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Learn Japanese: Face-to-Face and Online Classes Offered

About Learning Japanese with Berlitz

Japanese is spoken by virtually the entire population of Japan, now about 125 million.

No definite link has been established between Japanese and any other language, living or dead. Though it adopted the Chinese pictographic characters in the 3rd century AD, Japanese is not in any way related to Chinese. It does resemble Korean in grammatical structure, and some have argued that they are distantly related. But this remains to be proven.

The Japanese ideographs, known as kanji, number in the thousands. An educated person can read as many as 5,000 of them; school children are expected to know close to 1,000 by the time they complete elementary school. After World War II the government published a list of 1,850 that it considered basic; this was expanded to 1,945 in 1981.

The kanji designate the chief meaningful words of the language: nouns, verbs, and adjectives. They are supplemented, however, by the kana, or syllabic characters, which are used chiefly to designate suffixes, particles, conjunctions, and other grammatical forms. There are two types of kana, each consisting of 50 characters: the hiragana, which is cursive in shape and in general use, and the katakana, which is angular in shape and is used mainly in imperial proclamations and in the transcription of foreign words. Each kana character stands for a single syllable rather than for a whole word. Theoretically any Japanese word can be written exclusively in the kana (children’s primers are written entirely in katakana) but the large number of homonyms in the language makes this impractical. Modern Japanese, therefore, is written with a mixture of kanji and kana characters. The Roman alphabet, called Romaji in Japan, has also begun to come into use, but it is confined mainly to the spelling of foreign names (especially brand names) and in international acronyms.

English words of Japanese origin include kimono, geisha, sukiyaki, sushi, hibachi, jujitsu, karate, samurai, hara-kiri, and kamikaze.

Kenzaburo Oe was the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1994.

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Authorized from the original edition of The Languages of the World 3rd edition by Keneth Katzner published by Routledge, a member of the Taylor & Francis Group.

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