Japanese Nihongo (日本語)
Estimated native speakers: 130 million
Estimated total speakers: 135 million
Official/de facto official language in: Japan, Palau
Language family: Japonic
A brief history:
The development of modern Japanese has been influenced by centuries of isolation, followed by a rapid shift towards internationalism. Little is known about the early history of Japanese as writing was only introduced from China in the 8th century AD. After that point, Chinese had a significant influence on Japanese, along with increasing use of European loanwords up until the introduction of Sakoku in 1633. For 220 years from this point, no foreigner could enter nor could any Japanese leave the country on penalty of death. So it was that while a massive exchange of ideas and words was taking place in Europe, Japan looked inwards.
The language that developed has an extensive grammatical system to express politeness and formality. Standard Japanese is called Hyojungo and is based on the dialect of Tokyo, although it is now widely used nationwide. There are other dialects, including Kanazawa, Kyoto, Ehime and Okinawa. Eastern dialects are closer to the official norm and those of the West are closer to the dialect of Osaka. More than 99% of citizens speak Japanese as their mother tongue, making Japan one of the most linguistically homogenous countries on the planet.
Since the end of Sakoku in 1853, the flow of loanwords from European languages has increased and some new additions include intaanetto ("Internet"), pasokon (a shortening of "personal computer") and kamera ("camera").
Japanese uses three systems of writing: Hiragana, Katakana, and Kanji.
- Katakanas are used above all for the transcription of foreign words
- Hiraganas represent all specific elements, notably endings, suffixes and other particles
- Kanjis are used to represent the meaning of words of Chinese origin