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alanguageisolate (i.e., a language unrelated to any other language) and one of the worlds major languages, with more than 127 million speakers in the early 21st century. It is primarily spoken throughoutthe Japanese archipelago; there are also some 1.5 million Japanese immigrants and their descendants living abroad, mainly inNorthandSouth America, who have varying degrees of proficiency in Japanese. Since the mid-20th century, no nation other thanJapanhas used Japanese as a first or a second language.

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Nevertheless, the shapes of Chinese characters have been simplified, and the number of commonly used characters has been limited. In 1946 the Japanese government issued a list of 1,850 characters for that purpose. Revised in 1981, the new list (calledJy kanji hyList of characters for daily use) contains 1,945 characters recommended for daily use. That basic list of Chinese characters is to be learned during primary andsecondary education. When newspapers use characters not on the list, they also supply the reading in hiragana.

InChinese languages: The early contacts

Japanese, Korean, a vast number of Austronesian languages, and the unrelated languages lumped together within the Paleo-Siberian areal category. Also spoken on the western bounds of Asia are Arabic and Hebrew (both

) and the inflectional endings by syllable signs (

Some Chinese words are generally believed to have been introduced into Japan during the 1st centuryce, or possibly before that. A systematic introduction of theChineselanguage, however, occurred about 400ce, when Korean scholars introduced Chinese books to Japan. Sino-Japanese words nowconstituteslightly more than 50 percent of the Japanese vocabulary, a proportion comparable to that of Latinate words in the English vocabulary. Both Chinese or Chinese-based words in Japanese andLatinor Latin-based words in English are also similar in their tendency to express abstract concepts and to make up a great part of the academic vocabulary. Contrary to what is suggested by the termkan-goChinese word, a large number of Sino-Japanese words were actually coined in Japan, using existingChinese characters. Forms such asshakaisociety andkagakuscience have been borrowed back into Chinese and adopted by Korean through the medium of shared Chinese characters.

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InPaleo-Siberian languages: Grammatical features

Japanesesyntaxalso has remained relatively stable, maintaining its characteristic subjectobjectverb (SOV) sentence structure. A notable change in that domain is the obliteration of the distinction between the conclusive formthe finite form that concludes a sentenceand thenoun-modifyingform exhibited by certainpredicates. For example, in early Japane搜索引擎优化tsuandtsuyoshiwere conclusive forms, respectively, of the verb to drop and the adjective to be strong. When these words were used as noun modifiers, the forms were inflected asotsuru,tsuyoki. The distinction between conclusive forms and noun-modifying forms played an important role in the phenomenon of syntactic concord that, for example, called for the noun-modifying forms ofpredicateeven in concluding the predication when a subject or some other word was marked by particles such as the emphaticzoor the interrogativekaorya. That system of syntactic concord deteriorated in Middle Japanese, and the distinction between the conclusive forms and the noun-modifying forms was also lost, the latter dominating the former. Such modern forms asochiruto drop andtsuyoito be strong are the descendants of the earlier noun-modifying forms.

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The use of kana made it possible to write a word in two ways. The Japanese word for mountain could be written in kana (phonetically) by using two charactersthat foryaand that formaor in kanji (by using the Chinese character meaning mountain). That possibility helped to establish a relation between the Chinese character and its Japanese semantic equivalent and led to the practice of assigning a dual reading to Chinese characters: the Sino-Japanese reading (calledon-yomi), based on the original Chinese pronunciation, and the Japanese reading (kun-yomi). Thus, the Chinese character originally meaning mountain could be read as bothsaninon-yomiandyamainkun-yomi. Because Chinese words and their pronunciations were borrowed from different parts ofChinaas well as during different historical periods, Modern Japanese includes many characters having more than oneon-yomireading.

Japanese, as a consistent subjectobjectverb (SOV) language, places modifiers before the modified, so thatadjectivesand relative clauses precede the modified nouns and adverbs come before verbs. A predicate complex consists of the stem followed by various suffixal elements expressing relational concepts. The order of these and other end-of-sentence, or sentence-final, elements reflect the ordering of meaning types from concrete to subjective to interpersonal; e.g.,Ik-ase-rare-ru dar ka ne(literally, go-[causative]-[passive]-[present], [conjecture], [question particle], [final particle]) Will (I) be made to go? What do you think?

