Nihongo (Japanese)

Japanese language (日本語)

Japanese is a Japonic or Japanese-Ryukyuan language spoken mainly in Japan. According to the 2010 census there are 125 million Japanese speakers in Japan. There are another 3 million Japanese speakers elsewhere, particularly in Brazil, the USA, Peru, Argentina, Australia, Canada, the Philippines and Taiwan.

Japanese is part of the Japonic or Japanese-Ryukyuan language family. Related languages include the Ryukyuan languages, such as Okinawan, which are spoken in the Ryukyuan islands. This language family is classified as isolated with no known links to other language families.

Japanese is not related to Chinese, however it does contain a large 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 seishin o motte kōdō shinakereba naranai.

Hear a recording of this text


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)

Sample video in Japanese

Information about the Japanese language

Introduction to Japanese | Hiragana | Katakana | Kanji | Rōmaji | Phrases | Numbers | Colours | Time | Family words | Tower of Babel | Articles | Links | Learning materials

Japanese courses and other resources on Amazon

Japonic / Japanese-Ryukyuan languages

Amami, Japanese, Kikai, Miyakoan, Okinawan, Okinoerabu, Yaeyama, Yonaguni

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, Sawndip (Old Zhuang), Sui, Sumerian Cuneiform, Tangut (Hsihsia)

Other writing systems

Page last modified: 23.04.21

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