Japanese  
Online Language Courses  

 

  • Japanese (Japanese: 日本語; Nihongo is a language spoken by over 127 million people, mainly in Japan, but also by Japanese emigrant communities around the world. It is considered an agglutinative language and is distinguished by a complex system of honorifics reflecting the hierarchical nature of Japanese society, with verb forms and particular vocabulary which indicate the relative status of speaker and listener. The sound inventory of Japanese is relatively small, and it has a lexically-distinctive pitch accent system.
  • Japanese has been heavily influenced by Chinese over a period of at least 1,500 years. Japanese is written with a mix of Chinese characters (kanji) and a modified syllabary, kana, also originally based on Chinese characters. Much vocabulary has been imported from Chinese, or created on Chinese models.
  • Historical linguists who specialize in Japanese agree that it is one of the two members of the Japonic language family, but remain divided as to the origins of the Japonic languages. An older view, still widely held by some linguists and many non-linguists, is that Japanese is a language isolate.
  • Specialists in Japanese historical linguistics all agree that Japanese is related to the Ryukyuan languages (including Okinawan); together, Japanese and Ryukyuan are grouped in the Japonic languages. Among these specialists, the possibility of a genetic relation to Goguryeo has the most evidence; relationship to Korean is considered plausible but is still up to debate; the Altaic hypothesis has somewhat less currency, though it has grown significantly more respectable in recent years, primarily due to the work of Sergei Starostin, et al. Almost all specialists reject the idea that Japanese could be genetically related to Austronesian/Malayo-Polynesian languages or Sino-Tibetan languages, and the idea that Japanese could be related to Tamil is almost entirely excluded.
  • Although Japanese is spoken almost exclusively in Japan, it has been and is still sometimes spoken in countries besides Japan. When Japan occupied Korea, Taiwan, parts of China, and various Pacific islands, locals in those countries were forced to learn Japanese in empire-building programmes. As a result, there are still many people in these countries who speak Japanese instead of or as well as the local languages. In addition, emigrants from Japan, the majority of whom are found in Brazil, where the biggest Japanese community outside Japan is found, Australia (especially Sydney, Brisbane, and Melbourne), and the United States (notably California and Hawaii), also frequently speak Japanese. There is also a small community in Davao, Philippines. Their descendants (known as nikkei 日系, literally Japanese descendants), however, rarely speak Japanese fluently. There are estimated to be several million non-Japanese studying the language as well.
  • Japanese is the official language of Japan, and Japan is the only country to have Japanese as an official working language. There are two forms of the language considered standard: hyōjungo (標準語, hyōjungo?) or standard Japanese, and kyōtsūgo (共通語, kyōtsūgo?) or the common language. As government policy has modernized Japanese, many of the distinctions between the two have blurred. Hyōjungo is taught in schools and used on television and in official communications, and is the version of Japanese discussed in this article.
  • Standard Japanese can also be divided into bungo (文語, bungo?) or "literary language," and kōgo (口語, kōgo?) or "oral language," which have different rules of grammar and some variance in vocabulary. Bungo was the main method of writing Japanese until the late 1940s, and still has relevance for historians, literary scholars, and lawyers (many Japanese laws that survived World War II are still written in bungo, although there are ongoing efforts to modernize their language). Kōgo is the predominant method of speaking and writing Japanese today, although bungo grammar and vocabulary occasionally appears in modern Japanese for poetic effect.
  • Dozens of dialects are spoken in Japan. The profusion is due to the mountainous island terrain and Japan's long history of both external and internal isolation. Dialects typically differ in terms of pitch accent, inflectional morphology, vocabulary, particle usage, and pronunciation. Some even differ in vowel and consonant inventories, although this is uncommon.
