What Is Japanese language

The Japanese Language . The origin of the Japanese language has yet to be determined. It was a spoken language until he went to Japan on Buddhism through China . The Chinese ideograms (Kanji), arrived at the Nippon archipelago in the form of Buddhist “sutras”, back in the 8th century . It has been associated with Altaic languages, including languages ​​such as Turkish, Mongolian, Manchu, Korean, and Samoyed (northern Russia ).

Other linguists consider it a Dravidian language, which includes Tamil. It has even come to be related to the Basque or Basque language, spoken in northern Spain .

It is a binder language like Hungarian, Malay – Polynesian languages, etc., and as such shapes grammatical sentences by uniting several elements into a single word, each of which has a fixed meaning.

For the study of the Japanese language by Spanish speakers, the Hepburn method or system (hebon-shiki) was used, created by the Presbyterian doctor and missionary James Curtis Hepburn ( 1815 – 1911 ), who, along with other collaborators, popularized the method of Romanization or Latinization that is used today. Not forgetting that long before, in the 17th century , missionaries such as the Portuguese Jesuit Joao Rodríguez ( 1561 – 1633 ) and other religious of various orders had designed a system very similar to the Hepburn method.

The first structured grammar with authentic philological rigor in the history of Japanese is the “Arte da lingoa de japam” ( Nagasaki , 1604 – 1608 ) by the Portuguese Joao Rodríguez, and which currently continues to be an inexhaustible source of information for language scholars Japanese in the Azuchi – Momoyama period ( 1573 – 1615 ).

Nowadays there are also two romanization systems, practically the same that are known by the names of Kunrei – Shiki (official system) and Nippon – Shiki (Japanese system), but they are intended for the Japanese, so they are not feasible for the foreign readers.

In Japanese there is no alphabet, but two syllabaries and thousands of idiograms or “kanji” which literally means Chinese letter. The syllabaries are “Hiragana” devised in the 9th century by the famous Buddhist monk Kooboo Daishi ( 774 – 835 ) and “Katakana” from the 8th century .

The number of basic ideograms established by the Japanese Ministry of Education in 1980 is 1945 kanjis. His study requires unlimited patience and a lot of dedication.


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  • 1 The Japanese writing system
  • 2 Types of Kanji
  • 3 The Kana
  • 4 Pronunciation
  • 5 Romanization
  • 6 Word order
  • 7 Nouns
  • 8 Pronouns
  • 9 Appearance expressions
  • 10 Particles
  • 11 Verbs
  • 12 Sources
  • 13 External links

The Japanese writing system

The oldest eastern and western writing systems were pictograms; drawings representing ideas. In the West, some of those characters were simplified and came to mean the sounds of spoken language, the phonetic system then prevailing.

In China , the pictographic system remained intact until the current era. But in modern Japan , perhaps due to morphological and grammatical differences between Chinese and Japanese, both methods coexist in written language.

In the 3rd and 4th century AD, Chinese and Korean immigrants brought written characters known as Kanji, or characters from the Han period (206 BC – 22 0 AD) to Japan. These characters originated in the Hoan Ho ( Yellow River ) region of China in 2000 BC, of ​​which 3,000 from this era have been discovered. At the time, the Japanese language existed only in spoken form, as the Chinese characters were adapted for about 400 years to express the Japanese oral language in writing.

Kun-yomi . Written Chinese characters were used to express spoken words. When the Japanese sound of a word is expressed by a Kanji, the reading, or pronunciation of that character, is called the Kun reading (Kun-yomi), and the character is usually followed by an inflectional stem written in Hiragana, known as Okurigana.

On-Yomi . Attempts to pronounce the Chinese reading, or On reading (On-yomi, also entered the Japanese language system. This situation explains why Kanji alone usually have Kun readings and Kanji in compounds have On readings. Additionally, due to constant change and evolution of the Japanese language, most modern Kanji have 2 or 3 On readings and 2 or 3 Kun readings each, which partially explains the large number of homophonic words in the Japanese language.

