Language spoken in JapanCountry?
Westerners tend to view Japanese as similar to other Asian languages such as Chinese, but this view deeply misunderstands the language; in many respects Japanese is much more similar to English than it is to Chinese, and Japanese tends to be easier than is Chinese for Westerners to learn fluently.
- It is similar to English in the sense that it is not tonal. It belongs to a completely different family than English, contains a completely different vocabulary, and uses completely different scripts. Consider that 'karada' means 'body' in Japanese, while a number of Turkic languages like Uighur have 'qerin' and similar forms. There are tons of words like this in Japanese. That said, it might be easier for a European to learn, especially if reading and writing are limited to the highly regular native syllabaries, katakana and hiragana, rather than kanji. (yikes!) I wonder if there is any effort to phase out the latter - when I watched NHK News last, all the text was written in kana. LOL. :) -- TheerasakPhotha
Japanese is nominally SOV (grammatical order Subject-Object-Verb), where e.g. English is nominally SVO. Japanese is also a "topic-comment" language, a different kind of categorization than subject/object/verb order, where the topic of a sentence is marked by "-wa" and the rest of the sentence comments on that topic (English does this primarily in less typical "label: description" sentences; prominently topic-comment languages differ markedly in syntax from most e.g. English syntactic constructs).
Japanese is a language isolate: there is no well-evidenced evolutionary relationship with any other living (nor well-known dead) language; most languages are known to have evolved quite directly from previously-known ancient languages (e.g. Romance Languages such as French, Italian, Spanish evolved from Latin), but not so in the case of Japanese. This attribute is shared with only a few other widely known languages (Hungarian, Basque, Finnish). (maybe - see IsolateLanguages
Japanese historically borrowed the Chinese writing system (heightening the Western misunderstanding of the similarity of the two languages); the writing glyphs that were thus borrowed from Chinese are called "kanji", and are used to write Japanese words similar in meaning to that of the borrowed Chinese character. Nonetheless, the pronunciation and grammar of the written Japanese words are unrelated to that of the Chinese words written with the same symbol.
As noted below, written Japanese also uses two additional syllabic written glyph-systems (Hiragana and Katakana) as well as borrowing the Western Latin "Romaji": roman/latin alphabet.
One of the more popular non-Western languages on the Internet, so it would make a good basis of comparison with Western languages, or with planned worldwide languages.
In Japanese, various words, inflections and sentence structures connote definite LevelsOfPoliteness
based on the social situation. (I'd say this is true also of western languages, but the rules of politeness are not as well-known and explicit as in Japanese.
consists of a mixture of four scripts:
- Hiragana, a syllabary of about 46 characters that is used for grammatical particles and other things not expressed by Kanji.
- Katakana, a syllabary that corresponds to Hiragana exactly, except that it looks almost completely different. It is used mostly for foreign words and emphasis.
- Kanji, which are borrowed Chinese characters and number in the thousands. Most characters can be pronounced many different ways based on context, which makes the task of learning the Kanji even more laborious than just learning to recognize the characters and their meaning.
- Romaji, which are the normal Roman characters. Yes, strange but true, occasionally these are used in Japan. And they are often used ideographically: big companies, for example, often use romaji abbreviations as their names. For example, Sony, Nintendo.
Together, the hiragana and the katakana comprise the kana.
Over the last hundred years, Japanese has seen a rapid influx of foreign loanwords from the West, to the extent that if you learn how to read katakana you could probably get along rather well in Japan. I disagree, but some activities (like buying hardware or lingerie) could probably be accomplished if you know katakana. If you don't count speaking with ten-in, that is.
Verbs and adjectives are grammatically very similar to each other in Japanese. They both inflect for the past tense: oishii desu
means it is delicious, oishikatta desu
means it was delicious. They both modify nouns the same way, too: akai kuruma
is a red car, and iku kuruma
is a car that goes. In contrast, "Kuruma ga akai"
is a sentence meaning "the car is red", and "Kuruma ga iku"
is a sentence meaning "the car goes." And they form subclauses in the same way. "Kuchi ga akai onna"
means "A woman whose mouth is red", and "Tokyo e iku kuruma"
means "A car that goes to Tokyo".
Nouns don't inflect. There are adjectival nouns and verbal nouns, though. Especially, nouns don't have number, except some special nouns. Numerals, on the other hand, bear with them a type suffix - there are type suffices for small animals, big animals, elongated objects, flat objects, printed material, etc. ad nauseam. A numeral can act grammatically as a noun or an adverbial.
The predicate verb of a sentence always comes at the end. Contrast with English where the pattern is usually subject-verb-object. See WordOrder
. Subclauses always precede main clause. Words such as "but, if, when" come at the end of a clause: "Watashi ga wakakatta toki, kuruma ga amari nakatta"
("There were few cars when I was young", lit. I (subject) was-young time, car (subject) rather did-not-exist)
The grammar of Japanese is very regular.
