Before learning Japanese, it is interesting to study the development of this complex language, which has been built mostly on the Chinese language.

  • What is the true origin of the language of Mishima?
  • What are the first traces of Japanese writing?
  • How much has the Chinese language influenced the Japanese language?

The Japanese of today has evolved with the history of the country of the rising sun for several hundred years...

Superprof will now tell you the fascinating story of the Japanese language, which is essential for any Japanese teacher or Japanese language student who respect the language and culture of Japan!

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The Appearance of Japanese as a Spoken Language

The language spoken in Japan, also called yamato, is spoken by more than 120 million people.

It is ranked as the 11th most used language in the world, according to sources...

The Japanese language is called an "agglutinante and polysyllabic language." What does that mean? A language is said to be agglutinative when its grammatical features are marked by the assembly of basic elements, called morphemes.

Other agglutinative languages include:

  • the Altaic languages (Turkish, Mongolian),
  • the Uralic languages (Estonian, Finnish, and Hungarian),
  • Korean or Basque.

Japanese does not resemble Chinese in any way, but it still has many words derived from the written Chinese language. The Japanese language also has some similarities with Korean.

two-alphabets
The text at the top is written in traditional Chinese, the lower one is in Japanese. Can you recognize some similarities between the two alphabets?

During the Edo era (1603-1868), the Japanese language as it is spoken today was established. During the Meiji era, many Western words entered the Japanese vocabulary.

"Today katakanas are mainly used for words of foreign origin, and their three typographies, Kanji, Katakana and Hiragana are mixed together to write a Japanese language that continues to evolve," says Wikipedia.

The First Traces of Japanese Writing

It should be known that the different peoples of Japan did not write in their language until the fourth century AD. The contribution of writing was made possible by Chinese Buddhist monks. The online Encyclopedia tells us that:

"The Chinese signs, called Kanji by the Japanese, are mainly ideograms, and the Japanese will use different ways to pronounce them by associating them. On the one hand, they keep a Japanese pronunciation, called kun, and add the pronunciation (s) issued from Chinese on ".

Subsequently, these signs will be used to create a modern alphabet, the kanas, which exist in 2 forms, katakana and hiragana.

Here is a summary of the Japanese writing principles:

  • Kanji are used to transcribe most words which carry semantics. Most Japanese kanji have several readings: the Chinese-originated reading(s) and a Japanese-originated reading.
  • The hiraganas are mainly used to write grammatical morphemes.
  • Katakanas are used mainly for words borrowed from foreign languages ​​(eg the word "marathon").
japan-calligraphy
Kanjis, hiraganas, and katakanas are the foundation of the Japanese language. Exciting letters to learn--and then why not go into Japanese calligraphy?

You will find the hiragana online if you type it into google.

The Japanese also use furiganas, placed above the kanji to indicate the pronunciation of an ideogram.

Historically, the oldest Japanese language book is Kojiki (712), which was written in Chinese characters.

Find out more about Japanese grammar and syntax rules...

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The Chinese Heritage of Japanese

Between 710 and 784, the so-called Nara period, the Japanese began to use Chinese ideograms for the Japanese language.

The pronunciation of Japanese words was from then associated with Chinese characters. They only borrow the sound of the Chinese character but remove its meaning. The characters that are used are called "manyogana."

Since manyogana only represents a sound. A text written in this character requires more characters than a conventional text.

The Yokohama Magazine's website wrote a great article on the history of the Japanese language. It explains the evolution of Japanese writing.

"In the age of Heian (784-1184), men of the upper classes wrote two kinds of texts: texts in Chinese and texts in Japanese using Chinese characters (kanshiki-wabun). They also created Chinese characters specific to Japanese. Indeed, to facilitate the reading of the texts in Chinese, they began to add notes in manyogana between the lines. From time to time, because of the limited space, the manyogana was shortened and only a part of what was written. It was the origin of katakana which means the kana (manyogana) was incomplete. "

Like the manyogana, the katakana is a sound. Little by little, then, the Japanese began to use Katakana in stories with Chinese characters. This is how we are now able to date the birth of the Katakana characters.

 

japan-writing
Kanjis are Chinese characters whose function were to write a part of the Japanese language.

The Birth of Hiragana and its Impact on Japanese Culture

Then comes the hiragana, a cursive form of manyogana, which was developed because people wanted to write faster (cursive is the name given to writing resulting from the simplification of "official" writing).