Thus, the addition of Chinese characters to Japanese increased the number of concepts and methods of expression available to Japanese speakers, with the creation of many new terms and compounds. Comparatively, a similar effect occurred in the [[English | English language] language with the adaptation of Latin

Kanji types

Since the Shuo Wen Chie Tsu, the first known Chinese dictionary and the oldest known text to have studied the pictorial origin of Chinese characters, was published in the 2nd century AD, there were five categories of characters:

  • Shoukei Moji– Simple pictograms of objects like trees.
  • Shiji Moji– Simple symbols representing abstract concepts such as above or below.
  • Kaii Moji.- Ideograms, combining pictograms and symbols to express complex ideas.
  • Keisei-Moji. – Phonetic ideograms, which contain 85% of all Kanji, combining elements of semantic meaning with elements of phonetic meaning.
  • Tenchuu Moji. – Characters whose meaning or pronunciation has been changed by borrowing from the character to represent other symbols and ideas.
  • Kasha Moji. – Pure phonetic characters established as a kind of kanji syllabary.
  • Kokuji. – More or less a dozen characters that originated within Japan, and which are always read with Kun reading.

KAISHO . Although there was considerable character standardization in China as early as 300 BC , the printing style , or kaisho, which is the prototype of modern Kanji, was established in 200 AD . As any Chinese character can be a Japanese Kanji in principle, some dictionaries of this country listed up to 50,000 of them even in times as recent as World War II, although the ability to read newspapers and magazines only required knowing about 4000 before 1946 .

GYOUSHO . It is a semi-cursive style of kanji, a simplification of kaisho that allows you to write more fluently and quickly. As an example we present the same character, umi (sea), in Kaisho (left) and Gyousho (right)

The Kana

Although Chinese or Kanji characters had adapted to Japanese several hundred years before the Kana phonetic syllabaries developed, the Japanese, polysyllabic, and inflectional language was not easily expressed by the Chinese system devised for the Chinese, monosyllabic, and polytonic language.

The Chinese language lacked inflectional terms such as verb stems (as in Spanish endo, en el subiendo, the verb upload, or ara, in pintara, the verb pintar), so the verbs were expressed by a main Chinese character followed by others cumbersome kanji that represented the final variation of the verb (as in Spanish would be, will be, has been).

This combination of Kanji mixed a character with semantic meaning with characters with only phonetic meaning, which was very confusing. Initially, a solution was to write smaller Kanji to express inflectional endings, or to write phonetic Kanji next to vertical writing.

By the 9th century the phonetic Kanji had been simplified into two standardized and parallel phonetic syllabaries known as Kana (assumed names). Each Kana symbol is derived from a Kanji of the same sound, but lacking semantics.

Katakana (lateral writing), is the most angular of the phonetic syllabaries and was the first of the Kana syllabaries. He invented it Kibi no Makibi (693-755 AD) by simplifying one element of a radical from each of the phonetic Kanji. Each Katakana symbol was derived from a Chinese character in the same way as each Hiragana symbol, except that the Hiragana was simplified from full characters. Katakana was initially used only as a pronunciation aid in Buddhist scriptures, but was mixed with Chinese characters from the 9th century .

In more recent times, the two syllabaries differed in two different uses within written Japanese. Katakana is now used to write foreign words used when there was no native word to express a foreign idea. For those who want to learn Japanese, it is a logical option to start with Katakana, which is also used for other purposes:

Katakana and Hiragana (the Japanese syllabary)

  • To show emphasis in a similar way to the use of italics in Spanish.
  • For onomatopoeic words, whose meaning is the same sound, (like PA-CHIN パ ー チ ン, the hit of a ball).
  • To represent foreign mistakes when speaking Japanese.
  • Names of foreign people and places.
  • To send telegrams and fill out forms

The Hiragana . A Buddhist preacher known as Koukai (734-835 AD), invented the Hiragana, the other of the two Kana syllabaries. His simplification of phonetic Kanji virtually created Heian literature (794-1185 the era of peace and tranquility), by empowering women, who at this time were not taught kanji because they were considered incapable of writing complex Chinese characters, to write . As a result, women wrote the first books in Japan. The most important work of the Heian era is Genji Monogatari (The Story of Genji), by Murasaki Shikibu.

Each Hiragana symbol was derived from a Chinese character in the same way as each Katakana symbol, except that the Hiragana was simplified from full Kanji characters. The primary function of the Hiragana is to express Japanese words for which there is no Kanji. It is also used for particles and copulatives, as well as for all inflectional endings.

