Japanese is the eighth most spoken language in the world. Japan is called 日本, which is normally read as にほん but also as にっぽん in formal contexts. Japan is said to have been founded by Emperor Jimmu (神武天皇) on February 11, 660 B.C. The Japanese flag 日の丸 shown in the left-hand corner is an outline of the rising sun.
This lesson showcases how the language will work so that hopefully there won't be many huge surprises. Before we get to the ten major aspects, though, here are some key, everyday phrases to practice saying. These phrases are given in polite speech so they are of best use to you at this point in time.
|Good morning||おはようございます||Good afternoon/hello||こんにちは|
| Good evening||こんばんは||Excuse me/sorry||すみません|
|How are you?||おげんきですか||You're welcome||どういたしまして|
|Nice to meet you||はじめまして||Thank you||ありがとうございます|
In Japanese, the subject is typically followed by the object, and the verb is always last. If you don't know what a subject or object is, don't worry. The definitions are below, and if this doesn't help, the example sentences that follow should make things clearer.
Subject: The item of discussion in a sentence.
The subject and object may flip, and the simplest sentence only needs a verb. Particles go after words to show grammatical function. Particles make up a part of speech that English lacks. These words often equate to prepositions in English but not always. In proper speech, you should expect a particle (small word) to be in between the major noun phrases to string the sentence together. Below are various possible word orders.
Practice (1): Rearrange the following sentences into a Japanese-like word order.
1. He played in the mud. 2. You went by car? 3. I sang today.
The most important things in a sentence come first. Japanese allows its word order to be flexible to prioritize things out of semantic necessity. For instance, if the verb comes to mind first, you can say it first and have the rest of your statement be an afterthought. Now, don't get carried away with this as people don't purposely always speak with inverted sentences.
This hierarchy even explains why one's family name comes first. However, Japanese actually respects the names of people and places from other languages. Many learners feel like inverting their name to be more Japanese, but this is not necessary and may end up confusing Japanese people who anticipate the first part of your name to be your given name.
1. Hanako Fujiwara
Punctuation Note: A 中黒, ・, is placed in between two uncommon foreign words.
It's important to know that conjugation is done via chains of endings. The thought of using "base + ending" is very confusing to a lot of people, mainly because the names of the bases are added to the discussion and most people often never bother to learn how things go together. Because Japanese is what we call an agglutinative language, one which likes to add endings in chains, it's actually beneficial to know how the system works. If you do, there really isn't any memorization to conjugation.
To showcase what is to come, say you wanted to say "not go". First, you would need to know the verb for go, which is iku. You would then need to know that you must change the base to be able to attach the negative ending, -nai. You can't just say ikunai and be done. Luckily, there is a base almost always used with the negative ending. So, let's just call it the negative base for now as negative base + negative ending sounds very reasonable. This base ends in the vowel a for iku. So, iku → ika- + -nai = ikanai.
This example should not have been painfully difficult. Conjugation really is this simple. You might be wondering how many bases and endings there are. Although there are many endings that you can use, only six bases exist. For any given verb/adjective class, the bases might not all look different, which makes memorization easier. Certain ones are used a whole lot more than others, meaning you won't be responsible for the entire system until later on in your studies.
Japanese relies a lot on part of speech and context to distinguish homophones. So, it's no surprise that there are 11 different parts of speech. Word classes can either be independent (can be used by themselves) or dependent (must be used with something else), and they may either conjugate or not conjugate.
The chart below may not seem of any help to you. After all, there are no words or example sentences of these parts of speech. However, learning how to use them all in one go is not wise. We will need time to look at them individually. Most of them, though, should already sound familiar to you from knowing English. For now, it's alright to equate these classes with those of English and any differences will be mentioned in due time.
|Nouns (名詞・めいし)||Person, place, thing||Pronouns (代名詞・だいめいし)||I, you, he, etc.|
|Verbs (動詞・どうし)||Action/process||Adjectives (形容詞・けいようし)||Condition|
|Adjectival Nouns (形容動詞・けいようどうし)||Condition||Auxiliary Verbs (助動詞・じょどうし)||Verbal modifiers|
|Particles (助詞・じょし)||Grammatical markers||Interjections (間投詞・かんとうし)||Express emotion|
|Conjunctions (接続詞・せつぞくし)||Connect clauses||Attributives (連体詞・れんたいし)||Modify nouns|
|Adverbs (副詞・ふくし)||Modify verbs/adjectives|
1. Only particles and auxiliaries are dependent.
2. Only verbs, adjectives, and auxiliary verbs can conjugate. Adjectival nouns need an auxiliary to conjugate.
Particle Note: Particles are always after what they modify! Particles in Japanese are traditionally classified under six types. However, all of these types are not necessarily relevant to Japanese studies or even necessarily existent as a separate "class" of particles. So, we will only deal with four kinds that you will immediately come in contact with. Just like above, there aren't any examples of these kind of particles in the chart below.