Both moras and syllables play an important role in the Japanese accentual system, which can be characterized as a word-pitch accent system, in which each word (as contrasted with each syllable as in the prototypicaltonelanguages ofSoutheast Asia) is associated with a distinct tone pattern. InTokyo, for example,hashiwith a high-low (HL) tone denotes chopstick, but with a low-high (LH) tone it denotes bridge or edge, end. InKyto, on the other hand,hashiwith a high-low tone means bridge, and with a low-high tone it means chopstick, whereas the word for edge, end is pronounced with a flat high-high tone. The accentual system is one of the features that distinguishes one dialect from another, as each dialect has its own system, though certain dialects in theTohokuregion of northeasternHonshuand inKyushuand some other areas show no pitch contrast.

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An increasingly popular theory along that line posits that the mixed nature of Japanese results from itsAustronesianlexical substratum and theAltaicgrammatical superstratum. According to one version of that hypothesis, a language of southern origin with aphonologicalsystem like those ofAustronesian languageswas spoken in Japan during the prehistoricJmonera (c.10,500 toc.300bce). As theYayoi culturewas introduced to Japan from the Asian continent about 300bce, a language of southernKoreabegan to spread eastward from the southern island ofKyushualong with thatculture, which also introduced to Japan iron and bronzeimplementsand the cultivation ofrice. Because the migration from Korea did not take place on a large scale, the new language did noteradicatecertain older lexical items, though it was able to change the grammatical structure of the existing language. Thus, that theory maintains, Japanese must be said to be genetically related to Korean (and perhaps ultimately to Altaic languages), though it contains Austronesian lexical residues. The Altaic theory, however, is not widely accepted.

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Written records of Japanese date to the 8th century, the oldest among them being theKojiki(712; Records of Ancient Matters). If the history of the language were to be split in two, the division would fall somewhere between the 12th and 16th centuries, when the language shed most of itsOld Japanese characteristics and acquired those of the modern language. It is common, however, to divide the 1,200-year history into four or five periods; Old Japanese (up to the 8th century),Late Old Japanese (9th11th century),Middle Japanese (12th16th century),Early Modern Japanese (17th18th century), andModern Japanese (19th century to the present).

Old Japanese is widely believed to have had eightvowels; in addition to the five vowels in modern use, /i, e, a, o, u/, the existence of three additional vowels /ï, ë, ö/ is assumed for Old Japanese. Some maintain, however, that Old Japanese had only five vowels and attribute the differences in vowel quality to the preceding consonants. There is also some indication that Old Japanese had a remnant form ofvowel harmony. (Vowel harmony is said to exist when certain vowels call for other specific vowels within a certain domain, generally, within a word.) That possibility is stressed by the proponents of the theory that Japanese is related to the Altaic family, where vowel harmony is a widespread phenomenon. The wholesale shift ofptoh(and towbetween vowels) also took place relatively early, such that Modern Japanese has no native or Sino-Japanese word that begins withp. The remnant forms with the originalpare seen among some Okinawan dialects; e.g., Okinawanpifire andpanaflower correspond to the Tokyo formshiandhana.

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The countrys geography, characterized by high mountain peaks and deep valleys as well as by small isolated islands, has fostered the development of variousdialectsthroughout the archipelago. Differentdialectsare often mutually unintelligible; the speakers of theofKyushuare not understood by the majority of the people of the main island ofHonshu. Likewise, northern dialect speakers from such places asAomoriandAkitaare not understood by most people in metropolitanTokyoor anywhere in western Japan. Japanese dialectologists agree that a major dialect boundary separatesOkinawandialects of theRyukyu Islandsfrom the rest of the mainland dialects. The latter are then divided into either three groupsEastern, Western, andKyushudialectsor simply Eastern and Western dialects, the latter including the Kyushu group. Linguistic unification has been achieved by the spread of thekyts-gocommon language, which is based on theTokyodialect. A standardized written language has been a feature of compulsoryeducation, which started in 1886. Modern mobility and mass media also have helped to level dialectal differences and have had a strong effect on the accelerated rate of the loss of local dialects.

