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Description

Japanese

The Japanese language is spoken by about 125.000.000 people. The vast majority of the speakers live in Japan.

The linguistic adherence of Japanese is still matter of dispute: Some scholars link Japanese to Korean and the Altaic language family (with Turkic, Mongolian and Tungus as its top-level constituents). Others consider Japanese a mixed language with Altaic and Austronesian as main contributors to its ancient lecical stock. Others again regard Japanese and Korean as genetical isolated languages.

The major dialect boundary splits Japanese into the main-land dialects and the Ryukyan dialetcs. The main-land dialects in turn are sub-divided into a western dialect group (with the Kyôto dialect) and an eastern group (with the dialect of Tôkyô). Different dialects are often mutually unintellingible. Mutual Comprehensibility between the speakers is assured by the common language called Kyootuu-go or Hyoozyun-go, which is based on the dialect of Tokyo. This common language is used by the mass media and in higher education.

Japanese is the national language of Japan. It is the only living native language of Japan. The other native language - Ainu - is in the process of dying out.

First written monuments of Japanese date back to the 8th century CE.

Japanese uses three writing systems: 1) Chinese characters to express whole words and two syllabaries (kana): 2) the Katakana, which derives from abbreviations of Chinese characters and 3) the Hiragana, which is a cursive form of the Katakana. The direction of writing is vertical, top-down, the lines move from right to left. Aside from these scripts there is Romaji, a system to transcribe Japanese with Roman letters. Nowadays Chinese characters and Hiragana are use in writing: Chinese Characters generally express content words and Hiragana expresses grammatical morphemes, like particles and inflectional endings.

Syllable structure in Japanese is overwhelmingly CV (this favored the emergence of the Katakana and Hiragana syllabaries consisting mainly of CV signs).

The phonological inventory of Japanese consists of five vowel phonemes and thirteen consonant phonemes. Several consonantal allophones arise as a result of palatalisation and africation of dentals.

Grammatical functions such as case and number are expressed by postpositions. Plurality is not marked when quantifiers or numerals are used.

The morphology of the verb has agglutinative structure, i.e. stems are not modified, grammatical are expressed by suffixes, which do not merge with each other or with the stem and which mostly bear only one grammatical meaning.

The unmarked order of constituents in simple transitive sentences is SOV. However, subject and objects can have a different order, whereas the verb is always at the end of the sentence. Word order is also affected by the presence of a topicalised unit in the sentence. Topicalised units are marked by a particle and have clause-initial position.

Japanese has an elaborated system of honorifics, which are used to either indicate social distance and inequality in rank or equality in rank and intimacy. The honorific system mainly operates on suffixes and lexical variation.

The speech of men and women differs significantly in the Japanese language: women's speech is characterised by gentle and polite forms, whereas male speech is marked by 'rough' forms.

The loan vocabulary in the Japanese lexicon consists overwhelmingly of Chinese loans, which constitute about 60 percent of the total vocabulary of the written language. Other loans - for example European loans make up about 10 percent of the lexicon. Sometimes triplets a synonym words can be found: a native Japanese word, a loan word from Chinese (Sino-Japanese) and another loan word, for instance of European origin.

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