Particles are extremely difficult to get right, so it would be meaningless to list them all now and go through their usages. Instead, focus on what to expect particles to do in a sentence. If you know now how they could act and how varied they are, you won't be so confused on why so many particles have different classes and thus very different usages, nor will you grapple with the definition of what a particle is.
|These always come after noun phrases (things that are nouns or have become nouns) to show their grammatical role in a sentence. Whether it's a subject, object, etc. is determined by such particles.|
|Connects clauses together like "and" and "but" in English.|
|These are particles at the end of sentences or individual phrases to show emotional information. Think of them as verbal emoticons. They are very important for making your Japanese sound natural.|
|Translated as adverbs but they aren't independent words like actual adverbs. Because these particles are not case particles, they can be used after a lot more various things to show all sorts of grammatical emphasis roles.|
Categorize the following words by part of speech.
1. 日 (Day) 2. ああ (Ah) 3. おもう (To think) 4. そして (And) 5. わたし (I)
What is a Word?
Japanese is an agglutinative language because affixes (things that attach) attach to things. So, where do you draw the lines to count words? As you can see, there are several ways of counting the words in this simple sentence translated as "I saw a gull at the beach".
|All affixes separated||わたし + は + かいがん + で + かもめ + を + み + まし + た||9 Words|
|Only particles separated||わたし + は + かいがん + で + かもめ + を + みました||7 Words|
|Only phrases separated||わたしは + かいがんで + かもめを + みました||4 Words|
Words in Japanese come from three sources. Sino-Japanese words are from Chinese readings of 漢字 and make up ~60% of Japanese. Native words are original Japanese words. Although only 30% of words are native, they're the most common. Loan words come from other modern languages.
Believe it or not, knowing where a word comes from will help you in many ways later on. Phrasing and style of diction often have different percentages of these kinds of words. For instance, Sino-Japanese words are usually more formal but native words are predominant in the spoken language.
Formality is determined by the relationship between the speaker and listener. Plain speech is used in novels, songs, essays, articles, towards people you’re close to and is often grammatically necessary. Polite speech shows deference between the speaker and listener. Honorifics are often used with superiors, but you will first be introduced to plain and polite speech.
By no means should you skip to other lessons and learn these styles all at once now. Learning how to master the different politeness levels of Japanese is hard even for native speakers, so be content with the basic outlines of them now and to come until we are able to look at them in greater detail.
Japanese has many dialects. As a beginner, you should focus on Standard Japanese. Significant dialect remarks will be made on occasion. Sometimes comments will be made about grammaticality in the context of dialectical variation. However, if you are to ever come across dialectical speech that is otherwise incorrect in Standard Japanese, it is best to not mimic in situations in which you should use proper Japanese.
Articles ( a, an, the) don't exist. Nouns have no number (singular and plural forms). There are plural suffixes, but they work differently. Japanese nouns don't have grammatical gender, but some words should only be used by men or women.
Practice (3): Make these English sentences even more Japanese-like.
1. The water covers the trees.
2. I hate ants.
3. I love dogs.
4. An animal is in the house.
5. The school is big.
かな and 漢字 are used to write Japanese. 2,136 漢字 are designated as general use characters necessary for literacy. Even English letters to a small extent, are also used with 漢字. The かな are organized into a chart called the 五十音図 seen in Lesson 2. Many people know 3,000+ 漢字 and 7,000+ characters can be applied, but going this far is not necessary.
Practice (4): Look up and give the readings for the following words. This will help you with the 漢字 to learn.
1. 花火 (Fireworks) 2. 火山 (Volcano) 3. 三月 (March)
4. 水曜日 (Wednesday) 5. 女王 (Queen) 6. 日本人 (Japanese person)
Describing one's emotions is different than describing someone else's. Tone of voice and choice of final particles reflect one's attitude. Emotion is put into words more explicitly in Japanese than in English.
There are no spaces between words, and you write to the next line even if this breaks up a word. Text may go down from left to right or down from right to left. Horizontal text was historically right to left.
|、||The comma||。||The period||！||The exclamation mark||？||The question mark|
Punctuation marks are written with the same space as regular characters. Commas are often where particles are omitted. ! and ? have been borrowed for emphatic purposes to further demonstrate tone and emotion.
I like this.
Read the instructions. The keys to 1 and 3 are not reflective of natural English but what English would look like if it placed words in a Japanese word order. The entire purpose of those exercises is for you to get used to how words are placed in a Japanese sentence. Just looking at the keys and not the questions is irresponsible. Please do not be that student.
1. He mud in played.
2. You car by went?
3. I today sang/Today I sang.
1. Noun 2. Interjection 3. Verb 4. Conjunction 5. Pronoun
1. Water trees covers. 2. I ants hate. 3. I dogs love.
4. Animal house in is. 5. School big is.
1. はなび 2. かざん 3. さんがつ 4. すいようび 5. じょおう 6. にほんじん