A mistaken case of mixing spoken and written language (ですし,”desu shi”)

By | February 5, 2019

Listening or reading to many types of Japanese––novels, newspapers, blogs, TV shows, movies, anime, magazines––is a great way to increase your vocabulary. It also helps you train that elusive skill for what just sounds “natural”. However, in Japanese (and perhaps many other languages) there is an important distinction between spoken language (話し言葉) and written language (書き言葉), and crossing that line can end you up in an awkward situation.

I thought I had a really good grasp of the phrase ender “shi” (し), and even wrote an article about it a few years back. However recently I was told by a native speaker that I had misused it, so I wanted to talk about my mistake.

The context was writing a short essay about what I liked and the reason I liked it. At the end of a paragraph I used the phrase.

楽しいですし。 (tanoshii desu shi).

I intended this to mean “And it is also fun”, and I wasn’t wrong about that. I had heard and used similar phrases in spoken language, so I felt comfortable with this. My mistake was using a spoken phrase in a written setting.

There is actually two elements of this, the first is the use of “ですし” to connect phrases, as in:

  • それは高いですし、大きいです。 (sore wa taksi desu shi, ookii desu)

This sentence isn’t as bad as the one I used, but the “ですし” part has a decidedly spoken-language nuance It’s important to understand that just because something is using desu/masu polite forms doesn’t mean that it is appropriate for a written context. The written-language variant of です is である, though it’s not as clear cut as that because desu/masu forms are used in written language all the time.

However, in my case I used an abbreviated form of this and made a sentence just using the “。。。ですし” pattern. You can think of this a little like a single-phrase sentence with “although”.

  • (I never went to Canada.) Although I really want to.

So not only did I mix written and conversational language, but I also used a fragmented sentence. Had I been speaking (or doing an informal text chat), this would have been OK, but I was writing a short essay.

There is a few ways to refactor my sentence to make it more appropriate for written language. Some ideas would be:

  • それに、楽しいです。 (sore ni tanoshii desu)
  • しかも、楽しいです。 (shikamo tanoshii desu)
  • 楽しいからでもあります。 (tanoshii kara de mo arimasu)

I found this article which discusses (in Japanese) mixing written and spoken language, and uses a similar phrase (〜ありますし〜) as an example of bad written language. From reading this, I got the feeling that even adult native speakers occasionally make these types of mistakes, so now I feel a little better. (:

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