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Language Reference Guide For Japanese
Posted on Monday, October 15 @ 05:15:39 EDT
Topic: Lingustics

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1. Grammar and Spelling
2. Punctuation
3. Measurements and Abbreviations
4. Hyphenation
5. Miscellaneous Peculiarities
6. Geographic Distribution
7. Character Set

Section One – Grammar and Spelling

Japanese consists of two phonetic alphabets, collectively known as kana, and also uses Chinese characters called Kanji. Each of the three types of writing system is used for a specific purpose, and all three can appear mixed together in any text. One way of distinguishing Japanese text from Chinese text is to look for the more simple (less dense) phonetic characters which are letters from the two Japanese alphabets.

1. Hiragana Alphabet – used for some whole Japanese words and for grammatical endings on words made of a Chinese character (Kanji) stem.

2. Katakana Alphabet – used for the transliteration of foreign words. A huge number of modern usage words, mostly English, but also other foreign language words, are simply transliterated in Japanese. These are written in katakana, which is a simplified version of hiragana. Katakana is also used to write onomatopoeic words.

3. Kanji – Derived from Chinese characters (virtually identical to Traditional Chinese characters), kanji represent the main meaningful words of the language – nouns, verbs and adjectives. They are, however, supplemented by the kana, or syllabic characters, which are used chiefly to designate suffixes, particles, conjunctions, and other grammatical forms. Modern Japanese, therefore, is written with a mixture of kanji and kana characters.

There are no genders, cases or articles in Japanese, and the distinction between singular and plural is not made unless it is of great significance.

Japanese sentence construction is different to English in that it follows a subject, object, verb word order.

Section Two Punctuation

The Japanese writing system does not use word spaces. Hyphenation is therefore not needed when a word breaks between two lines. Text sometimes flows vertically, in which case it is read from right to the left, but most documents created on computers flow horizontally from left to right in the same way as English text.

1. Full stops: Full stops are larger than in English, and appear as a hollow circle: 。

2. Commas: Commas look like a backward version of an English comma: 、

3. Dashes: Long dashes are used to lengthen vowel sounds, particularly in words written in katakana, for example: コーヒー

4. Questions marks: Question marks have been introduced due to the influence of Western languages, so are now often used at the end of sentences. However, the hiragana letter か at the end of a sentence indicates that it is a question. Full stops should be used at the end of questions in official documents.

5. Speech marks: Instead of quotation marks, Japanese uses 「 and 」or 『and 』.

6. Colons and semi-colons: Like question marks, colons and semicolons are a recent addition to Japanese text, and are used in the same way as in English.

Section Three Measurements and Abbreviations

There are no native Japanese numerals. Chinese numerals may occur in literary text, but in technical text and computer interfaces Western numerals are more common.

The metric system is generally used, although Japanese-specific measurements are still used in some areas, for example the area of land, floor space, etc.

English abbreviations for metric measurements are generally used, for example m, cm, km, g.

Dates are always written in the order Year/Month/Day eg. 2004/02/20. The Japanese-specific year system based on the Emperor’s year of accession is also still widely used. Under this system 2004 is Heisei year 16.

The Japanese currency yen is written as “¥”.

Section Four – Hyphenation

There are no spaces between words in Japanese, so hyphens are not necessary when a word is broken between two lines.

Section Five – Miscellaneous Peculiarities

Surnames are normally given before the first name.

When text is written vertically, lines start from the right hand side of the page and continue to the left. As most literary publications still use this system, front and back covers of Japanese books and magazines are often the ‘wrong’ way round for Western language speakers.

Section Six – Geographic Distribution

Japanese, spoken by more than 125 million people in Japan, ranks among the top ten languages of the world. No definite link has been established between Japanese and any other language, living or dead.

Though it adopted the Chinese picto-graphic characters in the 3rd century A.D., Japanese is not, as is sometimes thought, genetically related to Chinese. Japanese does resemble Korean in grammatical structure, and though some scholars have suggested that they are related, this remains to be proven.

Japanese is spoken/used in the following countries:
Australia, Brazil, Guam (U.S.), Hawaii (U.S. State), Japan, Korea (South), Micronesia, Palau (Republic of), Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Taiwan, United States of America.

Language Family
Family: Independent

Katzner, K. The Languages of the World. Routledge.
Available from http://www.worldlanguage.com/Languages/Japanese
(Accessed March 2004)

Section Seven – Character Sets


sa shi suse so
hahi fu he ho 
ya yu yo
rarirure ro
wa   o

sa shi suse so
hahi fu he ho 
ya yu yo
rarirure ro
wa   o

All three character types can appear mixed together in a sentence:




By Wordbank Ltd,
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