Japanese (Nihongo 日本語) is a major world language. Depending on how one defines a language, it may be ranked as the eighth to the tenth most spoken language. Japanese is predominantly spoken in Japan. In Japanese, "Japan" is called 日本, which is usually pronounced as Nihon にほん, but it may also be pronounced as Nippon にっぽん. Nippon is favored in formal settings, but in reality, Nihon and Nippon are both used in many of the same situations. The country is formally called Nipponkoku 日本国 (the nation of Japan).
The country of Japan is said to have been founded by Emperor Jimmu (Jimmu Ten'nō 神武天皇) on February 11, 660 B.C. Its national flag is called the Hinomaru 日の丸, a reference to it being the land of the rising sun. In this lesson, you will learn about ten of the most important aspects of Japanese. In doing so, the mysteries of Japanese grammar that will be unraveled in the lessons that follow won't be so mysterious after all.
Before delving into what Japanese is, let's first address one concern you've likely had thus far: how to say basic everyday expressions. Below are some of those most important phrases that you can use with Japanese speakers.
Words are composed of sounds, and every language has its own set of rules that govern how sounds come together to make words. These rules are collectively referred to as the phonology of a language. How sounds simply sound is referred to as the phonetics of a language.
A vowel is a speech sound made by vibrating the vocal colds without obstructing airflow from the lungs. In Japanese, there are only five vowels: /a/, /i/, /u/, /e/, and /o/. However, they aren't exactly like their English counterparts. To learn how they differ, we need to learn more about what vowels are.
High vowels are made with the tongue raised high. Oppositely, low vowels are made with the tongue lowered. Front vowels are made by placing the tongue as close to the front of the mouth as possible. Oppositely, back vowels are made by placing the tongue as far back in the mouth as possible.
Chart Note: The diagram below maps out the vowels of Japanese in a vowel space that is meant to represent the dimensions of height and forwardness in the mouth. The further left you go, the closer your tongue is to the front of the mouth. The further right you go, the father your tongue is from the front of the mouth. The further up you go, the higher up the tongue is. The further down you go, the lower the tongue is.
The vowel /a/ is made by with the tongue low but central in the mouth. It is more like the "a" sound found in British English or Spanish. The vowel /i/ is made with the tongue raised high in the front of the mouth. The vowel /u/ is also a high-vowel, but it's made with the tongue in the back of the mouth. In the diagram above, it is marked with a diaeresis (two dots) to indicate that it is not made while rounding the lips like its English counterpart. The vowels /e/ and /o/ are made with the tongue at the center of the mouth. Whereas /e/ is made by placing the tongue closer to the front, /o/ is made by placing the tongue back in the mouth.
Curriculum Note: Various things can happen phonetically to vowels in Japanese. They may become elongated, nasalized, and even devoiced. To learn more about these processes, see Lesson 365.
In Lesson 2, we learned about the various consonant sounds of Japanese. A consonant is a speech sound made by obstructing the airflow from the lungs in some manner.
Consonants come in four broad categories: unvoiced, voiced, palatalized, and nasal. Unvoiced consonants are made by not vibrating the vocal cords. Voiced consonants are made by vibrating the vocal folds. Palatal consonants are made by placing the body of the tongue against the hard palate of the mouth. Lastly, nasal consonants are made by redirected some of the air exhaled from the lungs through the nose.
There is some overlap between these categories, but this is only natural. The categorization of the consonants above does not take into account variations of the same consonant (allophones). To learn more about allophones and the articulation of each kind of consonant, see Lesson 366.
You may remember the terms seion 清音, dakuon 濁音, handakuon 半濁音, and yō'on 拗音 when we learned about Kana 仮名. However, they don't 100% match with the terms above because they describe how sounds have been traditionally categorized.
Unlike English, the basic syllabic structure in Japanese is a mora-based system. A mora is a unit of sound that is equivalent to a single beat. Each "beat" is conceptualized as being equal in length, and each beat is assigned a high or low pitch.