Children in Japan learn Hiragana first, as they already have some command of spoken language. Children write with Hiragana until their knowledge of Kanji increases. Eventually, as you learn more and more Japanese Kanji, Hiragana is increasingly left only to write the inflectional part of a verb or adjective (Okurigana) and those Japanese words that have no Kanji representation. As children learn the pronunciation of new Kanji, or when it is hoped that an adult may not know an unusual reading of a Chinese character, Hiragana is written above the Kanji or to its right. In this situation he refers to them as Furigana, (help kana) or Yomigana (reading kana).


When you start studying Japanese, perhaps the main difficulty is that most of the learning texts for this language are in English . Although it is desirable (given the current great influence of that language on modern Japanese), mastering English before undertaking the study of the Japanese language, it is not strictly necessary that this be the case. However, a guiding text when learning a foreign language should ideally be in the mother tongue of the student. Japanese pronunciation is very similar to Spanish, and there are actually fewer sounds in Japanese than in Spanish .

As a general rule, pronunciation does not present much difficulty for Spanish speakers. For example: vowels (whose order is a , i , u , e , o , are pronounced the same as in Spanish, without forming diphthongs and consonants as in English . Vowels can be short or long, for example: i it is short between the consonants h and t , sh and t .


Romanization is how the Japanese pronunciation is expressed in Latin letters, the alphabet. The Japanese refer to the characters of the alphabet that we use as ROMANJI. The romanizations currently most used are the product of studies of English-speaking characters, here is shown the Romanization system HEPBURN, which has equivalents in the Spanish language the same except in these cases:

HA , HE , HI , HO Like JA , JE , JI , JO , in Spanish . The character は (ha) sounds like wa when used as a particle and not as part of a word.

As a particle:

  • 妻 は 山林 技師 で す。
  • Tsuma wa sanringishi desu.
  • My wife is a forest engineer.
  • こ ん に ち は
  • Konnichiwa!
  • Hello!

As part of a word:

  • 始 め ま し て
  • Hajimemashite
  • Nice to meet you

FU as in FUEGO SHI (SI) as in CIMA JI (ZI) as in GI in English MAGICIAN or the Argentine pronunciation of LLI

RA , RI , RU , RE , RO as in Spanish (although they are sometimes pronounced as LA , LI , LU , LE , LO , SHA (SYA), SHU (SYU), SHO (SYO)

GA , GE , GI , GO , GU as in Spanish GA , GUE , GUI , GO , GU ZA , ZE , ZI , ZO , ZU as in French MAISON (something like a somewhat buzzy S) JA , JI , JU , JE , JO , as in Spanish YA , YI , YU , YE , YO YA , YUI eat in Spanish IA , IU , IO .

There are two types of Japanese vowels: short vowels and long vowels. Many words differ only by the long or short pronunciation of a word, which is analogous to the use of accents in Spanish. Knowing the difference between them goes beyond the possibilities of a written text like this, and you can only acquire skill by hearing the language spoken.

  • 故障 【こ し ょ う】 koshou – damaged
  • 古書 【こ し ょ】 kosho – old book
  • 高 所 【こ う し ょ】 kousho – high place
  • 良好 【り ょ う こ う】 ryoukou – favorable, satisfactory
  • 旅行 【り ょ こ う】 ryokou – travel

Therefore, most Japanese vowels are pronounced short (especially the U). For example,

  • 学生 【が く せ い】 is romanized by writing it GAKUSEI, but the pronunciation is more like a GAKSEI.
  • 松田 【ま つ だ】 is more like MATSDA, and 情 熱 【じ ょ う ね つ】 more like JOUNETS.

As for the double consonants ( kk , tt , ss , pp ) they are represented by a character っ 、 Un (small tsu [つ]) as in:

  • 一体! 【い っ た い な】 Ittai! (hell! / damn it!)
  • Up 発 【し ゅ っ ぱ つ】 Shuppatstu (game)
  • 学校 【が っ こ う】 Gakkou (school)

They are pronounced with a slight pause (I-tai, Shu-patsu, Ga-kou), not lengthening the consonant that follows it or the vowel that precedes it.

About the accent, most of the texts (being written by English speakers) do not mention how the Japanese words are accentuated and even others suggest that they are not accentuated. In practice, however, two-syllable words are frequently stressed on the last syllable.

  • 花 【は な】 haná (flower)
  • ご 免 な さ い 【ご め ん な さ い】 gomén nasái (sorry, sorry)
  • 酒 【さ け】 saké (liquor)

Word order

Japanese is a Subject-Object-Verb language, compared to Spanish, which is a Subject-Verb-Object language.