The complexity of reproducing the strokes for each character and the multiple readings associated with it have stimulated movements to abolish Chinese characters in favour of kana writing or even more radical movements for completely romanizing the Japanese language. All these, however, have failed. Despite their complexity, Chinese characters retain a number of advantages over phonetic writing systems. For one thing, many homophonous words are visually distinguishable. For another, the meanings of unknown words written in Chinese characters can be surmised through the ideographic nature of these characters. That semantic transparency and the characteristic configurations of characters enable easy recognition and understanding of a passage. These strengths and Japans high literacy rate make the abolishment of Chinese characters very unlikely.

Elements recoverable from thecontextare freely omitted from Japanese, so that conversation abounds with sentence fragments, which may convey various meanings depending on the contexte.g.,Kaita(literally, write [past]) can mean I (he/she/they) wrote (a book, letters, etc.),Tar to Jir desu(literally, Taro and Jiro [copula polite]) can mean Taro and Jiro came/played, I met Taro and Jiro, and so on. Some clues for recovering missing elements are provided for by means of honorific forms. When, for example, the verbkakuto write is used in its subject honorific formkakareruoro-kaki-ni naruthe writer referred to is not the speaker, but someone honoured as superior to the speaker. On the other hand, when the humble formo-kaki suruis used, the referent is likely to be the speaker. The addressee honorific formkakimasuis an index of the social relationship of the speaker to the listener, whereas the plain formkakuis used in addressing an equal, a social inferior, or an indefinite audience (as would be used, for example, in newspaper articles and books). The use of honorifics extends to the forms of personal address; one especially avoids use ofanatayou, even in its honorific formanata-sama, when addressing a superior. The reference is usually omitted altogether, and the subject honorific form of the verb in combination with the addressee honorific form may simply be used, as inO-iki-ni narimasu kaAre [you] going? If one must address a superior, that persons title or a kinship term is used, as inSensei-wa o-iki-ni narimasu kaAre you going, Teacher? Personal terms referring to the first person and particles that end the sentence also indicate the speakers sex; opposed to the sex-neutral termwatakushifor the first person are male formsbokuandoreand typically female formswatashiandatashi.Zeandzoare final particles used by male speakers, whilewaandwa yoare used exclusively by females.

, basing their writing system on the Chinese model. But the two languages are fundamentally different in structure:

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The Japanese came into contact with Chinese culture during the Chinese Han dynasty (206

The earliest attempts to write Japanese involved the use of not onlyChinesecharacters but also Classical Chinese grammar, as is evident in the preface to the 8th-centuryKojiki. Within some 50 years, by the time theManyshwas completed, the Japanese had begun to use the sounds of Chinese character names to write Japanese phonetically. For example, the Japanese wordyamamountain was written phonetically by using the character sounding likeyawith another character sounding likema. Although there are earlier examples of the phonetic use of Chinese characters (such as in the songs of theKojikiitself), it is known among Japanese grammarians asmany-gana, because its expression is most diversified in theManysh.

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The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica

A single most important development in the history of Japanese is the acquisition of the nativized writing systems that took place between the 8th and the 10th centuries. The Japanese vocabulary has been constantly enriched byloanwordsfromChinesein earlier times and from European languages in more recent history.