  • Dialects from less central regions, such as the Tōhoku or Tsushima dialect may be unintelligible to speakers from other parts of the country. The dialect used in Kagoshima in southern Kyūshū is famous for being unintelligible not only to speakers of standard Japanese but to speakers of nearby dialects elsewhere in Kyūshū as well. Kagoshima dialect is 84% cognate with standard Tokyo dialect. Kansai-ben, a group of dialects from west-central Japan, is spoken by many Japanese; the Osaka dialect in particular is associated with comedy, and many entertainers use Osaka dialect phrases solely for humor value.
  • The Ryukyuan languages are spoken in the Ryukyu Islands. Not only is each language unintelligible to Japanese speakers, but most are unintelligible to those who speak other Ryukyuan languages. Due to the close relationship of Ryukyuan and Japanese, they are still sometimes said to be only dialects of one language, but modern scholars consider them to be separate languages.
  • Recently, Standard Japanese has become prevalent nationwide, due not only to television and radio, but also to increased mobility within Japan due to its system of roads, railways, and airports. Young people usually speak their local dialect and the standard language, though in most cases, the local dialect is influenced by the standard, and regional versions of "standard" Japanese have local-dialect influence.
  • Japanese nouns have neither number nor gender. Thus hon may mean "book" or "books". It is possible to explicitly indicate more than one, either by providing a quantity (often with a counter word) or by adding a suffix (which is rare). Words for people are usually understood as singular. Thus Tanaka san usually means Mr/Ms Tanaka. Words that refer to people and animals can be made to indicate a group of individuals with noun suffixes that indicate groups, such as -tachi. Though some words, like hitobito "people", always refer to more than one, Japanese nouns without such additions are neither singular nor plural. Hito could mean "person" or "persons", ki could be "tree" or "trees" without any implied preference for singular or plural.
  • Verbs are conjugated to show tenses, of which there are two: past and present, or non-past, which is used for the present and the future. For some verbs, that represent an ongoing process, the -te iru form indicates a continuous (or progressive) tense. For others, that represent a change of state, the -te iru form indicates a perfect tense. For example, kite iru means "He has come (and is still here)", but tabete iru means "He is eating".
  • Questions (both with an interrogative pronoun and yes/no questions) have the same structure as affirmative sentences, but with intonation rising at the end. In the formal register, the question particle ka is added. For example, Ii desu "It is OK" becomes Ii desu ka "Is it OK?". In a more informal tone sometimes the particle no is added instead to show a personal interest of the speaker: Dōshite konai no? "Why aren't (you) coming?". Some simple queries are formed simply by mentioning the topic with an interrogative intonation to call for the hearer's attention: Kore wa? "(What about) this?"; Namae wa? "(What's your) name?".
  • Negatives are formed by inflecting the verb. For example, Pan o taberu "I will eat bread" or "I eat bread" becomes Pan o tabenai "I will not eat bread" or "I do not eat bread".
  • The so-called -te verb form is used for a variety of purposes: either progressive or perfect aspect (see above); combining verbs in a temporal sequence (Asagohan o tabete sugu dekakeru "I'll eat breakfast and leave at once"), simple commands, conditional statements and permissions (Dekakete mo ii? "May I go out?"), etc.
  • The word da (plain), desu (polite) is the copula verb. It corresponds approximately to the English be, but often takes on other roles. Two additional common verbs are used to indicate existence ("there is") or, in some contexts, property: aru (negative nai) and iru (negative inai), for inanimate and animate things, respectively. For example, Neko ga iru "There's a cat", Ii kangae ga nai "[I] haven't got a good idea".
  • The verb "to do" (suru, polite form shimasu) is often used to make verbs from nouns (ai suru "to love", benkyō suru "to study", etc.). Japanese also has a huge number of compound verbs to express concepts that are described in English using a verb and a preposition (e.g. tobidasu "to fly out, to flee," from tobu "to fly, to jump" + dasu "to go out").



     
Online Dictionaries
Online Newspapers
Online TV & Radio Stations
Other resources
ę Copyright 2002-2007 Language Directory All Rights Reserved.

The Wikipedia article included on this page is licensed under the GFDL