Japanese Language Facts

July 19, 2016 |

By Sarah-Claire Jordan

Japanese Language Facts artIn the business world of today, you can’t get away with just knowing and working with English. There are so many other markets out there to reach if you take the time to learn about the culture and language, and Japan is one of those markets. Of course, getting a better idea of what the language is like would be very helpful for starting the process of preparing any campaign aimed at Japan.

For starters, it is good to know a bit about where Japanese is spoken. The obvious and simple answer is, of course, Japan, but it is also spoken by people in Taiwan, Guam, the Marshall Islands, and even Palau. Japan annexed Taiwan at one point in history, and so that meant many citizens began speaking Japanese, which continues today. There are also areas of other countries, such as Brazil and the U.S., that have huge numbers of native Japanese speakers.

From an outsider’s viewpoint, Japanese may seem like a very homogenous language that doesn’t vary much from area to area. That is false, of course, but perhaps we just see it this way from the small amount of Japanese culture we know about and consume in the U.S. In reality there are dozens of different Japanese dialects, thanks to the different areas and islands that make up the country.

There are two main types of Japanese dialects: Tokyo-type and Kyoto-Osaka-type. These two groups have many subgroups within them, together making up the entirety of Japanese dialects. The different dialects vary mostly in terms of pitch accent, vocabulary, and whether or not certain particles are used. Some of them even use slightly different vowels or consonants, but this is not very common. There is one standard dialect of Japanese used in schools, government, and other official sectors in Japan.

The traditional and oldest Japanese writing system is known as kanji, and is heavily influenced by the most common Chinese writing system. Besides that, there are two systems that are best described as syllabaries in that they are meant for writing out words phonetically. They are hiragana and katakana, but are sometimes just collectively called kana. Finally, romaji is based on the Latin script and used to write words out that way, so they can be read in English and other languages.

Though it is a very complex language, complete with different conjugations of verbs for referring to people of different social statuses, Japanese can be much easier to learn that any other East Asian language. For starters, it is not tonal like Chinese or Korean, so there is no need to listen extra carefully and attempt to replicate sounds that you have never heard before in your life. The romaji writing system also makes learning it a bit easier at first, as it can be used and then students can transition to kana and then kanji, depending on who is teaching. All in all, Japanese is worth researching and learning, especially if you are part of an international business.

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Category: Foreign Language

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