In reality, morae are not always exactly equal in length, but this is how they are conceptualized. This is then reflected in the writing system. Kana 仮名 isn't a syllabary. Rather, it's a moraic system which denotes separate characters to each sound (combination) that can be treated as a mora in Japanese. This includes the moraic consonant /N/, which is written in Kana 仮名 as ん・ン.
The moraic sound system helps explain why Japanese distinguishes between short and long vowels as well as single (short) and double (long) consonants. Long vowels are deemed as two morae, whereas short vowels are deemed as one mora. Similarly, double consonants--written with っ・ッ-- are deemed as two morae, whereas single consonants are deemed as one mora.
|Short Vowels||Long Vowels||Single Consonants||Double Consonants|
|Soto 外 (Outside)||Sōtō 相当 (Considerable)||Soto 外 (Outside)||Sotto そっと (Gently)|
|Koko ここ (Here)||Kōkō 高校 (High School||Koko ここ (Here)||Kokko 国庫 (Treasury)|
Japanese has a pitch accent system. Every mora of a phrase is assigned a high or low pitch. In Standard Japanese, there are only four possible pitch patterns that a phrase can have. Although the allocation of what phrase gets what pattern is arbitrary, the natures of these patterns themselves are not.
1. "L" and "H" both stand for a single mora. That means H-L is two morae, whereas H-L-L is three morae. As a reminder of this, numbers will be placed after these contour notations to tell you how many morae words involved have.
2. The "L" and "H" in parentheses indicate what the pitch of something attached to words would be per pattern.
| Pitch is high for the first mora, drops on the second mora, and stays low for any remaining morae that follow.|
Ex. H(-L) ①, H-L(-L) ②, H-L-L(-L) ③, H-L-L-L(-L) ④
| Pitch starts low on the first mora, peaks at high pitch on the middle mora(e), drops back to low pitch on the third morae, and stays low for any following morae after the word. |
Ex. L-H-L ③, L-H-H-L ④
|hanásu 話す (to speak)|
| Pitch starts low on the first mora, peaks at high pitch on the last mora, and then drops to low pitch on any morae that follow the word.|
Ex. L-H-(L) ②, L-H-H(-L) ③
| hàshí 橋 (bridge)|
| Pitch starts low on the first mora, becomes high pitch on the second mora, and then the pitch stays high even once the word is over unto anything that follows. |
Ex. L(-H) ①, L-H(-H) ②, L-H-H(-H) ③, L-H-H-H(-H) ④
|hashi 端 (edge)|
Although these are the four pitch patterns of Japanese phrases, there are many processes that can change the pitch pattern of a word from one to another, especially as a phrase becomes further complex. There are also generational and dialectical differences that further complicate this basic understanding of pitch accent. The best way to acquire the Standard Japanese pitch accent system is to mimic native speakers who grew up with Standard Japanese as their primary dialect, which can be said for most people that live in and around Tokyo.
Curriculum Note: To learn more about pitch accent, see Lesson 368.
Although writing is not the same thing as language, it is intrinsically tied to language. The Japanese writing system is the most complex script in the world. This is because it is composed of four different types of symbols. As we have already partly covered Japanese writing, this section will delve more into information about the system as a whole to give you a better understanding of why it is the way it is.
1) Kanji 漢字
How Kanji 漢字 Came to Japan
Kanji 漢字 are Chinese characters brought to Japan from China via Korea around the beginning of the fifth century. Not soon after these characters were introduced, a Japanese writing system called Man'yōgana 万葉仮名 was created. It is called this because it was largely used in a compilation of poems written in Old Japanese called the Man'yōshū 万葉集. This system behaved like a syllabary, but characters were often used for their meanings as is the case today. To learn more about this ancient writing system, see Lesson 410.
Kanji 漢字 are composed of one or more building blocks called radicals, or bushu 部首 in Japanese. There are 214 such so-called radicals, and with these radicals, most characters fall under four types:
Curriculum Note: To learn more about bushu 部首, see Lesson 359.