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language: Evolution of writing systems

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). These syllable signs are an illustration of the way in which a syllabic script can develop from a character script: certain Chinese

Japanese employs a mixed system, broadly representing the roots of words by Chinese characters (

Even the writings entirely in Japanese present an extraordinary variety of styles, which cannot be explained merely in terms of the natural evolution of the language. Some styles were patently influenced by the importance of Chinese vocabulary and syntax, but others developed in response to the internal requirements of the

Loanwordsother than those constituting the stratum of Sino-Japanese words are lumped together asgairai-go, literally foreign-coming words. In the contemporary Japanese vocabulary, English words dominate that category, with slightly more than 80 percent. Also evident are the linguisticlegaciesof 16th-centuryPortugueseSpanish, and, in particular,Dutchmissionaries and traders, as in such Modern Japanese words aspanbread (from Portuguesepaõ),tabakotobacco (from Portuguesetabaco),tenpura[Englishtempura, a deep-fried dish] (from Portuguesetempero),biirubeer (from Dutchbier),penkipaint (from Dutchpek), andorugrumusic box (from Dutchorgel). As illustrated in the last example, foreign loans are phonologically fully Japanized, with vowels appropriately inserted or appended and with occasional consonantal adjustments, although an initialp, which is lacking in Japanese, is left intact.

In fact, only the vocabularies of the native and the Sino-Japanese strata of Modern Japanese lack an initialp. It occurs quite frequently in the onomatopoeic vocabularye.g.,pachi-pachi(referring to hand-clapping sounds),piku-piki(referring to a slight repetitive movement of an object),piri-piri(referring to a state of annoyance or irritation). As these examples suggest, Japanese sound symbolismencompassesnot only mimetic expressions of natural sounds but also those that depict states, conditions, or manners of the external world as well as those symbolizing mental conditions or sensations. Sound-symbolic words permeate Japanese life, occurring in animated speech and abounding in literary works of all sorts.

The Japanese language exhibits a number of characteristic grammatical constructions not found in English and other European languages. An English sentence such asJohn cametranslates into two different expressions in Japanese. The sentence exhibiting the topic constructionJohn-wa kita(John-[topic] came) contrasts with the basic sentenceJohn-ga kita(John-[nominative] came), and the former is used when the referent of thewa-markednominal(i.e., John) is the topic of discussion, whereas the nontopic sentence simply describes the event in a neutral manner. The structure A-waB-da(A-[topic] B-[copula]) bears a heavy functional load in Japanese. In addition to its basic identificational function (e.g.,Kore-wa hon-daThis is a book), the construction, supported by its context, is used to express a variety of meanings; e.g.,Boku-wa ringo da(literally, I am an apple) can mean I have decided to eat an apple, I am going to pick apples, and so on;Boku-wa Kbe-da(literally, I am Kbe) can mean I am going to Kbe, I am from Kbe, I am a fan of Kbe, I live in Kbe, I get off the train in Kbe, and so on.

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The first major part-of-speech division in Japanese falls between those elements that express concrete concepts (e.g., nouns, verbs, adjectives) and those that express relational concepts (particles and suffixal auxiliary-like elements). The former elements may stand alone,constitutingone-word sentences, whereas the latter always are attached to nouns and verbs and express grammatical concepts such astense, the grammatical relations of subject and object, and the speakers attitudes toward the proposition and toward the listener. Japanese verbs and adjectives conjugate and function as predicates without involving a copula (linking verb), whereas non-conjugating nouns and adjectivalnominals(e.g.,gankostubborn) require the copuladain their predication functione.g.,Tar-ga ringo-o kau(literally, Taro-[nominative] apple-[accusative] buy [present]) Taro buys an apple,Yama-ga taka-i(literally, mountain-[nominative] high-[present]) The mountain is high,Tar-wa sensei-da(literally, Taro-[topic] teacher-[copula present]) Taro is a teacher,Tar-wa ganko-da(literally, Taro-[topic] stubborn-[copula present]) Taro is stubborn. Predicates show no agreement for person, number, and gender. Nouns do not decline and do not indicate number or gender, whilecasedistinctions are marked by enclitic particles (that is, particles attached to the end of the previous word), as in the examples above.

