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Why did the ancient people use different languages for speaking and writing? For example, in my country in 10-13th centuries people used for speaking colloquial Slavic language which evolved into Ukrainian and Belorussian languages novadays and wrote books by written Church Slavonic language which evolved to Bulgarian and Russian languages today. The same situations I see in the other countries. For i.e. Armenians also had two different languages for speaking and books.

So, why did they do it? Why did they need two different languages for speaking and writing and didn't just use colloquial language for books as we today do?

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    Who says we don’t? Written languages are still standardised much more than spoken languages because they’re generally meant for a much greater audience (except in mainstream media, where spoken language also tends to be more standardised). Many Chinese languages are rarely written, for example; when people write, they write (more or less standard) Mandarin, despite their own language often being very different from Mandarin – often not even mutually intelligible with it. May 2, 2023 at 11:33
  • I'm writing this text with the same words that I'm using for speaking. Ancient people used completely different words for writing same text.
    – Robotex
    May 2, 2023 at 11:37
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    In Ukraine, you (and I, too) speak Ukrainian or Russian, but somehow you and I aren't writing now in the languages we usually speak. We're just using the standard acceptable for our audience, and in the 10-13th centuries people acted just the same way: they used their spoken language to address their neighbors and the international standard in books. In fact, in the 10-13th centuries people did write in their colloquial language, too, see the birch-bark letters from Novgorod.
    – Yellow Sky
    May 2, 2023 at 11:57
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    @JanusBahsJacquet and up to a century or so ago even Mandarin was rarely written in (or at least, whilst it might have been used for e.g. signs and posters, it wasn't used for literature). Instead literary works were generally still written using Classical Chinese grammar and lexicon but read according to the reader's vernacular pronunciation of the characters resulting in texts that in many cases had extremely little intelligibility to anyone except in writing
    – Tristan
    May 2, 2023 at 13:09
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    @Robotex it's important to remember that literacy rates throughout history have generally been much lower than they are today. In a lot of cases there simply may not have been enough potential readers in your native language for it to seem worthwhile writing in it. Especially if some other language (e.g. Latin, Greek, Old Church Slavonic) also has additional prestige from its association with other important texts
    – Tristan
    May 2, 2023 at 13:14

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Using really different languages (Like Latin for writing books and speaking the local European language) wasn't unusual in the past, and it isn't that unusual now, e.g., for scientists in non-anglophone countries writing in English and talking in their national languages.

But the situation for Old Church Slavonic vs. Slavonic vernaculars can be described in different terms: There is a formal register for writing, and there are other registers for speaking. This general situation is pretty universal, but the amount of difference between the formal written register and typical vernacular registers can vary a lot, between having the written register as an almost foreign language (High German in Switzerland comes to my mind as an example) and having very little difference between written and spoken language (typical for languages that have a rather short written history). When the difference between written and spoken language becomes to large, there are sometimes quite radical shifts and reforms of the written standard (Modern Greek with its shift from Katharevousa to Dimotiki comes to my mind).

Just for the sake of completeness, I want to mention alloglottography: In Ancient Persia, public inscriptions were written in a completely different language, but read aloud in Persian by the scribes.

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  • > In Ancient Persia, public inscriptions were written in a completely different language, but read aloud in Persian by the scribes How did it helped them? I'm from Ukraine and we are using English in science but we also using our native language for the internal publications. So, I can accept that Latin or Church Slavonic acted as English in that times. But why they also didn't write books on their native languages? I see the first books of my native language only from 16th century and only Church Slavonic before that time.
    – Robotex
    May 2, 2023 at 11:44
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    Book market? Handwritten books (before printing) were quite expansive and producing a book in a local vernacular probably wouldnt pay off. May 2, 2023 at 11:49
  • @SirCornflakes with the comment about Ancient Persia are you talking about the use of Imperial Aramaic by the bureaucracy? Because Old Persian absolutely was also used for inscriptions, albeit mostly ones that were monumental rather than of more general purpose
    – Tristan
    May 2, 2023 at 13:11
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    @Tristan: While Imperial Aramaic was used in a similar setting, I allude to the use of Elamite in inscriptions of Old Persia. May 2, 2023 at 13:42
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    @Robotex - In French, the written and spoken language is considered to be the same, but in fact those are two different languages with different grammars — if you can only speak French, you need to study the more complicated grammar of the written language to be able to write in French. There's a similar situation in Mongolian, you write in the 13th-century Mongolian of Genghis Khan times, but you read it in the modern vernacular, it's like as if you always write in Church Slavonic, but read it in Ukrainian by substituting the old Slavic grammar forms and sounds with the modern Ukrainian ones.
    – Yellow Sky
    May 2, 2023 at 20:51

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