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Japanese
日本語 Nihongo
Pronunciation /nihoɴɡo/: [nihõ̞ŋɡo̞], [nihõ̞ŋŋo̞]
Native to Japan
Ethnicity Japanese (Yamato)
Native speakers 125 million  (2010)
Language family
Altaic
  • Japonic
    • Japanese
Early forms:
Old Japanese
  • Early Middle Japanese
    • Late Middle Japanese
      • Early Modern Japanese
        • Japanese
Writing system
  • Chinese characters (kanji)
  • Kana
    • hiragana
    • katakana
  • Japanese Braille
Official status
Official language in Japan
Recognised minority language in Palau
Language codes
ISO 639-1 ja
ISO 639-2 jpn
ISO 639-3 jpn

Japanese (日本語 Nihongo, [nihõŋɡo], [nihõŋŋo] ) is an East Asian language spoken by about 125 million speakers, primarily in Japan, where it is the national language. It is a member of the Japonic (or Japanese-Ryukyuan) language family, whose relation to other language groups, particularly to Korean and the suggested Altaic language family, is debated.

Little is known of the language's prehistory, or when it first appeared in Japan. Chinese documents from the 3rd century recorded a few Japanese words, but substantial texts did not appear until the 8th century. During the Heian period (794–1185), Chinese had a considerable influence on the vocabulary and phonology of Old Japanese. Late Middle Japanese (1185–1600) saw changes in features that brought it closer to the modern language, as well the first appearance of European loanwords. The standard dialect moved from the Kansai region to the Edo (modern Tokyo) region in the Early Modern Japanese period (early 17th century–mid-19th century). Following the end in 1853 of Japan's self-imposed isolation, the flow of loanwords from European languages increased significantly. English loanwords in particular have become frequent, and Japanese words from English roots have proliferated.

Japanese is an agglutinative, mora-timed language with simple phonotactics, a pure vowel system, phonemic vowel and consonant length, and a lexically significant pitch-accent. Word order is normally subject–object–verb with particles marking the grammatical function of words, and sentence structure is topic–comment. Sentence-final particles are used to add emotional or emphatic impact, or make questions. Nouns have no grammatical number or gender, and there are no articles. Verbs are conjugated, primarily for tense and voice, but not person. Japanese equivalents of adjectives are also conjugated. Japanese has a complex system of honorifics with verb forms and vocabulary to indicate the relative status of the speaker, the listener, and persons mentioned.

Japanese has no genealogical relationship with Chinese, but it makes extensive use of Chinese characters, or kanji (漢字?), in its writing system, and a large portion of its vocabulary is borrowed from Chinese. Along with kanji, the Japanese writing system primarily uses two syllabic (or moraic) scripts, hiragana (ひらがな or 平仮名?) and katakana (カタカナ or 片仮名?). Latin script is used in a limited way, such as for imported acronyms, and the numeral system uses mostly Arabic numerals, alongside traditional Chinese numerals. Japanese was little studied by non-Japanese before the Japanese economic bubble of the 1980s. Since then, along with the spread of Japanese popular culture, the number of students of Japanese has reached the millions.