Most Japanese pronouns are grammatically nouns, and often compound words. For example, jibun
(self) literally means self-part.
Japanese nouns are often followed by small particles that tell their grammatical role. These roles include being the topic, subject, object, agent, place, context, etc. of the clause. The most common particles are few and have many uses. In contrast, Japanese verbs and adjectives have a very rich conjugation scheme, including levels of politeness, at least 8 modi, two tenses (present and past), and many ways to form new verbs or adjectives from them (taberu
to eat -> tabetai
want to eat, taberareru
to be able to eat, tabesaseru
Japanese and English seem to have some commonalities. Whether this is due to the influence of English or simply coincidence is up for debate.
- No, it is not, there is no doubt whatsoever, ask any linguist. As others said below less strongly, grammatical borrowing under any circumstances is practically nonexistent, for any language, in any period of history, whereas vocabulary borrowing is extremely common. Grammatical commonalities between Japanese and English are pure and simple coincidence (albeit not a large coincidence, if you look at details across languages worldwide). Just for the sake of mentioning it, issues of universal grammar figure in here, too, but are too controversial to discuss without starting a new page.
They both have a progressive tense that is commonly used: I eat -> I'm eating == Taberu
-> Tabete iru
. The progressive tense seems to be used more in English and Japanese than in, for example, Romantic languages. Yes, it is probably even more common in Japanese than in English. It is, for example, used to express the state that is a result of a change:
okiru (awakens) ->
okite iru'' (is awake, lit. is awakening).
Not sure if this is relevant here. Someone will find a good place for it, anyway. It's to do with the I'm eating form of a verb, except used in the future tense. We had some Germans over visiting the office a couple of months ago, and we were in the pub. They were perplexed by the phrase "I can't have a beer; I'm driving." Now, it's obvious that the speaker wasn't currently driving - we were in the pub. There's an implied future tense there. What's that called? Is it the progressive tense?
Strange that the Germans got confused by this. In Germany it is common too, to ask before the first beer 'Wer fährt?' (Who is driving?) instead of 'Wer wird fahren?' (Who will be driving?).
No.... actually, the progressive tense signifies something is happening currently. "Unten shite iru" means "I'm driving right now", whereas "Unten suru" means "I drive", or even the implied future "I will be driving". In fact, Japanese may be more similar to German in that handling of the present tense, and in that you can't say "unten shite iru" to mean "I'm driving [tonight]".
Even though Japanese has borrowed oodles of words from English (and Chinese, etc), I'm yet to see a single grammatical element it has borrowed. For example, hiking was borrowed as haikingu
- but when used as a verb, you add a genuinely Japanese helper verb, suru
(to do) to be able to conjugate it. Similarly for adjectives: smart -> sumaato
(well-clad), and used as an attribute with a Japanese particle, sumaato na hito
(well-clad person). -- AnonymousDonor
It seems that when English has taken on influence from another language, such as when AngloSaxonLanguage
acquired old Norse or old French, its grammar was simplified, rather than borrowed from the conquering language. English nouns, for example, started to lose genders, declensions, and irregular plurals. In contrast, Japanese doesn't have any of those ancient features, and already uses postpositions instead of prepositions to describe a noun's place in the sentence -- ga
for subject, wo
for direct object, na
for adjectival use, etc. So I might guess that Japanese grammar may already be too modern to require any features from English grammar. -- NickBensema
- Yo'koso (welcome)
- Ariga'to (thanks)
- Ya (hi)
- Sayonara (farewell)
- O'hayo (good morning)
- Hajime mashite (It's nice to meet you)
- Konnichiwa (Hello)
(Actually, I provide that signature, to separate the above from my own commentary rather than making a huge block of italic text.)
(Disclaimer: I do not speak the language. I have some friends of various levels of fluency, and do what I can to make sense of it all.)
... My understanding of some of these is quite different. I only see "Ya" (usually written "ja" or "jaa", but see below) used in departing, so it's "bye" rather than "hi". "Ohayo(u)" doesn't seem to carry a connotation of time of day, where as "Konnichiwa" does - it's "good morning|day" as I understand it, logically paired with "Konban wa" ("good afternoon|evening").
..."Ya" should be "yaa". It means "Hi" and is different from "ja" and "jaa". "ja" and "jaa" are "bye". Confusion in the above argument may come from the fact that "ya","ja" ( and "da") are interchangeable when used as
an auxiliary verb of assertion("Ya" is clearly a Kansai dialect. "Ja" and "da" is used depending both on the situations and the dialect of the speaker). One more thing about "yaa": it is usually used by a male speaker. When a female speaker use it, it gives a bit of mannish (or unisexual) impression. --- KeiSugimoto?
