Japanese Language History

Japanese Language fastest spoken language

(most syllables per second)

The Japanese Language is the ninth most spoken language in the world, according to the world’s league table of languages. It is spoken by approximately 130 million native speakers in Japan and another 5 million, primarily Japanese emigrants, globally. The popularity of the Japanese language grows as native Japanese travel internationally and move abroad. Most notably is the fact that Japanese is often heard in both Hawaii and Brazil.

Having gained independence a little over 70 years ago, the success and power of Japan speaks for itself. Being one of the most powerful and important countries across the globe, Japanese translation services are now in demand and more popular than ever before.


Origins & Roots of the Japanese Language

Linguists dispute extensively over the origins of the Japanese language. Most are convinced the roots of the Japanese language go back to the Ural-Altaic family of languages, which also includes Korean, Mongolian and Turkish.

There are plenty of similarities between the Japanese and Korean languages. For example, the general grammatical structure is identical: subject, object and verb. The variable degrees of politeness that are used in dialogue, depending on the social status of the other party, are also similar. The varying levels of formality in word, sentence and grammar adaptations are referred to as honorifics and are used in several language families. The pronunciation of both languages, however, is extremely different.

Formality and politeness are key in the Japanese culture, and that is well evidenced in the language. There are broadly three levels of formality in the Japanese language namely the advanced polite form, the simple polite form and the plain form. Strangers are expected to speak to each other politely, while children usually start with the familiar plain form (used in the household). Formal schooling and more public interactions give children natural opportunities to adapt to more formal ways of speaking

The influences of the Japanese language and tradition are seen practically everywhere. From the widespread availability of ‘sushi’ in nearly every country in the world, to Japanese ‘anime’ gaining popularity, it is clear that people are inspired by Japanese culture and the language.


Japanese Writing System

Before the 4th century AD, the Japanese had no writing system of their own. During the 4th century, they began to import and adapt the Chinese script, along with other aspects of Chinese culture. Over time, a writing system emerged in which Chinese characters were used to write either words borrowed from Chinese or Japanese words with the same or similar meanings.

Thousands of characters are part of the writing system of the Japanese language. The Japanese Ministry of Education expects students to be familiar with around 2,000 characters before high school graduation. To read a newspaper and most printed material, this is an adequate number, although highly educated Japanese may know up to 8,000 characters.

These days, Japanese is written with a combination of three scripts: Chinese characters called ‘kanji’, and two syllabic scripts made up of modified Chinese characters, ‘hiragana’ and ‘katakana’. Kanji typically represents complete words. Hiragana is a sound-based script for parts of words. Katakana is a sound-based script for parts of foreign or borrowed words. Name brands like “McDonalds” are written in katakana along with several common words like ‘hoteru’ (hotel). The Japanese language has, and continues to, adopt a lot of words from different languages, including English and Portuguese.


Japanese Translation Services

Interested in getting your texts and content translated to Japanese? Or are you a Nihongo (日本語)-speaking organisation that would like to appeal to a more diverse global audience by translating your materials to a foreign language?

At Renaissance Translations, we have a team of professional Japanese linguists who can translate your content to and from over 120 languages. Whether you’re looking for proofreading services or quality translations, our skilled experts can help you get the job done in no time. Contact us to discuss your specific project needs.