  • ト ラ コ は ね こ で す。
  • TORAKO wa neko desu.
  • Torako is a cat (Torako is literally a cat).
  • ト ラ コ が ね ず み を 見 ま し た。
  • TORAKO ga nezumi or mimashita.
  • Torako saw a mouse (Literally, Torako [subject] mouse [object] saw).

A sentence becomes a question by placing the KA particle at the end

  • ト ラ コ が ね ず み を 見 ま し た か。
  • TORAKO ga nezumi or mimashita ka.
  • Torako saw a mouse?

Japanese is a multi-level language, since the verbs, adjectives and pronouns used depend largely on the condition of who is being spoken to (in terms of age or status), with an equal, with a superior or with one of a lower level. The Japanese give special importance to this, although among us the use of terms like gift, doña, etc., is also used. In Japanese, verbs have the short form to speak to strangers; the plain way for people with whom we have a certain trust and the elegant way to address people of a higher level (older in age, in rank, etc.).

I am Beatriz. It can be placed like this in order from highest to lowest formality:

  • Tas は ベ ア ツ リ ス で ご ざ い ま す。 Watashi wa Beatriz from Gozoimasu.
  • Tas は ベ ア ツ リ ス で す。 Watashi wa Beatriz desu.
  • 俺 は ベ ア ツ リ ス だ。 Ore wa Beatriz da [I Beatriz ser].

Additionally, in Japanese there are certain words used by women but not by men and vice versa, although that nowadays tends to change, especially for women, who increasingly use the language of men, more direct than that of women. (which is traditionally more humble in Japanese), but the fact that a man uses expressions specific to the feminine language can be embarrassing; It is convenient to know the differences, although such subtleties go beyond the scope of this text, which purports to be basic.

  • ど う し て か し ら。 あ の 人 の 顔 を 思 い 出 せ な い の よ。
  • Doushite kashira? Ano milestone no kao or omoidasenai no yo.
  • Why is it that I can’t remember that person’s face?

(As a woman would say; the particle does NOT make the phrase more smoothed at the end).

  • な ぜ か わ か ら な い 、 あ の 人 の 顔 を 思 い 出 せ な い.
  • Naze ka wakaranai, ano hito no kao or omoidasenai.
  • I don’t know why but I can’t remember that person’s face.

(As a man would say, the dry verb at the end is more aggressive).


In Japanese, nouns have no gender, and cannot be modified by definite or indefinite articles, (la, un, los) since they do not exist, and singular and plural forms are usually the same. In ROMAJI the names of people and languages ​​begin with a capital letter except English (EIGO).

HON (本) book, books, a book, the book, the books.

To specify the plural, the suffix -TACHI can be used to indicate it.

  • KODOMO – (子 供 [こ ど も]) – child, children
  • KODOMOTACHI – (子 供 達 [こ ど も た ち]) – children

Another example:

  • 田中 さ ん 達。
  • Tanaka san tachi
  • (The Tanaka, the Tanaka family)

The Japanese mention their last name first, followed by the first name.

田中 広 見 Tanaka Hiromi ← → Hiromi Tanaka

The suffix –YA means the store where the objects are sold or the person who sells them. The suffix –KA means that you are an expert or specialist in the mentioned subject.

  • 花 [は な] – hana (flower)
  • 花 屋 [は な や] – hanaya (florist, florist)
  • 肉 に く] – niku (meat)
  • 肉 屋 [に く や] – nikuya (butcher shop)
  • 小説 [し ょ う せ つ] – shousetsu (novel)
  • 小説家 [し ょ う せ つ か] – shousetsuka (novelist)
  • 芸 術 [げ い じ ゅ つ か] – geijutsu (art)
  • 芸 術 家 [げ い じ ゅ つ か] – geijutsuka (artist)

When one is addressing a clerk or shopkeeper, the honorific suffix SAN (さ ん)。 is used

本 屋 さ ん – HONYA SAN (bookseller, bookseller)

Two pronouns used together as a compound noun unite with the particle NO (from).

