect your attitude, education and cultivation, etc.

The features of usual spoken sentences are:

Not concise, run-on, using common plain words for verbs, adjectives and adverbs, with many 的/了/多/着/... grammar words, simple sentence syntax.

But the level of written language is of a wide range.

So called oral/spoken language in Chinese, I think, are unsophisticated and unprocessed expressions that first come into your mind when you are about to utter words. Many well educated people, they actually say written language (in others' eyes), and on the contrary, many poor writings are close to internet chatting. (The least requirement of a written form is that you do not use many filler words and 的/了/多/着...)

e.g. Translation of the above.

spoken:

这可能算不上是答案。

我是不知道哪本词典条条目目都给分书不书面的(但有的词还是有个正式程度的标)。

道理很简单呐。不像日语口语书面语分得很开,语法都不一样,中文你照说的写,完全没问题。

但这不是说用词一点区别都没有,你用什么词能看得出你这人的态度啊,学识啊,修养之类的。

口语一般有这些特点:

啰里吧嗦,一路逗号,大白话,的啊了啊多啊着啊一堆,句子成分也简单。

但书面语的程度分别就大了。

我觉得中文所谓的口语啊,就是要说话了第一个想到的话,用的都是没来得及加工的简单东西。很多有文化的人,出口就是一般人想半天写的东西,反过来说,有的人写的乱七八糟的网上聊天似的。

written:

这解答也许难称合适。

就我所知,还无词典对词条书面程度广加类分,衹偶见标注罢了。

但其缘故无繁。不若和语言文迥异,至于语法专用,汉语笔书白文,并无不妥。

此言并非教人无别而轻词用,遣词如何,恭倨、博浅、修鄙,皆在其中。

口语大抵特点如下:

壅冗接缀,实词浅近,行句直脱,的了多着一类,赘词太多。

而书面之层次则甚蕃。

所谓口语,依我孔见,不过口将言而句已生,直白粗砺,略无藻饰。富学之人,虽言而文于外人耳。反之,寡薄者为文之不堪,反倒若如今网聊。

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