The Japanese language has a very individual language stem. It originates from the Japonic (or Japanese-Ryukaan) language family, but is the only branch in this language family. There have only been two strong influences in the past on the Japanese language: English and Chinese. Chinese has been picked up through contact with the Chinese culture from around the 5th century onwards, while the English language has something of a kitsch following in Japan. The English language is treated in a very similar way to the way that many Western societies treat the beautiful Asian languages of Japanese and Chinese.
In the early part of the last century, the Japanese language had a definite split between the written and spoken versions of the language. Bungo, or literary language, carried a very different form to colloquial language, or kogo. The former is considered to be a very formalized way of speaking, and is barely used today, with the more informal language now being used in writing as well.
Over 130 million people worldwide speak the Japanese language, though Japanese is spoken mainly in the country of Japan where it is the official language. When Japan occupied countries in the Second World War, such as Korea, Taiwan, and areas of China, many of the local people in these countries were forced to learn the Japanese language. While there is obviously a backlash against the Japanese language in these places today, many older people in these countries can also speak Japanese.
The area that has the highest number of Japanese speakers outside of the country of Japan is Brazil, where there are around 1.5 million Japanese immigrants living today. There are also a significant amount of Japanese speakers living in Hawaii, Peru, Australia, the U.S., and the Philippines.
In Japan itself, there are dozens of different dialects, though these can mostly be categorized into one of three groups. These three groups are Tokyo-type, Kyoto/Osaka-type, and Kyushu-type. Tokyo-type is from the Tokyo and surrounding area, while the Kyoto/Osaka-type dialects are from the central region. Kyushu-type dialects are a much smaller group. An unfortunate thing about the Japanese language is that certain dialects are unintelligible from others, so the best thing to do as a beginner to the language, if you are in the country itself, to stick to learning the Tokyo dialect.
The Japanese language is written in three different scripts, which each use a different alphabet. This can be a little confusing for the beginner, but it is best to keep in mind that often the Latin Alphabet is also used in Japan, which gives a phonetic translation of Japanese words. When the Latin alphabet is used, the words are said to be written in romaji. However, the three alphabets that are used in the Japanese language are Kanji, Hiragana and Katakana.
The Kanji characters are originally characters of Chinese origin that have been adopted by the Japanese language. They are a combination of Japanese morphemes and Chinese loanwords, and the word Kanji itself literally means Chinese characters. Hiragana and Katakana are two syllabic scripts created from modified Chinese characters, and both contain 48 characters in their alphabet.
Why Learn The Japanese Language?
The Japanese language is one that is very heavily based on politeness. There are many words that one can use, both in day to day situations and in formal ones that can show your respect to the speaker. Many of these are based on age, as respecting your elders is an integral part of Japanese community life, both in small villages and the big cities. As a newcomer to the language, you will be given a little bit of leeway in terms of understanding the various nuances of politeness, but as a sign of respect, it is best to learn about these terms before you speak with a Japanese speaker or go to the country of Japan.
Many Universities and higher education schools of study offer Japanese language courses, which are very popular throughout the world. Japan is a very individual country, and one that clearly holds a high level of fascination for many people. It enjoys a high level of comfort and technology at the same time as developing many entertainment avenues. By studying Japanese, one can become much more involved with aspects of the culture such as anime, manga comics, video games, Japanese films, and the wide range of literature that is available. The Japanese language is invaluable in understanding more of this unique and quirky culture.