In Japanesephonology, two suprasegmental unitsthesyllableand themoramust be recognized. A mora is a rhythmic unit based on length. It plays an important role especially in the accentual system, but itsmundaneutilization is most familiar in thecompositionof Japanese verse forms such ashaikuandwaka, in which lines are defined in terms of the number of moras; a haiku consists of three lines of five, seven, and five moras. A word such askantgallantly consists of two syllableskanandt, but a Japanese speaker further subdivides the word into the four unitska, n, to, ando, which correspond to the four letters ofkana. In poeticcompositionskantis counted as having four, rather than two, rhythmic units and would be equivalent in length to a four-syllable, four-mora word such asmurasakipurple. While ordinary syllables include a vowel, moras need not. In addition to the moraic nasal seen inkantabove, there are several consonantal moras. These are the first of the double consonantse.g.,kukkiridistinctly,sapparirefreshing,kattabought. In the traditional phonemic analysis, the moraic nasal is analyzed as /N/ and the nonnasal moraicconsonantas /Q/, and their phonetic values are determined by the following consonant (e.g., /kaNpa/, pronounced kampa, cold wave, /kaNtoo/, pronounced kantoo, gallantly, /kaNkoo/, pronounced kaŋkoo, sightseeing, /haQkiri/, pronounced hakkiri, clearly, /yaQpari/, pronounced yappari, as expected), except for an /N/ in final position, which is pronounced as a nasalized version of the preceding vowel (e.g., /hoN/, pronounced hoõ, book, /seN/, pronounced seẽ, thousand). Long vowels count as two moras, and thuskiibig is a two-syllable (-kii), four-mora (o-o-ki-i) word.

Repetitive expressions abound in Japanese, and they profoundly affect bothmorphologyandsyntax. Examples of repetition include the use of syllable reduplication in various onomatopoeic expressions (e.g.,ton-tonsymbolizes a light knocking sound,don-donsymbolizes a heavy banging noise), the formation of plurals for certainnouns(e.g.,yama-yamamountains,hito-bitopeople), and the use of doubling in adverbial phrases for emphasis (e.g.,hayaku-hayakuquickly, quickly). Additionally, the repetition of phrases yields a number of characteristic constructions of Japanesee.g.,yome-ba yomu-hodo omoshiroi(literally, read-if read-to-the-extent interesting) the more (I) read, the more interesting it is,katta-ra katta-de ato-ga komaru(literally, bought-if bought-at afterward-[nominative] suffer) If [I] bought [it] after all, then it would become troublesome afterward [I would regret it].

Two kinds ofkana, or syllabic writing, developed frommany-gana.Katakana, which is angular in appearance, developed from the abbreviation of Chinese characters, andhiragana, rounded in appearance, by simplifying the grass (cursive) style of writing. Originally used asmnemonicsymbols for reading Chinese characters, kana were eagerly adopted by women with literary aspirations; these women had been discouraged from learning Chinese characters, which belonged to the male domain of learning and writing.Murasaki Shikibus 11th-centuryGenji monogatari, considered by many to be Japans greatest literary achievement, was written almost entirely in hiragana. In contemporary Japanese writing, Chinese characters (kanji) and hiragana are used in combination, the former for content words and the latter for words such as particles andinflectionalendings that indicate grammatical function. Katakana are used largely for foreign loanwords, telegrams, print advertising, and certain onomatopoeic expressions.

Linguistic characteristics of modern Japanese

Japanese has the following phonemes: 5vowels/i, e, a, o, u/, 16consonants/p, t, k, b, d, g, s, h, z, r, m, n, w, j, N, Q/. The high back voweluis unrounded [ɯ]. That and the other high vowelitend to be devoiced between voiceless consonants or in final position after a voiceless consonant. The mostpervasivephonological phenomena arepalatalizationandaffrication, which turnt, s, d/z, andhinto [tʃ], [ʃ], [dƷ], and [ç] beforei, respectively, andtandd/zinto [ts] and [dz] beforeu, respectively. Thephonemehalso changes to [ɸ] beforeu. The effects of these processes are seen in inflected forms of verbs as well as in foreign loanse.g., /kat-e/ win [imperative] /kat-anai/ win [negative], /kat-oo/ win [cohortative], /katʃ-imasɯ/ win [polite], /kats-ɯ/ win [present]; the English wordtoolbecomes /tsɯɯrɯ/,ticketbecomes /tiʃketto/, andsinglebecomes /ʃiŋgɯrɯ/.