How Many Symbols are There?
The number of Kanji 漢字 that exist in Japanese is uncertain. The Kanjigen 漢字源 is the most realistic Chinese-Japanese character dictionary (Kanwa Jiten 漢和辞典) for Japanese, having 9,990 entries. This does not mean that Japanese speakers know 9,990 characters. Although a small percentage might, the most comprehensive proficiency test for proficiency, the Kanji Nōryoku Kentei Ikkyū 漢字能力検定一級, only covers approximately 6,000 Kanji. Yet, only about 10% of applicants pass this test--some of whom are foreign test takers.
The Jōyō Kanji List, which is a list that the Japanese Ministry of Education has put forth to create a literary baseline for compulsory education, bureaucratic documents and publications, and general use. As of 2017, 2,136 characters have been designated as Jōyō Kanji 常用漢字. Additional characters used primarily for names, are designated as Jimmeiyō Kanji 人名用漢字, of which a total of 862 exist as of 2017. Generally speaking, most competent readers know over 3,000 characters, and due to the ease of typing, this average is steadily rising.
|Examples of Jōyō Kanji 常用漢字||Examples of Jimmeiyō Kanji 人名用漢字|
|雨, 広, 今, 力, 非, 明, 貝, 眠, 央, 芸, 減||丑, 之, 乎, 也, 云, 亘, 伊, 伍, 吾, 昌, 胡, 辰, 遥|
The Two Kinds of Readings
There are two kinds of readings emerged: on'yomi 音読み (readings from Chinese) and kun'yomi 訓読み (readings from native words). Most Kanji 漢字 have on'yomi 音読み as they are inherently characters borrowed from China. The on'yomi 音読み of a character can usually be guessed with relative ease as most characters have a phonetic component, as mentioned earlier. Many characters were also attributed to native vocabulary, thus providing them with one or more kun'yomi 訓読み.
Chart Note: On'yomi 音読み are listed in Katakana カタカナ and kun'yomi 訓読み are listed in Hiragana ひらがな for brevity as well as to provide an opportunity to practice your Kana 仮名 skills. Kana 仮名 in parentheses are okurigana 送り仮名, which usually spell out word inflections and enable said readings to be valid.
|Kanji 漢字||Meaning(s)||On'yomi 音読み||Kun'yomi 訓読み|
Curriculum Note: There are various kinds of both kinds of readings. Knowledge of these kinds gives reasons for why many characters have so many readings. To learn more about this, see Lesson 354.
However, there is also such thing as Kanji 漢字 made in Japan. These are called Kokuji 国字. Some of these characters do have on'yomi 音読み attributed to them, and some of these characters have even made their way into Chinese.
Notation Note: For the characters described below, the same notation conventions for readings as used in the chart above are implemented.
If you are a reader of Traditional Chinese or can read Hanja in Korean, you may notice that many Kanji 漢字 don't look the same. This is because many Kanji 漢字 were simplified after World War II. The old forms of characters are called Kyūjitai 旧字体 whereas the new forms are called Shinjitai 新字体. The old forms may still be used in proper nouns as well as in publications printed in the 1960s and beforehand. Below are a handful of some of the characters that were altered.
|Meaning(s)||Traditional Form||New New Form||Meaning(s)||Traditional Form||New Form|
Curriculum Note: To learn more about Kanji 漢字 simplification, see Lesson 361.
2) & 3) Kana 仮名: Katakana 片仮名 & Hiragana 平仮名
From Kanji 漢字, Katakana カタカナ and Hiragana ひらがな were created, both of which are Kana 仮名. Each set consists of a basic pool of 48 characters. Intrinsically, they only have phonetic value whereas Kanji 漢字 usually have both semantic and phonetic value(s).
Chart Note: The chart to the left illustrates the origin of Hiragana ひらがな, and the chart to the right illustrates the origin of Katakana カタカナ.
