The Japanese language is considered unclear and disputable among scholars about its roots and genetic affiliation. Due to the uncertainty of evidence from offered sources, the language is considered isolate.

Where the spoken and written languages in Japan come from is mysterious and has many theories. There is a controversial history that anthropologists, linguists, and historians are still trying to debate and decipher.

Some link the Japanese language to Altaic, Polynesian, Korean, and among others. However, the language is deemed ambiguous.

Over the centuries, the Chinese have had an influence on the history and development of the Japanese language, such as Chinese texts. These developments can be categorized into four evolved stages: Old Japanese (to the 8th century), Late Old Japanese (9th to 11th centuries), Middle Japanese (12th to 16th centuries) and Modern Japanese (17th century to present).

The most notable changes throughout these periods were adoption of foreign words, changes in pronunciation, and the reduction of vowel sounds.

Many dialects in particular regions of Japan have been developed since ancient times. The difference among dialects generally regards pitch accents, vocabulary, and the use of particles. There are two main types of dialects that have been divided into the “Tokyo type” and the “Kyoto-Osaka type”. This is a division based on northern and southern parts of Japan.


There are even dialects surrounding Japan that may be incomprehensible to others from different parts of the country. For example, a native from an isolated island or mountain village may use a dialect derived from Old Japanese!

Dialects specific to their region in Japan have unique and distinct qualities to their versions of speaking Japanese. Although, today there is a form called Standard Japanese. This form is taught in schools, used on television, and is official communication.

Standard Japanese is known as the “common language”. However, regarding dialects in regional varieties, they are considered valuable and as a form of local identity.

Japanese has a complex writing system consisting of three different character sets: Kanji (thousands of Chinese characters) and Hiragana and Katakana (two syllabaries of 46 characters each, together called Kana).

Japanese texts can be written in Western style, in like manner, horizontally from top to bottom. Or they may be written in traditional Japanese style, in vertical columns from right to left of the page. Both of these writing styles are used side by side today.

In comparison with other languages, basic Japanese is relatively simple. Distinctions between singular and plural, and other complicated factors, are missing almost completely. Conjugation rules for verbs and adjectives are simple, and nouns appear in the same form.

Pronunciation poses little problems for most learners, but accents may be considered a difficulty to some. This however is at a lower extent than comparatively, the Chinese language.

There are also different words and expressions used to speak to an unknown person or a superior, opposed to speaking to a family member or close friend. As a matter of fact, there are more than five different ways to use “I” depending on the context.

The Japanese language belongs to the Japonic family and is native to Japan. There are approximately a total of 128 million people who speak Japanese in the world.

Basic Japanese Phrases

EnglishJapanese
YesHai
NoIie
Thank youArigatou
You’re welcomeDou-itashimashite
Excuse meSumimase
Please (when offering something)Douzo
Please (when requesting something)Kudasai or Onegai shimasu
Good morningOhayou gozaimasu
Good afternoonKonnichiwa
Good eveningKonbanwa
Good nightOyasumi nasai
Good-byeSayonara
Pleased to meet youHajime mashite
I don’t understand JapaneseNihongo wa wakarimasen
Do you speak English?Eigo o hanashimasu ka?
Where is the…?…wa doko desu ka?
Where is the train station?Eki wa, doko desu ka?
Please write it downSore o kaite kudasai
Just a moment, pleaseChotto matte kudasai
Do you have an English menu?Eigo no menyuu wa arimasuka?
How much does it cost?Ikura desu ka?
I would like a reserved seat, pleaseShiteiseki o kudasai
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