  • 日本語 の ク ラ ス [に ほ ん ご の ク ラ ス] – Nihongo no kurasu – Japanese class (language)
  • ア パ ー ト の ビ ル – Apaato no biru – Apartment building


貴 様 【き さ ま】 – kisama – tú, vos (vulgar and pejorative way of referring to another person)

KIMI and OMAE are like the You in Spanish: only used for friends; BOKU is only used by men when talking to people their age, while ORE is more arrogant. As among us, it is considered pedantic to repeat I (WATASHI) all the time, so it is better to omit it if it can be known that we speak of ourselves by the context of the phrase, at most it would be mentioned in the opening phrase. In this, Japanese is more similar to Spanish than to English, the language in which the subject must always be mentioned. So:

  • 私 は フ ア ン で す 。- 私 は 宇宙 飛行 士 で す。
  • Watashi wa Juan desu. – Watashi wa uchuuhikoushi desu.
  • I am Juan. – I am an astronaut.

It is not as correct as

  • 私 は フ ア ン で す 。- 宇宙 飛行 士 で す。
  • Watashi wa Juan desu. – Uchuuhikoushi desu.
  • I am Juan. – I’m an astronaut.

It is more polite to avoid using ANATA when possible, and rather to use the name of the person with the SAN. In the same way, when talking about a third person, use that person’s name.

  • レ ス ツ レ ポ さ ん は 映 画 を 見 ま し た か。
  • Restrepo san wa eiga or mimashita ka.
  • Did you (mr. Mrs. Restrepo) see the movie?

Appearance expressions

The auxiliary form YOU DA (which in short form is YOU DESU) is used to compare things or to show similarity or the way of doing something.

  • あ の 雲 は 人 こ 顔 の よ う で す ね。
  • Ano kumo wa hito no kao no you desu ne.
  • That cloud looks like a person’s face, right?
  • 私 は 東京 の よ う な 賑 や か な 町 よ り 京都 の よ う な 静 か な 町 が 好 き で す。
  • Watashi wa, Toukyou no you na nigiyaka na machi yori Kyouto no you na shizuka na machi ga suki desu.
  • More than bustling cities like Tokyo, I like quiet ones like Kyoto.
  • あ の 人 は 日本語 を 日本人 の よ う に 上手 に 話 し ま す。
  • Ano hito wa nihongo or nihonjin no you neither jouzu nor hanashimasu.
  • He speaks Japanese like a native.

A similar but less flexible form than YOU DA is NIRU (NITE IRU)

  • あ な た は お 母 さ ん に 顔 が よ く 似 て い ま す ね。
  • Anata wa okaasan ni kao ga yoku nite imasu ne.
  • You look a lot like your mother.
  • 兄弟 だ か ら 、 声 が と て も 似 て い ま す。
  • Kyoudai dakara, koe ga totemo nite imasu.
  • As they are brothers, they are very similar in voice.

Another way to make comparisons or express the appearance of something is to add MITAI DA

  • 今日 は 春 み た い だ。
  • Kyou wa haru mitai da.
  • Today seems spring.
  • 今日 は 春 み た い な 日 だ。
  • Kyou wa haru mitai na hi da.
  • Today is a day like spring.


Particles are auxiliary words that are used to indicate the subject, direct complement, circumstantial complement, etc. Some of the Japanese particles do not have a Spanish equivalent.

WA – [は] – matter

  • 陽 子 さ ん は 大 学院 の 学生 で す。
  • Youko san wa daigakuin no gakusei desu
  • Youko is a graduate student.

(Literally as for Youko, she is a graduate student)

GA – [が] – subject

  • 私 は す し が 好 き で す。
  • Watashi wa sushi ga suki desu.
  • I like sushi (Literally, for me, sushi is nice to me)

O – [を] – direct complement

  • ト ラ コ は 小鳥 を み て い ま す。
  • Torako wa kotori or mite imasu.
  • Torako is looking at the bird.


Japanese verbs do not have different forms for person, number or gender. Verbs are listed in what is known as the simple form or dictionary form. All Japanese verbs, except for two irregular verbs, can be divided into two groups or conjugations that only differ in the way they form their roots and infinitives. The root could change, or add a suffix that indicates time, humor and courtesy.

Verbs godan (五 段, five steps), or Group I Verbs or U verbs are all those whose dictionary form does not end in -ERU or -IRU, along with a few that have these endings. The root is formed by removing the final -U; the infinitive is formed by adding -I to the root. These verbs are also known as consonant verbs.


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