Introduction to Japanese

Overview of the Japanese Language

language spoken in East Asia

Language spoken in East Asia.

The Japanese language, known as Nihongo in Japan, is an East Asian language spoken by about 128 million people, primarily in Japan. It is a member of the Japonic language family, which also includes the Ryukyuan languages spoken in the Ryukyu Islands.

Origin and History

The origins of the Japanese language are still a topic of debate among linguists. Some theories suggest that it is related to the Altaic language family, which includes Turkish, Mongolian, and Korean. Others propose a connection to the Austronesian language family. The language's written form was heavily influenced by Chinese, though the two languages are not related.

Writing Systems

Japanese uses three main writing systems: Hiragana, Katakana, and Kanji.

  • Hiragana is a phonetic alphabet used for native Japanese words and grammatical elements. Each character represents a syllable.

  • Katakana is also a phonetic alphabet, primarily used for foreign words and names, onomatopoeic expressions, and for emphasis.

  • Kanji are logographic characters borrowed from Chinese. Each Kanji character represents a word or a concept.

In addition to these, the Roman alphabet, known as Romaji, is also used, especially in modern times for company names, logos, advertising, and when inputting text into the computer.

Sentence Structure

The basic sentence structure of Japanese is Subject-Object-Verb, which is different from English's Subject-Verb-Object structure. For example, the English sentence "I eat sushi" would be "I sushi eat" in Japanese.

Levels of Formality

Japanese language has various levels of formality and politeness, often reflecting the hierarchical nature of Japanese society. The level of formality in speech changes based on the relationship between the speaker and listener. There are primarily three levels: casual, polite, and honorific.

Understanding these basics provides a solid foundation for your journey in learning Japanese. In the next units, we will delve deeper into basic phrases and the Hiragana writing system.