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AFEB Team

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Farhat Rams
Farhat Rams

The Japanese Language



Korean is most frequently compared to Japanese, as both languages share significant key features such as general structure, vowel harmony, lack of conjunctions, and the extensive use of honorific speech, in which the social rank of the listener heavily affects the dialogue. However, pronunciation of Japanese is significantly different from Korean, and the languages are mutually unintelligible.




The Japanese Language


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There is much greater linguistic diversity in the Ryūkyūan Islands than on the main Japanese islands, and given the fact that the oldest sources on the Ryūkyūan languages date back only to the 15th century as compared to the 7th century for Japanese, we still have much more gaps in our current knowledge about the Ryūkyūan language history than about the Japanese one. Nevertheless, the genetic relationship even between modern Tokyo Japanese and Shuri Ryūkyūan is quite transparent and is accepted today by virtually all specialists working in the field of the Japanese historical linguistics. Table 1 demonstrates some basic common morphology shared by modern Tokyo Japanese and Shuri Ryūkyūan.


Therefore, one can see that Tokyo Japanese and Shuri Ryūkyūan share basic vocabulary based on regular productive-predictive phonetic correspondences. The same picture can be demonstrated for any pair of Japanese or Ryūkyūan languages or dialects. Japanese and Ryūkyūan thus have the same origins, both of them going back to the Japonic protolanguage, which we can call proto-Japonic.


Before we proceed to the comparison of Insular Japonic with Peninsular Japonic, three important observations have to be made. First, since we are dealing here with very fragmentary materials from Peninsular Japonic, the reader must bear in mind that, unlike in the case of Insular Japonic involving Japanese and Ryūkyūan, not all productive-predictive regular phonetic correspondences between Insular Japonic and Peninsular Japonic can be perfectly demonstrated, simply because we do not have enough necessary data. So, the approach may be much more based on intuition in certain cases, although I have not included any doubtful or speculative comparisons here. Second, because we do not have even a single text recorded in Peninsular Japonic, but merely lexical glosses, most of the comparisons are lexical. There are very few rare cases where we have a glimpse of the morphology. Third, for the most part, the comparisons between the Insular Japonic and different Peninsular Japonic languages are not overlapping, and therefore, I have decided to present the comparisons of Insular Japonic with various Peninsular Japonic languages in separate tables. All these comparative tables go in consecutive order, listing gloss, Old Japanese or Middle Japanese (WOJ if unmarked, or EOJ if WOJ is unknown, or MJ if either of the two OJ varieties lacks an attestation), proto-Insular Japonic, and then finally a corresponding Peninsular Japonic language as shown in Table 4.


It was first proposed by Unger (2005), principally on extralinguistic grounds, that the original territory of the Silla kingdom in the Southeastern Korean Peninsula was originally Japonic-speaking, and I have presented linguistic proof for this proposal elsewhere (Vovin, 2007, 2013), which is summarized in Table 5.12 The evidence for the Silla Japonic language comes mostly from the place names recorded in the 34th volume of the Samkwuk saki (Vovin, 2013) and partially from the Cin-han.13 words found in Chinese chronicles (Vovin, 2007). In spite of the fact that these place names do not have glosses like pseudo-Koguryǒ place names do, it is quite clear that many of them can be read in Japonic without any hindrance.


Therefore, as demonstrated on the basis of these small selections, the genetic relationship of Japanese to Korean still remains non-demonstrable due to the lack of the predictive-productive correspondences and presence of unaccounted segments, not to mention the complete impossibility of offering valid morphological comparisons, especially paradigmatic morphological comparisons. I doubt that the relationship can ever be proven. Although I said earlier that a shared lexicon represents much weaker proof than shared paradigmatic morphology, in order to add a final touch to the discussion of genetic relationship between Japanese and Korean, I present Table 14, which demonstrates that the alleged Koreo-Japonic family behaves very differently from uncontroversial language families such as Indo-European. I take three modern IE languages and the reasonably well-attested historically oldest forms in Japanese and Korean in order to place the latter two in an advantageous position.