..."Ohayo(u)" does carry a connotation of time of day, but in a different way than "good morning" in English. In my understanding, whereas "good morning" implies that it is morning, "ohayo(u)" means either (1) the speaker is just after getting up, or (2) the speaker is now about to start the work of the day ( with the person spoken to ). We may be able to say that "good morning" carries a connotation of an absolute time, and "ohayo(u)" implies a relative time. In an extreme case, you can use "ohayo(u)" in the afternoon if you get up then.
In other than these situations, "Konnichiwa" is used instead even in the morning. "Konbanwa" is used instead of "Konnichiwa" after sunset. -- KeiSugimoto?
... Just some observations:
The romanization in the greetings above is fairly odd...not sure what the apostrophe is supposed to mean! I would write them
- Youkoso - literally "well-come", from yo(k)u koso irasshaimashita = well indeed (you have) come; the k disappears in an old sound change, and is common to Kansai (Kyoto, Osaka) dialects
- Arigatou - from arigata(k)u (another sound change, a+u = ou = long o), lit. "gratefully"; denotes "existential compromise" <g> according to one theory: from ari+gatai, (to)be+difficult; something like "It is difficult for me to live under this _on_ (debt, obligation) which your action (or gift) has placed upon me."
- Yo! - I've heard this used a lot. Like "Hey there".
- Sayounara - long o; from sayou nara(ba), thus if-it-be : "If it must be that we must part"
- Ohayou - from adjective hayai, "(it is) early". o + adverbial form + gozaimasu is the extremely polite form; the adverbial of hayai is hayaku, which like arigatou above become hayou. The literal meaning of early explains the usages that Kei mentions above. For someone who has got up in the middle of the afternoon, it's still early in their day. Likewise for workers coming on for the night shift - their "day" is just starting.
- Hajimemashite - is the polite form of the "participle" of the verb hajimeru, to begin. I'm not sure what the rest of a fuller phrase would be (like for youkoso), but the original meaning was something like "(Thus we are,) beginning our acquaintance...."
- Konnichiwa - kon+nichi+topic-marker, lit. "today, this day". This is the "Chinese" reading of the kanji used, and has become fossilized in this expression. The fact that the wa is the topic marker is lost on some native speakers, who write it using the wa hiragana, instead of the usual ha. This is sometimes shortened to Konnicha!
-- Sheesh, I'm a real pedant sometimes! -- RonCraig?
- Irrashaimase (more polite form of greeting, the one used by shopkeepers in NetHack if you play as a Samurai)
- Arigatou gozaimashita (more polite "thank you"; seems to be translated "thank you very much" usually - whether this captures the distinction accurately, I don't know. The "ma" is stressed in 'gozaimashita' apparently rather than the 'shi' as I would have expected just from seeing it written.)
- Onegai ("please")
Especially when it comes to writing in romaji, JapaneseLanguage
seems to be a bit flexible about where word boundaries are considered to be, though the usual patterns are inconsistent. So "konnichiwa" is actually konnichi + wa (the particle), but I usually see it written as one word like that though I normally see "konban wa" as separate words.
I am told that the players say "Onegai" before a match. The long form is "Onegaishimasu" (see http://senseis.xmp.net/?Onegaishimasu
, and its backlinks).
At the top of the page, "romaji" is listed as one of the four 'scripts' of Japanese. Actually it is not quite so clear.
- There are several systems in existence to translate kana (and the phonetic equivalents to kanji) into Roman characters. These fall into two main classes from what I can tell:
- Those which represent long vowels with a doubled vowel (aa, ee, ii, oo or ou, uu).
- Those which represent long vowels with an accent mark. Usually a macron (straight bar) over the vowel is preferred (ā ē ī ō ū, in the style used for LatinLanguage); when this is unavailable (8-bit ASCII) one often uses a circumflex accent, hence â ê î ô û.
- To the best of my knowledge, there is ironically no system in which is it correct to write "romaji", since the o is supposed to be a long vowel.
- The "system" where romaji is a correct spelling is the macrons-without-macrons system, i.e. probably someone transcribed using macrons and someone else copied it without understanding the significance. Western spellings of Ôsaka, Tôkyô, dôjô etc. follow this style.
- It gets worse when you are using a doubled-vowel system; in the common one I see, "ou" is used for long o, but apparently in this system one would write "roomaji" not "roumaji". I don't know if this has to do with the distinction between Hiragana and Katakana, or if it is because there are alternate representations for the sound in one or the other, but apparently it makes perfect sense to the Japanese to have a phonetic representation of the language in a foreign character set, where there are different ways to represent an identical phoneme.
