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The Japanese Language

06/24/07

The Japanese Language

  04:55:42 pm, Categories: Japanese Language

Origin
The Japanese language (nihon-go '日本語' in japanese) is an isolated language, meaning that it has no relation to any other language whatsoever. There are only a few possible relations which are unsure. It is spoken almost exclusively in Japan with some small communities in other countries, and is spoken by 130 million people.

Writing
The Japanese language is written using 3 different scripts: hiragana, katakana and kanji.
Hiragana and katakana are syllabic alphabets and are used to spell words in full.
Hiragana is a more rounded script which is used for grammatical elements, small words or for spelling words.
Katakana is more angular and looks simple and is therefore used to write non-japanese words like English (using the available Japanese syllables).
Kanji characters originate from Chinese characters but their pronunciation has changed. There are about 2000+ kanji characters. Kanji usually do not have a meaning like Chinese characters, kanji mostly are sounds for making words when combined with other kanji or hiragana.
Furigana are kanji characters that are accompanied by hiragana above them, so people that do not know what the kanji character means, they can read the sound, and know the word by sound. Other uses are with names, because kanji might be pronounced in more than one way, furigana are used to be able to read the correct name. Another use it for puns or double meaning, when they want to give a different meaning to a word, they write a different word in hiragana above the kanji characters.
Romaji is the romanization of the Japanese language. There are several systems. The earliest was used by the Portuguese but this lead to some wrong transliterations that are still used today (e.g. Nippon in stead of Nihon). The most important system is the Hepburn (or Revised Hepburn) System. It is the closest to the sounds that the latin alphabet represents. Another system in use and that has been approved by the Japanese government is Kunrei-shiki. There are still exceptions when used in Japan, for example, station names are romanized slightly different from regular Hepburn. Because of the need to be able to type Japanese on a computer, another style of romanization is used which is called Wapuro (Wado Purosessa / word processor). It is also close to Hepburn, but uses some special combinations (e.g. to write the small vowel hiragana, an 'x' is typed in front of the vowel).

Original post: May 28th 2007
Updates: June 24th 2007

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