I’ve been reading a lot recently about the grammatical distinctions between talking and speaking, and something that I often see is the phrase “talk with”. As an Englishman, I’ve never used this phrase, and it feels wrong to me. On further investigation, it seems clear that “talk with” is an American conceit, and something which I’d rather not see on this side of the Atlantic. Although it’s my own idiosyncratic opinion, I’ll share it anyway.
As far as I’m concerned, it has nothing to do with the two-way nature of the talking, it’s about the “with.” You stir a cup of tea “with” a spoon, and you give money “to” charity. If you talk “with” someone, they’re the instrument by which you talk, whereas talking “to” someone makes them the recipient of your words.
This brings me to the usage of “talk” as opposed to “speak.” These two are commonly considered to be interchangeable, although I posit that there are significant differences.
When you “talk,” you say words to someone. When you “speak,” you just say words (Cambridge Dictionary Definition). Therefore, if someone “talks,” you can infer that there is someone to whom they are talking. If there is no-one else with John, we’d say that he is “talking to himself.” Conversely, “speaking” is a verb that expects an adverb: “Do you speak French?”, “Let me speak frankly.” It also negates the recipient in the speech – if you speak to someone, they’d better listen!
I’d argue that there’s no real need to “speak with” someone at all, although I’d consider it more acceptable than “talking with” them.