Understanding Origins of Japanese Language Words

Japanese language words are spoken by native Japanese and have a very distinct sound to the language. It has a relatively small sound inventory compared with English; however, it has a complex system of honorifics that is used to address people according to their status. Japanese language words are made out of three main alphabets, namely Kanji, Katakana and Hiragana. Romanji, which is the Romanised form of Japanese, is less seen in Japan but used to input text into computers and used for company names and logos.

Kanji is a modified form of Chinese text and is used for more traditional terms in Japan. Katakana is commonly used for terms borrowed from other languages and cultures. Hiragana is used for words that have no Kanji equivalent or words where the Kanji is too obscure for the common reader to recognise. Japanese language words are usually spoken in a flat manner and inflection is usually added for emphasis or if they are indicating a question. Japanese language words have a long history with origin from Chinese. There are many dialects in the Japanese language, for example people from southern Japan such as Osaka and Kansai areas have a distinct difference in their spoken Japanese compared with the rest of the country’s population.

This difference in language could be accounted for by the distance and the inaccessibility of such areas from the rest of the country before modern transport existed. But everyday usage of these dialects is growing increasingly rare as education, mobility and mass media result in the increase in the usage of common Japanese. The government has even prohibited the use of these dialects in schools. Japanese language grammar is a subject-object-verb structure, but its rules are not strict; the only strict thing is that the verb has to be placed at the end of the sentence. Even though other rules as to order are not as strict, the Japanese language has a strict adherence to honorifics and has numerous different terms for different situations – some for people who have higher status than you, and others that are for those who are equal or have lower status than you.

This adherence to honorifics is reflective of the politeness of the Japanese culture. Japanese vocabulary is primarily made up of Kango, which are words that are borrowed from China or have roots from China. This is followed by Wago in a smaller proportion but which is “original” Japanese. Words borrowed from other languages and nations – Gairaigo – forms an even smaller proportion. And finally, there are words that are a combination of Japanese and foreign languages; these are called Konshugo.

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