Through the centuries, Japanese grammatical structure has remained remarkably stable, to the degree that with some basic training in the grammar of classical Japanese, modern readers can readily appreciate suchclassical literatureas theManysh(compiled after 759; Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves), an anthology of Japanese verse; theTosa nikki(935;The Tosa Diary); and theGenji monogatari(c.1010;The Tale of Genji). Despite that stability, however, a number of features distinguish Old Japanese from Modern Japanese.

Japanese also makes intransitive verbs passive; a passive sentence, such asBoku-wa haha-ni shin-are-ta(literally, I-[topic] mother-[dative] die-[passive-past]) I suffered from Mothers dying, characteristically expresses the adversative meaning of suffering or inconvenience experienced by the subject referent (here, the male I). In addition to the regular passive of the type found in English, transitive verbs also produce adversative passive sentencese.g.,Boku-wa Hanako-ni piano-o hik-are-ta(literally, I-[topic] Hanako-[dative] piano-[accusative] play-[passive-past]) I suffered from Hanakos piano-playing.

is generally included in the Altaic linguistic group and is especially akin to Korean, although the vocabularies differ. Some linguists also contend that Japanese contains elements of Southeast Asian languages. The introduction

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In the majority of dialects, the pitch change occurs at the mora, not the syllable, boundary. The Tokyo formkanis a monosyllabic word, but, because it is dimoraic, pitch may change from high to low at the mora boundary, yieldingkan(spoken with a high-low tone), which means official, or (spoken with a low-high tone) sense. Syllables, however, are units that determine the number of potential accentual distinctions, so that, given the possibility of unaccented forms, one-syllable words make two potential distinctions, two-syllable words three potential distinctions, and so forth. Thus, a monosyllabic word such asecan be either accented or unaccented and can be realized as a high-tone word (if accented) or as a low-tone word (if unaccented). The distinction, however, can be observed only when the form in question is followed by a particle such as the nominative particlega; e-ga(LH) means handle [nominative] ande-ga(HL) picture [nominative]. Since the number of potential distinctions is determined by the number of syllables in a word, monosyllabic and dimoraic words make only two potential distinctions. Thus, while there are accentedkan-ga(high-lowlow) official [nominative] and unaccentedkan-ga(low-highhigh) sense [nominative], there is no word pronounced with a low-highlow pitch. In other words, in the Tokyo dialect the number of potential accentual contrasts equals the number of syllables plus one. The absence ofstressaccent of theEnglishtype, the sequences of high-pitched moras as well as those of low-pitched moras, rather than alternating stressed and unstressed syllables, and the mora-timed characteristic together render Japanese speech rather monotonous compared to a stress-accent language like English or a true tone language likeChinese.

Japanese vocabulary consists of four lexical strata: native vocabulary, Sino-Japanese words, foreign loans, andonomatopoeicexpressions. Each stratum is associated withphonologicalandsemanticcharacteristics. The native vocabulary reflects the socioeconomic concerns of traditional Japanese society, which were centred on farming andfishing. The words associated withrice, a staple food in Japan, clearlydelineatethe form or state of the rice to which they refer; the rice plant isine, raw rice iskome, and cooked rice is eithergohanormeshi. Bothgohanandmeshiare used to refer to meals in general, as an English speaker might use the wordbreadin the phrase our daily bread. Another example of native vocabulary is the variety of names given to certain types of fish according to their size.

), and they began to write their own language in the 5th century

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Japanese is the only major language whose genetic affiliation is not known. Thehypothesisrelating Japanese toKoreanremains the strongest, but otherhypothesesalso have been advanced. Some attempt to relate Japanese to the language groups of South Asia such as theAustronesian, theAustroasiatic, and theTibeto-Burman familyof theSino-Tibetan languages. Beginning in the second half of the 20th century, efforts were focused more on the origins of the Japanese language than on its genetic affiliation per se; specifically, linguists attempted toreconcilesome conflicting linguistic traits.

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