Japanese 126,000,000 SPEAKERS
THE TONGUE OF THE RISING SUN
In folk etymology, the distinctively Japanese arigato (thank you) was understood to be derived from the Portuguese word obrigado. However, the word is actually related to ari gatai, which literally means ‘it is rare (to receive such a favour)’. Nonetheless, in the 16th century, Portuguese priests did bring their faith, and certain words, into Japanese dialogue. For example, some common words from Portuguese that are current in Japanese include tempura (to deep fry) and pan (bread). Today, the Japanese language continues to expand and influence. While the Japanese phrase teiku auto is derived from the English ‘take-out’, modern English also includes much of the Japanese lexicon in words such as bokeh, karaoke and tycoon.
The fascinating and multifaceted Japanese culture has intrigued the world. Despite its 126 million speakers – with 124 million in Japan, 800,000 in Brazil and 180,000 in Hawaii – Japanese has not been conclusively linked to another language or language family. Its origin is believed to be either Altaic or Austronesian. Its relationship with Korean is likely but still disputed. On the other hand, Chinese influences on Japanese script are evident, with 40 percent of today’s Japanese vocabulary adapted from Chinese.
The Japanese language has five vowels and 13 consonants, compared to the 12 vowels and 24 consonants in English. It lacks the intonations found in Chinese languages. It can also be read phonetically in romaji – a romanisation of Japanese (similar to the Chinese pinyin system) – and its intonations are similar to English, with a rise at the end of a question and a fall at the end of a statement. However, the difficulty comes in reading and writing, because the language has a complex letter system.
LANGUAGE TIPS Pay attention to non-verbal cues when speaking to Japanese people. Like many East Asian countries, Japan is a 'high-context culture' where many things are left unsaid, but are perfectly understood by other Japanese. Tone, facial expressions and bodily gestures play a vital role in relaying a person’s meaning when speaking Japanese.
Because the Japanese people are often shy when speaking foreign languages, and because their own language is a source of great national pride, they are sympathetic towards foreigners who make the