History Note: The first system to be created was Katakana カタカナ. It was created thanks to Buddhist monks simplifying the manuscript forms of characters. Hiragana ひらがな was created by simplifying the cursive form of characters. Katakana カタカナ used to be called "man's hand (otokode 男手)" and Hiragana ひらがな used to be referred to as "woman's hand (on'nade 女手)" as the choice for what script one used was once largely based on one's gender.
Hiragana ひらがな is seen the most as it is used to spell most words that aren't from foreign languages which Kanji 漢字 may not be practical or possible.
Katakana カタカナ is largely used to write foreign loan-words from modern world languages. This includes modern borrowings from Chinese languages.
Katakana カタカナ may also be used to write onomatopoeia or used to italicize expressions and even entire sentences. Its purpose for italicization is used heavily in Japanese dictionaries.
Curriculum Note: To learn about Kana 仮名, see also Lessons 3, 4, 355, 356, 357, 364.
4) English Letters (Rōmaji ローマ字)
Though Japanese is largely written with a mix of Kanji 漢字 and Kana 仮名, English letters have become incorporated into the spellings of many word, mostly newly coined words.
|Piiāru ＰＲ||Public relations||Ōeru ＯＬ||Office lady|
|Shiidii ＣＤ||CD||Diibuidii ＤＶＤ||DVD|
|Emubui ＭＶ||Music video||Tiishatsu Tシャツ||T-shirt|
|Shiiemu ＣＭ||Commercial||Piiemu nii ten go ＰＭ２．５||Particle matter 2.5|
|Eichiaibui ＨＩＶ||HIV||Erujiibiitii ＬＧＢＴ||LGBT|
Firstly, 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 most basic punctuation marks are shown below.
|、||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.
Watashi wa(,) kore ga suki desu.
I like this.
Curriculum Note: To learn more about punctuation, see Lesson 346.
Basic Word Order
In Japanese, the basic word order is SOV. This stands for subject-object-verb. These terms are defined as follows:
Though the basic word order of Japanese involves these parts of a sentence as such, the subject and object may flip positions depending on what is deemed more important to the speaker, and a sentence may be without either or both yet still be grammatical. This means that Japanese exhibits all of the following word orders: SOV, OSV, SV, and OV. Of these,the least frequently used is the OSV word order; however, it is still occasionally used nonetheless.
In between the subject and object of a sentence are words called particles. Particles are post-positions that equate to the prepositions of English that indicate the grammatical function(s) of what they follow.
In grammar, "left-branching" refers to modifiers preceding their constituents. For instance, in the English phrase "a tall man," the word "tall" modifies the word "man." This is an example of left-branching in English. However, in English, when a modify becomes too long/complex, it goes after its constituent. This is called right-branching. In the examples below, the constituent is in bold while their modifiers are italicized.
In Japanese, modifiers always go before their constituents no matter how complex they are.
Gakkō-kara kaetta kodomo
Literally: School-from returned kid
Translation: Child who came back from school.
Typical Structuring of Information
In Japanese, word order is not fixated in the way it is in English. Ultimately, the speaker can and normally will organize elements of any given sentence based on what he/she deems to be most to least important. However, most sentences are far more predictable than this fluid representation. Typically, information is organized with the following broad ordering.
|TOPIC + TIME + LOCATION + SUBJECT + INDIRECT OBJECT + DIRECT OBJECT + VERB|
The basic word order of SOV is reflected in this ordering, but Japanese typically puts a lot of information before the subject.
Watashi-wa kyō, eki-de (ø-ga) tomodachi-ni hon-wo agemashita.
Literally: I-as.for, today, station-at (I-subject.marker) friend-to book-object.marker gave.
Translation: I gave a book to a friend at the train station today.
1. Whenever the subject and topic are the same, the subject is not stated but manifests in the grammar as an unspoken zero-pronoun. This rule comes from the general principle of obligatorily omitting syntactically redundant elements, which we'll look at next.
