Japanese language

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Nihongo (Japanese)

The Japanese language (Nihongo)

Japanese is spoken by 126 million people mainly in Japan but also in 26 other countries including American Samoa, Argentina, Australia, Belize, Brazil, Canada, Dominican Republic, Germany, Guam, Mexico, Micronesia, Mongolia, New Zealand, Northern Mariana Islands, Palau, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines and Taiwan.

Japanese has no known linguistic relatives though is possibly distantly related to the Altaic family of languages, which includes Korean, Mongolian and Turkic languages. Japanese is not related to Chinese, though it does contain a huge number of Chinese 'loan' words, in fact perhaps 50% of the words used in Japanse are of Chinese origin.

Since the mid 18th century the Japanese have adopted a huge amount of gairaigo: foreign words mainly from English. These include tēburu (table), bīru (beer), gurasu (glass), aisu (ice), takushī (taxi) and hoteru (hotel).

There are also a few words from Portuguese, Dutch and Spanish, such as pan (bread), from the Portuguese pão. Such words arrived in Japan mainly during the 16th and 17th centuries, when missionaries and merchants started to visit the country.

One notable feature of Japanese is the tendency to create new words by shortening and/or combining English words. Examples include wāpuro (word processor), sarariman ("salary man" = a male corporate employee), OL, pronounced ōeru ("office lady" = a female corporate employee) and masukomi (mass communications).

Another interesting feature of Japanese is the distinction between male and female speech. This involves vocabulary, grammar and particularly pitch - women tend to speak in very high, squeaky voices, at least in public, while men prefer low, gruff voices. If a foreign man learns Japanese from his Japanese girlfriend the results can sound very funny to Japanese ears!

Sample text in Japanese

すべての人間は、生まれながらにして自由であり、かつ、尊厳と権利と について平等である。人間は、理性と良心とを授けられており、互いに同 胞の精神をもって行動しなければならない。

Transliteration (rōmaji)

Subete no ningen wa, umarenagara ni shite jiyū de ari, katsu, songen to kenri to ni tsuite byōdō de aru. Ningen wa, risei to ryōshin to o sazukerarete ori, tagai ni dōhō no seishinn o motte kōdō shinakereba naranai.

A recording of this text

Translation

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
(Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights)

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Japonic / Japanese-Ryukyuan languages

Japanese, Okinawan

Semanto-phonetic writing systems

Akkadian Cuneiform, Ancient Egyptian (Demotic), Ancient Egyptian (Hieratic), Ancient Egyptian (Hieroglyphs), Chinese, Chữ-nôm, Cuneiform, Japanese, Jurchen, Khitan, Linear B, Luwian, Mayan, Naxi, Sumerian Cuneiform, Tangut (Hsihsia)


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