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The japanese language
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The Japanese Language. Basic points about language in general The basic form of language is spoken Everyone speaks; not everyone writes Language is always evolving e.g. loan words Japanese has simple phonetics but difficult grammar. Japanese phonetics. 5 vowels, all short AI UEO

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The Japanese Language

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The japanese language

The Japanese Language

  • Basic points about language in general

    • The basic form of language is spoken

      • Everyone speaks; not everyone writes

    • Language is always evolving

      • e.g. loan words

  • Japanese has simple phonetics but difficult grammar

Japanese phonetics

Japanese phonetics

  • 5 vowels, all short

    • AI UEO

  • But Japanese sounds come in syllables

    • kasatanahamara

    • kishichinihimiri

    • kusutsunufumuru

    • kesetenehemere

    • kosotonohomoro

    • alsoyayuyowano

More japanese phonetics

More Japanese phonetics

  • 5 vowels, all short

    • AI UEO

  • Also vocalized variants

    • gagigugego

    • zajizuzezo

    • Dajizudedo(etc.)

  • And “ha” line has a “p” variant

    • papi pupepo

Pronouncing loan words

Pronouncing loan words

  • All those vowels make words longer

    • McDonald’s becomes

    • Makudonarudo, that is, Ma-ku-do-na-ru-do

  • Confusion can ensue from lack of phonetic variation

    • A building is a birudingu, shortened to biru

    • Beer is called biiru

    • No L-R distinction; what to call Bill?

Phonetics lengthened vowels

Phonetics: lengthened vowels

  • the long marks over o and u

  • There’s a difference between

    • shinto (believer), and

    • Shintō (one of Japan’s religions)

  • The long marks mean that the sound of the vowel is lengthened (not changed)

Basic japanese grammar

Basic Japanese grammar

  • The basic order of a Japanese sentence is subject⇨object⇨verb, as in

    • Kinō watashi wa hon o kaimashita.

    • (Yesterday I bought a book.)

  • If you leave out “watashi” (I), no one is confused. Subjects are often omitted.

  • Particles mark the function of a word

    • “wa” marks a subject, “o” an object



  • There are particles for possession, location, etc.

  • The particle for possession is “no”

    • Kore wa watashi no hon desu.

    • Mitsubishi jidōsha no Tanaka desu.

    • possessive, or “of”

Polite speech

Polite speech

  • Japan’s social hierarchy is reflected in speech patterns

    • How you speak depends on who you are talking to

    • Indicates both relative status and familiarity

  • Polite forms are typically longer and more complicated

The writing system

The writing system

  • Japanese has characters representing both sound and meaning

  • Sounds are written with the “kana” syllabaries (they represent syllables)

    • Hiragana

    • Katakana

  • Follow the A I U E O pattern



  • Used mostly for word inflections

    • Japanese is an inflected language

    • あ か さ た な は ま や ら

    • い き し ち に ひ み り

    • う く す つ ぬ ふ む ゆ る

    • え け せ て ね へ め れ

    • お こ そ と の ほ も よ ろ

    • Also wa わ o を n ん

  • Hiragana is “loopy” looking



  • Used mostly for foreign words

    • ア カ サ タ ナ ハ マ ヤ ラ

    • イ キ シ チ ニ ヒ ミ リ

    • ウ ク ス ツ ヌ フ ム ユ ル

    • エ ケ セ テ ネ ヘ メ レ

    • オ コ ソ ト ノ ホ モ ヨ ロ

    • Also wa ワ o ヲ n ン

  • Katagana is “squarish” looking

Writing other sounds

Writing other sounds

  • Changing “ha” to “ba” for example

  • は becomesば

  • Paris パリand Bali バリ

  • What about a word like Kyōto?

    • How do we write the “Kyō” sound

    • Kyōto is written きょうと



  • Ideographic or pictographic characters

    • another borrowing from China

    • called kanji

  • By the end of High school, a person is supposed to know about 1,970 characters

  • Writing words in kanji saves confusion

    • Many homophones



  • Some Kanji are simple

    • Mountain is 山 (yama)

    • one (1) is 一; two is 二; three is 三

    • but four is 四

    • some are complicated!

      • hibiki 響

Twenty kanji for you

Twenty kanji for you

  • All from the “50 Chinese characters” in the reading

  • 一二三四五六七八九十

  • 日月火水木金土山目人

  • You will only be required to recognize them



  • Japanese is phonetically simple

    • A I U E O and the other syllables

  • Sentence structure:

    • subject⇨object⇨verb

    • word functions marked by particles

    • kinō watashi wa hon o kaimashita

  • Three writing systems

    • hiragana, katakana, kanji; mixed together

    • 昨日私は本を買いました。

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