5 Facts About The Japanese Language That May Surprise You


Die-hard anime fan? Or perhaps you can’t get enough of Japan’s rich historical culture, or are thinking of taking your business to Japan. Many people today are interested in the Japanese language, and this is evident by the sheer number of folks signing up for Japanese language classes in Singapore. Clearly, the desire to learn Japanese and get ever so close to Japanese culture is on the rise.

The average person may know a smattering of Japanese like konnichiwa(‘good day’) and arigato(‘thank you’), but here are some fun facts about Japanese that may just make you go nani?!

Japanese is one of the fastest spoken languages

Ever noticed that speakers of certain languages tend to speak quicker than others? It has been empirically observed that speakers of different languages speak at different rates. Languages such as Mandarin and Vietnamese were found to be delivered slower, while Japanese is spoken quite rapidly. We’re looking at almost eight syllables per second for Japanese, which easily beats out languages such as Italian or French. One theory for this is that the Japanese language requires more syllables to convey the same amount of information compared to in other languages, so Japanese speakers make up for it by speaking quicker.

Japanese has three writing systems

Chinese learners, take note! If you think learning Chinese is hard due to having to memorise all those Chinese characters, Japanese learners will have you know they have it harder. Written Japanese has 3 systems, called hiraganakatakana, and kanji.

Hiragana is the native writing system of Japanese, used for pure Japanese words and function words. Katakana is used for loanwords and names, such as English words, or scientific terms. Kanji is adopted from Chinese characters and is logographic. This means that a kanji character reflects both meaning and pronunciation. In contrast, Hiragana and Katakana are both syllabic systems, where one character corresponds to one syllable, and they have no meaning on their own.

Japanese is not related to Chinese

Most languages around the world are related to other languages in one way or another. You can think of it like family trees, where languages have relatives and parents. For example, English is a Germanic language, meaning that it is historically closely related to other Germanic languages like German and Dutch. They derive from a common parent language, and share similarities in phonology (the sound system of the language) and morphology (the structure and grammar of the language).

However, Japanese is not directly related to any other language. If you think it may be related to Chinese languages, that is not the case! Only the writing systems and several loanwords were adopted from Chinese, but native Japanese is not actually related to Chinese.

Japanese has the ninth-largest population of speakers

In terms of the number of speakers, Japanese is the ninth most used language in the world. This population of speakers includes the 130 million-strong population of Japan, and learners of Japanese around the world. While the use of Japanese is relatively concentrated to the region of Japan, the population of Japanese learners around the world is growing.

Singapore Japanese courses similarly report an increasing number of students who are attracted to the Japanese language. Speaking a language with a large population of speakers make it a valuable tool in communications, opening up possibilities of working in translation and interpretation, diplomatic relations, or working in a Japanese company.

Japanese is the fourth most used language on the web

As mentioned, Japanese has the ninth-largest population of speakers in the world. But did you know it is also the fourth most commonly used language on the Internet? Only English, Russian, and German see greater online usage than Japanese. This is a testimony to the prolific usage of the Internet in Japan, and the large population of Japanese Internet users.

So, if you are a Japanese learner, it should be no sweat to look up Japanese resources on the Internet, or even find a Japanese buddy to chat with and practice your Japanese online.

Indeed, Japanese is a language with a rich history and some very unique characteristics. Its appeal is evident by its increasing usage, and it doesn’t seem to be slowing any time soon.

Did any of these facts surprise you? Share the love of Japanese today, and consider learning more about the language yourself!

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