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Writer: shan shan~#0008

The Japanese language is spoken by over 128 million people and counting and is considered, to English speakers, one of the most difficult languages to master. However, have you ever thought about how such a language came to exist? In this article, we will talk about the history and origination of the Japanese language.


Origin: Where it all started

The Japanese Language is said to have been brought to Japan by settlers coming from the Korean Peninsula in the Yayoi period. It is also said that the Chinese language had a very big influence on the vocabulary and phonology of the Japanese Language. Chinese documents from the 3rd century recorded a limited amount of Japanese words, as most of it did not appear until the 8th century. Old Japanese was firstly written using Chinese characters during the development of this language, however, a simpler syllable structure and distinctions came later as time went on.

Old Japanese is the first variant of the Japanese language, where it all began. The earliest forms would have been written in Classical Chinese, and some Chinese texts show influences of Japanese grammar, such as the word order. The earliest text, the “Kojiki”, goes all the way back to the early 8th century, and was written entirely in Chinese characters. The kanji were invented by the Chinese and then introduced to Japan, but some of the kanji characters were created by the Japanese themselves. The Old Japanese language also uses the “Man’yōgana” system of writing, which uses kanji for their phonetic as well as semantic values. However, Old Japanese has 88 distinct syllables, which was reduced to 67 in the Early Middle Japanese, although some were added through Chinese influence.

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The Build Up

The Japanese Language built up from the sequence of Early Middle Japanese, Late Middle Japanese, Early Modern Japanese and, of course, Modern Japanese. The difference between the Early Middle Japanese and Modern Japanese is how the language flourished more into its own originality as time went on. In other words, it branched out from the origin of Chinese Characters, and thus, simpler syllable structures and distinctions developed.

The language went through great changes such as how the grammar of these languages are completely different to old manuscripts. After learning from China, Japan had created their unique language but not systemic characters.

It has been said that Old Japanese’s vowel system was larger than that of Modern Japanese, as Old Japanese had extra syllables. It contained up to eight vowels, quite the difference from the five vowels of later Japanese. The vowel system would have to have reduced some time between these texts and the invention of “the kana” in the early 9th century.

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The Climax

After a lot of development and numerous historical changes, we are brought to 17th-19th century Japan, in which Modern Japanese is used everywhere, and is not uncommon to come across. The flow of loan words from other languages, hoever, has increased significantly. During the reign of the Edo period, Edo, now known as Tokyo, developed into the largest city in Japan, and the Edo-area dialect became standard Japanese. After 1945, not long after World War II, Modern Japanese become the standard language used today. The period since 1945 has seen many words borrowed from other languages, such as German, Portuguese and English, and is continuing to very slowly change over time.

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As the language has changed so much over thousands of years, it is going to keep changing for hundreds of thousands of years to come. The Japanese Language will continue to flourish, build words, change and reshape itself. Many people, as stated, speak this language, and it seems as though that number is going to rise as time goes on. In conclusion, history is writing itself right now as the language is slowly changing, and Japan will continue to develop in the near future.


Further Reading/Sources

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