Thanks to this, and for the very first time, the Japanese could write as they expressed themselves in their daily lives. The hiragana writing system was erected during the first half of the 10th century. And thanks to hiragana, many literary trends, such as the essay, the newspaper, and the novel, emerged during this great era!

However, the texts in hiragana appeared inappropriate for the writing of official texts, which needed Chinese characters. During the Kamakura/Muromachi period (1185-1573), written Japanese began to move away from spoken language again.

As the Yokohama website explains:

"The text became more logical and clear thanks to the use of the particle "ga," which comes after the subject and the introduction of the conjunctions that indicate the relation between a sentence and the next sentence. On the other hand, many forms of verb conjugation, which were used at the end of the sentence, began to disappear. The elegant and emotional expressions of the aristocrats were gradually replaced by the clear expressions of the samurai. "

Be aware though that if some things have disappeared, Japan remains a country of tradition. Let's not forget about Japanese calligraphy, which is still very present in the land of the Rising Sun.

 

The Slow Evolution of Modern Japanese

It was at the time of Edo (former name of Tokyo) between 1603 and 1868 that the modern Japanese language began to form. The inhabitants of the city, who had surpassed those of Kyoto and Osaka in number, contributed to developing the modern spoken Japanese language.

Many terms used today date from this "Edo period."

For example, there are still many pronouns for the 1st and 2nd person and terms of politeness (note: politeness is almost a language in its own right in Japan, with its own expressions and rules), which would have been invented at this precise time.

In addition, spoken and written languages ​​became more and more distant from this period on.

After the Restoration of the Meiji (1868-1912), many Western words seeped through to the Japanese vocabulary. The Japanese then created new words using Chinese characters.

 

disappearing-rules
Japan is between modernity and tradition. It is a language that evolves with time! Even today, the ancestral linguistic rules related to politeness are used. But some of the Japanese youth do not use them. Is this aspect of the language going to disappear?

 

In 1902, the government announced its desire to establish a "standard" language, based on the language spoken in the middle class of Tokyo.

A year later, in 1903, the first ever textbook for primary school, approved by the state, was published. It became the basis of the spoken Japanese language.

"The concordance of the written Japanese language with the spoken language was difficult. There were many disputes and proposals, including the abolition/reduction of Chinese characters and the adoption of their alphabet. Many essays ended up failing because the dominant class prefered texts that were difficult to write and understand, and it was difficult to express the pronoun, the auxiliary verb, and other components of the spoken language in writing."

An agreement was finally reached in 1945, when the spoken Japanese language was ratified by official documents.

Today, the Japanese language has traveled around the world and continues to evolve. If you want to take Japanese classes online, it is best to choose someone who speaks Japanese as their native language or a bilingual English/Japanese tutor. You should consider learning Japanese if you want to be confronted with the Japanese words used today.

Don't forget that learning another language gives the learner the ability to step inside the mind and context of that other culture. Without the ability to communicate and understand a culture on its own terms, true access to that culture is barred. Why is this important? In a world where nations and peoples are ever more dependent upon on another to supply goods and services, solve political disputes, and ensure international security, understanding other cultures is paramount.

Lack of intercultural sensitivity can lead to mistrust and misunderstandings, to an inability to cooperate, negotiate, and compromise, and perhaps even to military confrontation. Intercultural understanding begins with individuals who have language abilities and who can thereby provide one's own nation or community with an insider's view into foreign cultures, who can understand foreign news sources, and give insights into other perspectives on international situations and current events.

For survival in the global community, every nation needs such individuals. A person competent in other languages can bridge the gap between cultures, contribute to international diplomacy, promote national security and world peace, and successfully engage in international trade.

As globalization and mobility and communications are bring the world ever closer together, ever more urgent is the need for global citizens to be competent in other languages. The United States is the only industrialized country that routinely graduates students from high school who lack knowledge of a foreign language. Whereas 52.7% of Europeans are fluent in both their native tongue and at least one other language, only 9.3% of Americans are fluent in both their native tongue and another language.

This statistic does not bode well for the future of America in a global society. The upward trend in language learning must accelerate if the U.S. is to continue to be a major participant on the international stage. It is therefore all the more pertinent to learn the modern Japanese language...

So if you are going to learn it--don't forget to buy a recent English-Japanese dictionary for your conversation classes! It always helps!

Finally, discover how the Japanese language has been admired because of its culture!

 

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