Ja­panese 126,000,000 SPEAK­ERS

Asian Geographic - - Culture -

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

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