2. The typical ordering of information is almost completely opposite of that of English.
Zō-wa hana-ga nagai.
Literally: Elephants-as.for nose-subject.marker long.
Translation: As for elephants, their noses are long/Elephants have long noses.
Grammar Note: This sentence demonstrates how the subject and topic of a sentence, though related intrinsically with each other, do not have to be the same thing. The pattern shown in this example will be of major focus for us in Lesson 12.
Kesa jishin-ga okimashita.
Literally: This.morning earthquake-subject.marker occurred.
Translation: An earthquake occurred this morning.
Grammar Note: Not all verbs require objects as demonstrated in Ex. 12. This sentence is perfectly grammatical with just a time phrase, subject, and a verb.
Ashita-kara kare-ni Nihongo-wo oshiehajimemasu.
Literally: Tomorrow-from he-to Japanese-direct object. teach.begin.
I will begin teaching Japanese to him as of tomorrow.
Grammar Note: "To begin teaching" is expressed with a compound verb in Japanese, but the ordering of its components is the opposite of English. In Japanese, the element for "to teach" comes first, and the element for "to begin" is added as a supplementary ending.
If something is not important at all, it may be omitted altogether, even if it's an element of a sentence that may be grammatically necessary in English. This is evident in how words like "I" and "you," which are a part of an overwhelming number of English sentences, are frequently not stated. Of course, the decision between omitting or verbalizing something does imply change in nuance. For now, however, it's important to note that something in an English sentence may not need to transfer over to Japanese.
O-namae-wa nan desu-ka?
Literally: Honorific.prefix-name-as.for, what is-question.marker?
Translation: What is your name?
Sentence Note: There is no word in this example corresponding to "your."
Literally: Seth-citation.marker called.
Translation: I go by Seth.
Sentence Note: There is no word in this example corresponding to "I."
It's even possible to mention the verb first and state everything else as an after-statement. This is called inversion.
Kanae, watashi-no negai-yo.
Literally: Come.true I-genitive.marker wish-exclamation.marker
Translation: Come true, oh my wishes.
The hierarchy of information importance also explains why one's family name comes first in Japanese. However, it is important to note that the language actually respects the original ordering of parts of a name if it is from another language. 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.
|Barack Obama|| バラック・オバマ|
|Donald Trump|| ドナルド・トランプ|
|Moon Jae-in|| ムーン・ジェイン|
|Kim Jeong Un|| 金正恩|
Kimu Jon Un
|John Smith|| ジョン・スミス|
|Ryo Watanabe|| 渡辺亮|
|Shinzo Abe|| 安倍晋三|
|Yu Darvish|| ダルビッシュ有|
Understanding part of speech (hinshi 品詞) is quintessential to properly harnessing the grammar of a language. As a native speaker of any language, you are privy to instinctively knowing how words relate to one another, how they are similar and dissimilar. Without knowing the names of the categories that exist in your language, you're able to naturally categorize words together in various ways.
These categorizations, though, are language specific. Meaning, just because English has words called prepositions, that doesn't mean Japanese does as well. In fact, as we have learned already, prepositions really don't exist in Japanese. Instead, they're replaced by something called particles (post-positions). This, though, is just one instance of how the two languages differ.
To begin learning what the parts of speech are in Japanese, it's important to first answer a seemingly simple yet difficult question: what is a word? For English speakers, a word is anything that is written as one unit. In writing, we distinguish words by spaces. However, spacing doesn't always do justice to a word count. Take for instance the following phrases.
v. Don't (1-2 words)
vi. Music video (1-2 words)
The phrase "don't" is a contraction of "do" and "not." Native English speakers typically conceptualize this as one word and do not necessarily deconstruct it in their minds when they use it. Likewise, the phrase "music video" refers specifically to a certain thing that is not solely music nor solely a video. In that sense, you could say it's one word, whereas if you go solely by its spelling you would say that it is two words. Because the word "word" is very vague, for linguistic purposes, the word morpheme is preferred. A morpheme is the smallest unit of meaning that cannot be divided further. This compartmentalization of meaning enables us to properly and objectively study Japanese phrasing for what it is rather than looking at it through an English-stilted mindset. For discussions that follow, depending on how specific things need to be broken up, "word" or "morpheme" will be used.
