3 Interesting Facts About The Japanese Language
Japanese remains a popular language to learn for many around the world. While there are almost 130 million native speakers of the language, there are also many more learning it as a second language.
Just as with Korean, many aspects of popular culture from Japan have made their way around the globe. Anime, manga and Japanese comedies have a dedicated fanbase that attracts many different people. For this reason, many decide to try out the Japanese language to better understand what they are watching, reading, and listening to.
There is a lot more to Japanese culture to explore too. The concept of wabi-sabi, minimalism, and work ethic are also interesting to explore. The best place to begin however is the language, as we will look at today. Here are just a few interesting facts about the Japanese language.
There Are 3 Different Scripts
Just when you thought the Thai script was confusing, Japanese comes in with 3 different types of writing scripts that are in use today. These are Kanji, Hiragana, and Katakana. Some are used more than others but each play an important role in the language.
While Kanji uses symbolic characters, Hiragana and Katakana are phonetic. This means that each character corresponds to a sound. The majority of words can be written in any of the scripts too, with different effects.
Kanji (漢字) is actually derived from the Chinese script. This means that many Japanese words of Chinese origin are generally written in Kanji. Most nouns, personal and place names, and verbs use this script, making it the most common.
Hiragana (平仮名) is widely regarded as the native Japanese alphabet that is commonly used for Japanese words. Grammatical elements such as particles and inflections also use this style.
Katakana (片仮名), however, was developed primarily as a way to write foreign words and loans words from other languages. Through transliteration, it makes these words more compatible with typical Japanese pronunciation amongst other things.
Japanese is generally considered as one of the hardest writing systems to learn. This is understandable due to this mixture of scripts and writing styles. Do not let this stop you from trying, however. Putting in some time and dedication will help you to learn enough for day to day use. No one actually knows all the characters off by heart.
Another Language, Another Honorific System
Honorific systems are very common in Asia. It is a system that dictates how one person should communicate with another based on their social standing. Even the way you greet others will change. This is generally based on age, but also on backgrounds, position and familiarity.
For Japanese, there are a number of ways to display politeness and formality through vocabulary. This includes prefixes to words to make them more polite or adding a suffix when addressing someone to indicate respect. There is a clear distinction between colloquial and formal speech.
It is also worth noting that there is a distinct system of etiquette in Japan. This spans from language to behavior across a number of different activities. For example, it is customary to announce ‘itadakimasu’ (いただきます) before eating. This phrase means ‘I humbly receive’ and shows gratitude for the food. There are numerous examples like this present in Japanese culture.
The social hierarchy of Japanese society is heavily reflected in the language. It is also present across many aspects of life in the country, and so you may need to be mindful of how you speak and act around others. Don’t worry too much though — if you show that you are at least trying and that you recognize its necessity, then people will likely not be offended.
It Has Many Different Personal Pronoun
Unlike European languages, Japanese has a long list of pronouns that can be used. Linked to the honorifics system in a way, the different ways of saying I or You have different implications. Some are more polite while others are more respectful. Gender also plays a role in the words you would use.
For example, if an older man was speaking with a younger man, they may use the word ‘Washi’ (わし) for ‘I’. This emphasizes the age of the speaker. A younger woman speaking with a friend would use ‘Atashi’ (あたし) when speaking about themselves. This sounds more cute or feminine.
So, while you are reading through your manga, you can begin to recognize the more subtle hints about each character based on how they talk. As you begin to develop your understanding, you too can begin to recognize which ones to use for each person. One technique is to imagine different people in your lives and how you would speak around them.
A Fun Language To Learn
With so much content available in the language, there is plenty of opportunity to test your skills when learning Japanese. Despite the daunting writing system and extensive honorifics system, you definitely try reading more about the Japanese language and see if it interests you.
If you are ready to take the next step, try out the Ling Japanese app. With Ling, you can test yourself and expand your vocabulary further. If you keep up the hard work and put in the time, you will soon be watching anime without staring at the subtitles the whole time.
Originally published at simplylearnlanguages.com on January 13, 2019.