- Hiragana and Katakana are exactly 1-to-1 equivalent. The rômaji distinction between "ou" and "oo" and between "ei" and "ee" is the writer's choice of transcribing the spelling or the pronounciation (note: "oo" and "ee" also occur as actual spellings). By using macron/circumflex instead, you don't need to make this choice. =)
Again, that's all based on what I'm told and understand of it. I would love
Anyway. I can't tell you anything about which syllable to stress in a word when reading romaji a good rule is to try not to stress any particular syllable -- this gets you pretty close to the real pronounciation
(I am very frequently surprised when I watch subtitled anime), but here is an attempt at a pronunciation key:
Consonants have the sounds you would expect (and English consonants like 'c' that produce more than one common sound aren't used) except:
- f in "fu" is somewhere between 'f' and 'h'. This is actually not hard to get; it sounds (to me) like pretending to be trying very hard to blow out a candle without actually trying. A funny observation: Mount Fuji is called "Huzi-san" on google earth.
- * In modern transcriptions the syllables are written more like they are pronounced, rather than where they occur in the alphabet vowel-consonant matrix. [hu si zi ti di tu du zu wo o] are therefore written as [fu shi ji chi ji tsu zu zu o o] (notice the ambiguities). But according to a matrix-true translation, "fuji" is actually "huzi".
- r is halfway between 'r' and 'l', and maybe even with a bit of 'd' mixed in. This one is much harder for me to try to approximate. To me the sounds 'r' and 'l' are different as night and day, and I just can't make them blend together. Apparently for many world cultures - not just the Japanese - there is no real difference, and some of them can't fathom how to distinguish them in pronunciation. Sometimes there is even a bit of 'd' mixed in there.
I heard something too about whether it sounds more like 'r' or 'l' varying by regional accent in Japan; it may be very clearly 'r' or 'l', but then the speaker is unfamiliar with the other sound.
I think the problem lies more in the "english r", which is much more l-like than many other r's (compare the gutteral german r or the rolling r heard in swedish or thai [amongst others?]).
- * The Japanese 'r' is somewhere between a Swedish/Spanish 'r' and an 'l' -- dialects place themselves at different points along this line, and my impression is that female speakers place themselves closer to, or on, the 'l' point. An English 'r', however, is always wrong. =)
- n is more of a stop, and isn't really pronounced.
Vowels are all regular and not subject to any weird translations when paired or when they precede a particular consonant. (Egregious examples of those including CanadianRaising
as spoken in Canada, and "oi" pronounced as "ua" in FrenchLanguage
- a as in father, never flat 'a' as in cat except perhaps due to regional accent.
- e as in met.
- i as in wiki, but perhaps a bit shorter.
- o as in door.
- u as in tutor.
There is no 'schwa'.
Long vowels are a doubling of the short vowels, so they have basically the same sound but twice as long. The sounds are 'open'. In this regard the vowels are all much the same as in LatinLanguage
In vowel clusters, each vowel is pronounced, so diphthongs occur "naturally" as a result of running the sounds together - sometimes there is more distinction than in other cases. The vowels after the first are basically syllables on their own, so in a haiku "gozaimasu" is a line on its own: go-za-i-ma-su.
As a study in the vowel clusters: "yaoi" (a term you will inevitably hear if you surround yourself with enough people of mixed gender who appreciate anime - and if you don't know, ask them
not me ;) ) should probably become "yaw-oi", but is also frequently pronounced "yow-ee". I asked a friend once when I heard the latter, thinking it was incorrect, and was told it corresponded to the "modern" Tokyo accent. I noted that it sounded more like ChineseLanguage
that way, and he suspected that this is rather the intent.
This is one of a number of (more or less common) vowel contractions/shifts - the by far most common being the -ai to -ee shift. So, for example you might hear tabenee~
instead of tabenai
(not eating). Another less common shift is the -oi to -ee shift (for example, in the NarutoAnime?
, sasuke pronounces osoi (late) as osee
) - applying this to yaoi would produce ya-ee (and putting the -ee somewhere in the middle of the o would produce yao-wee, eventually producing yowee ... incidentally, this is just how yowai
(weak) might be pronounced. This paper: http://www.wata-net.com/proceedings/TakayoSugimoto/lp02sugimoto.pdf
gives a few more examples of the vocal shifts (but ai->ee is by far the most common, the oi->ee shift I've basically only come across once).
Note that this is strictly spoken/slang/dialectal/anime language - and probably considered quite impolite/informal "amongst the natives".
I think this is a bit hard to understand, here is my version:
- a as in father, never flat 'a' as in cat except perhaps due to regional accent.
- i as e in we.
- u as in tutor.
- e as may without the m.
- o as in door.
(order has been changed to Japanese order)
According to an anonymous person:
I am Japanese. [Wiki Wiki] is cheerful in Japanese. This System is very cheerful. Wiki Wiki
Really? I'm not sure. -- TakuyaMurata
The person's intended words may be "uki uki" which indeed means "cheerful."
Strange how there are nine pages of linguistic jargon before we get to basic phrases like "arigato". -- NickBensema