Independent VS Ancillary Words
There are two kinds of words in Japanese: independent words (jiritsugo 自立語) and ancillary words (fuzokugo 付属語. Independent words are those that can stand alone. Independent words can further be broken down into conjugatable and non-conjugatable words. Ancillary words, however, cannot stand alone. They too, though, may or may not be conjugatable.
In Japanese, there are twelve unique parts of speech that can be classified as either independent or ancillary words.
The Six Kinds of Particles
Particles arguably constitute the most difficult part of speech to master. This is because there are many grammatical functions a phrase can have in a sentence, and the grammatical functions that Japanese chooses to make evident may not always be those that are of grammatical importance in English.
Of all the possible functions and/or purposes a particle could possibly express, they are all manifested in only a finite number of particles that far outnumber the roles they have. Similarly to how prepositions overlap in English, many particles at times behave similarly to others. Although it will take time to truly master the various particles of Japanese, a considerable amount of heartache can be avoided by knowing what to expect.
There are six main types of particles: case, parallel, conjunctive, final, adverbial, and bound. Particles may be categorized differently depending on how they're used. Below you will find these categories defined with many examples of each. Note that the lists are not necessarily exhaustive.
Japanese is known as an agglutinative language (kōchakugo 膠着語). Agglutination is the process of creating complex words by stringing morphemes together into chains that are not broken apart in pronunciation or spelling. Japanese is known to be highly agglutinative, most notably in the construction of conjugations.
In Japanese, agglutination is brought about by a system of bases and endings. For every base that exists, several endings exist that attach to it, and each ending has its own set of bases to potentially keep the chain going. This concept of conjugation is very different to what native English speakers are used. For example, "I did not want to be forced to eat" is expressed with nine words. In Japanese, however, it is expressed as one phrase composed of many morphemes.
The phrase in Ex. 17 can be broken down even further as there are hidden morphemes that stand for the bases that act as the true glue of Japanese conjugations. Knowing how to break down phrases that far isn't necessary, but it is important to know how conjugation works overall.
In Japanese, something that is conjugatable has potential access to six base forms. After these bases endings may or may not follow. Endings will either be in the form of auxiliary verbs (which can conjugate) or particles (which cannot conjugate, thus stopping the chain).
For the purpose of our initial studies, we will primarily focus on learning the conjugations that come about from this system. As such, it isn't really imperative to know exactly what base is used with what ending, or what bases those endings subsequently have.
Upon reaching Advanced I, the bases will be reintroduced and used in grammar conversations from Lesson 201 onward. By referencing this summation, however, you will be able to accurately guess exactly what's going on in case you really want to know.
The way one speaks in Japanese is especially important to maintain human relationships. In English, it is understood that one doesn't necessarily speak the same way to everyone. The manner you speak to your mother is not the same as you would speak to your boss. Business situations require people to be far more formal and polite than casual settings.
How English speaker change their speech to accommodate the situation largely relies on avoiding or implementing certain words. In Japanese, formality affects the entire sentence. Essentially all parts of speech are affected by the level of formality you wish to use. Word choice and conjugations are all affected.
There are four levels of formality in Japanese. As formality increases, there is a tendency for phrases to become longer and more complex. Although this is not always the case, it is a golden rule that you can use with great accuracy throughout your studies.
There are three primary sources that compose Japanese vocabulary: native words, Sino-Japanese words, and loan-words. Together, they give rise to the language that you are now attempting to learn.