2. We can argue about what is a language and what is a dialect until the cows come home. This is a perennial problem in linguistics. However, classifying languages or dialects on the basis of suprasegmental phenomena, as done in de Boer (2010), is certainly no way to go. Concerning Japanese alone, De Boer was quite enthusiastic about making a distinction between the Gairin and Nairin dialects on the basis of their accent. But with the Noto Peninsula, there is a problem. Under this classification Noto Peninsula dialects are Gairin, while the adjacent Noto Island is Nairin (Whitman, personal communication, 2013). How this could be possible if the languages are to be classified solely on the basis of their suprasegmenal features?


11. Etymologies based on a single phoneme are always unreliable, but in this case we can suppose that a process similar to the reduction of -r- in Ryūkyūan has also taken place in the pseudo-Koguryǒ language.


21. It is well known that some uncontroversial demonstrable language families share very little basic vocabulary, such as, for example, Na-Dene. But the lack of common basic vocabulary in Na-Dene is well compensated for by watertight proof based on common paradigmatic morphology.


The Japanese language will give you a competitive edge among Americans seeking to engage in East Asia's booming global market. Furthermore, Japanese language proficiency and cultural knowledge will give you the ability to form successful cross-cultural partnerships with Japanese people and in fields of study as diverse as architecture, politics, medicine, and literature.


From 1185 to 1600 Japanese moved away from Chinese in search of its own sound and writing system. This means it developed closer to how Modern Japanese sounds today. The arrival of European traders to Japan marks the end of this period. A few European vocabulary words entered Japanese, but this exchange of languages was short-lived.


Between 1603 and 1853, Japan had a period of national isolation called sakoku. Foreign contact with other languages was limited in this period. The only acceptable connection to the outside world was through a Dutch trading post in Nagasaki. So, a lot of Dutch loanwords entered Japanese from this period.


Once the isolation ended, Japan moved to the Meiji period. This meant more connection to the outside world, and more loanwords into the Japanese language. The mixture of writing foreign loanwords with Chinese characters was called wasei kango (Japan-made Chinese words).


There are also long versions of the same vowels: ā, ē, ī, ō, ū. The difference between short and long vowel pronunciaiton is very important, as it can change the meaning. Japanese vowels are never shortened, you always need to fully pronounce them. The consonants in the Japanese language are basically the same as in English in terms of pronunciation.


Both writing systems relied on the use of Chinese characters, which was a lot of effort. The Japanese language needed its own writing system that could capture the essence of Japanese sounds. This was when Hiragana and Katakana were invented. At first, the Japanese used Hiragana and Katakana to annotate kanbun texts, which simplified the process of reading Chinese as the writing systems provided much-needed guidance on proper grammar and pronunciation of Chinese characters.


Early-middle Japanese was used during the Heian period between 794 and 1185. During this time, the Chinese language had its most significant influence on the Japanese language. Between 1185 and 1600, late-middle Japanese developed better phonology. This was also when the first loanwords from other European languages were incorporated into Japanese.


Starting in the 18th century, the Japanese language modernized quite considerably. Hiragana and Katakana were introduced shortly after WWII, and the writing systems formed the basis of the standard language still used in formal communications today.


Kanji is a Chinese writing system used in Japan because they did not have an official writing system of their own. After Kanji was introduced to the Japanese language, the people started using it with Japanese terms, represented by characters that depicted meanings and not sounds. After the 7th century, Japanese people began using Kanji to write Japanese as a syllabic script, and this style was known as Manyogana.


The Tokyo accent (or Standard Japanese) is the most common Japanese dialect, but there are many other regional dialects of the language. Although the dialects are mutually intelligible, there is quite a difference in pronunciation of Japanese words between one region and the other.


There will probably always be somewhat of a linguistic dispute when it comes to the origins and history of Japanese languages. Most linguists and translation experts believe that the Japanese language trails back to the Ural-Altaic language family that includes East Asian languages like Turkish and Korean. Others think Indo-European languages might have influenced it with Greek or Latin roots.


Be one of the nearly 170,000 people in the U.S. studying Japanese by signing up for Japanese language classes in your local communities and schools.If you live outside Washington, D.C., Maryland or Virginia, contact your Japanese consulate or local Japan-America Society for local resources. 041b061a72


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