Japanese language basics

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Today I’m talking about the Japanese language basics.

When you start learning Japanese, you may find the Japanese language is very different from your own native language.

Indeed, it’s a unique language. The linguists thought it was an isolated language. Isolated language means the language which has no generic relationship to other languages. Recently, most linguists believe that the Japanese language has some relations to the Ryukyuan language, the native language in Okinawa islands. Okinawa is the southern island in Japan and has unique culture and history.

It means, if you are not a native speaker of the Ryukyuan language, the Japanese language is very new for you.

So before you dive into the details of Japanese grammar, it might be helpful to look at the unique feature of the Japanese language.

It will help you to understand the language more easily.

1.    Three writing systems are used.

Most modern languages have writing systems, such as Latin alphabets.

In the Japanese language, we use not one but three writing systems, Hiragana, Katakana, and Kanji.

Each writing system has its own function, and we use all of them in the exact text.

For example,

 

小林さんは明日カナダへ行きます。

Kobayashi san wa ashita Kanada e ikimasu.

Ms. Kobayashi will go to Canada tomorrow.

 

This sentence includes Hiragana, Katakana, and Kanji.

Hiragana さん は へ きます

Katakana カナダ

Kanji 小林 明日 行

All three are used in just one sentence!

If you’d like to learn more about Hiragana, Katakana, and Kanji, I recommend these workbooks for you.

Complete Japanese Hiragana

Complete Japanese Katakana

Japanese Kanji for beginners coming soon!

 

2.    The particles play essential roles.

The Japanese language has a particular type of word called a particle. Particles show how a previous noun word works in a sentence.

In English, you have prepositions, such as “in,” “on,” or “at.” Japanese Particles are similar, but they come after a word and play more critical roles in a sentence.

For example, in the same sentence above,

 

小林さん明日カナダ行きます。

Kobayashi san wa ashita Kanada e ikimasu.

Ms. Kobayashi will go to Canada tomorrow.

 

In this sentence, the underlined words are particles.

The first particle “は” is pronounced as “wa,” and indicates that the word before it, in this case, “小林さん (Ms. Kobayashi)” is the topic of the sentence. 

The second particle “へ” is pronounced as “e,” and shows that the word before it, “カナダ (Canada)” is the direction to go to.

Particles are very short but important in Japanese.

 

3.    A subject is often omitted

In the Japanese language, if the subject is evident, we tend to omit it.

For example, if everybody knows that we are talking about 小林さん (Kobayashi san, Ms. Kobayashi), the same sentence above can be presented as:

 

明日カナダへ行きます。

Ashita Kanada e ikimasu.

 

It doesn’t have a subject, “小林さん (Kobayashi san, Ms. Kobayashi)” but it is fine as everybody understands who we are talking about.

But it can be very confusing for learners.

 

4.    The end of a sentence shows the most crucial part

In the English sentence, the important part comes at the beginning of a sentence.

For example,

 

Ms. Kobayashi will go to Canada tomorrow.

 

The word order is that:

Subject (Ms. Kobayashi), Tense (will), Verb (go), direction (to Canada), time (tomorrow).

So the subject, the tense, and the verb word come at the beginning of the sentence.

Ms. Kobayashi will go.

 

But in the Japanese language, the sentence is like this:

 

小林さんは明日カナダへ行きます。

Kobayashi san wa ashita Kanada e ikimasu.

 

Subject (Kobayashi san wa(Ms. Kobayashi)), time (ashita (tomorrow)), direction (Kanada e (to Canada), Tense and Verb (ikimasu (will go))

The critical parts, the subject, the tense and the verb, are separated at the beginning and the end of the sentence.

And, due to rule No. 3, the subject is often omitted.

It means that the end of the sentence is usually the most crucial part of the sentence, because it shows the verb, and the tense.

This word order requires patience from the listener/reader. When you hear/read a sentence, you won’t know what will happen at the end of the sentence. The sentence you are reading right now might be a negative sentence, or a past tense sentence, or even a question sentence. You have to listen/read carefully until the end.

The language affects our attitude as a listener/reader.

 

Today I explained the unique feature of the Japanese language.

  1. Three writing systems are used.
  2. The particles play essential roles
  3. A subject is often omitted
  4. The end of a sentence shows the most crucial part

If you understand these features before you start learning Japanese, it will be easier to master it!

Enjoy Learning! ✨😊✨

Asuka Sensei

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