At the heart of the language are the native vocabulary words that have existed in some capacity from the dawn of the language. In Modern Japanese, these words make up approximately 30% of all words. As low as this number might be, they make up over 60% of words used in conversation. These words are called wago 和語 or yamato-kotoba 大和言葉. Below are some examples of native vocabulary.
|Hito 人||Person||Hana 花||Flower||Mizu 水||Water|
|Koe 声||Voice||Kumo 雲||Cloud||Tokoro 所||Place|
Sino-Japanese words (Kango 漢語), are words that were borrowed into Chinese over several centuries, largely through the use of Kanji. Many Sino-Japanese words have also been coined in Japanese. Over 60% of Modern Japanese is made up of these words; however, they only make up about 20% of the words used in the spoken language. They are, however, frequently used in the written language. Below are some examples of Sino-Japanese words.
| Kazan 火山||Volcano||Hon 本||Book|| Jiyū 自由||Freedom|
|Nigatsu 二月||February||Sūgaku 数学||Math||Kokka 国家||Nation|
Lastly, loan-words (Gairaigo 外来語) are words borrowed from other languages. Although Sino-Japanese words are technically loan-words, they have been in the language for so long that they have been nativized. Gairaigo 外来語, however, are still clearly foreign and originate from modern world languages such as English. Below are some examples of loan-words.
|Doa ドア||Door||Zubon ズボン||Pants||Kēki ケーキ||Cake|
|Painappuru パイナップル||Pineapple||Roketto ロケット||Rocket||Onrain オンライン||Online|
The spoken language (hanashikotoba 話し言葉) and the written language (kakikotoba 書き言葉) are not the same thing. The way one speaks is never exactly how one writes. This is especially so in Japanese.
In Japanese, the spoken language is full of colloquialisms, filler words, emotion, and tone that are often never truly expressed via the written language. Although everyone can moved by a beautiful passage, one is more likely to be moved by a soothing song or story. Speaking Japanese requires that you know not just how to pronounce words but also how to use them to best express how you feel and want to get across to the listener.
In Japanese, the written language is characterized as being formal and often void of the colloquialisms and filler words that pervade speech. Spelling is utilized to add on nuances that may not be so apparent when spoken. This is made possible by the existence of multiple possible spellings of hundreds of words thanks to Kanji 漢字. There are many grammatical patterns that are used heavily in the written language that are not really used in the spoken language. Archaic expressions are also more likely to be used in the written language. Although it is important to know how to speak Japanese, it is also just as important to read and write Japanese as mastery in the written language is essential to being a functionally native-like user of the language.
Curriculum Note: Throughout our studies, many references will be made categorizing grammar points as being heavily used in the spoken language, written language, or both.
Japanese is not related to other major world languages. It is instead in its own language family called the Japonic language family. Although it is not alone thanks to the minority Japonic languages spoken in Okinawa, it does not share any common ancestry with other languages in the region nor the world at large.
Because Japanese is essentially a language isolate, it has had centuries upon centuries to evolve in is own unique way. That means its grammar is truly foreign to the English eye. Its rules are sometimes opposite to those of English. The culture that it is associated with it is also significantly different to Western culture, and these differences do affect language use.
Grammatically speaking, many concepts that are essential to forming coherent sentences are not present in Japanese. For instances, articles (a, an, the), grammatical number (singular vs. plural), and grammatical gender (masculine/feminine forms) don't exist in Japanese. On the other hand, concepts such as case marking and politeness markers don't exist in English but are essential to speaking Japanese correctly.
The last point to know about Japanese is that Japanese has many dialects. A dialect is a particular form of a language spoken in a certain region and/or by a certain group of people. Essentially every area of Japan has its own dialect.
Dialects may differ in vocabulary, grammar, and punctuation. However, the most important dialect is Standard Japanese. By mastering this dialect, you will be able to converse with essentially any native Japanese speaker. Knowing other dialects is not essential to speaking or understanding Japanese, but many dialectal expressions are known by all speakers. Whenever you watch anime or read manga, you will frequently encounter other major dialects. With this being the case, occasional focus will be given to dialectal expressions that are too important to ignore.