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Practice English Speaking&Listening with: The Japanese Language

Difficulty: 0

Hello everyone.

Welcome to the Langfocus channel,

and my name is Paul.

Today's topic is, The Japanese language.

OrNihongo (日本語)❞ as it's called in Japanese.

Japanese has around 126 million native speakers.

Making it the 9th most spoken language in the world,

if we focus on native speakers alone.

It's spoken mainly in the North-East Asian nation of Japan.

And also to a limited extent in some emigrant communities

and among some elderly people living in Japan's

former colonies like Korea and Taiwan.

Japanese belongs to the "Japonic" language family

which also includes the endangered "Ryukyuan" languages

of Okinawa and the Amami Islands.

But the early history of Japanese and

its relationship to other languages is largely unknown.

There are theories that the Japanese and Korean languages

share a common ancestor.

And there are theories that Japanese and Korean

are part of a wider language family

called the Altaic language family.

Which also includes the Turkic languages,

Mongolian, and the Tungusic languages.

But, the Altaic language family, and the connection between

Japanese and Korean are theoretic.

They're hotly debated and are not generally accepted.

There are also theories, that Japanese arose from

contact between the language of the Yayoi people,

who migrated from the North-East Asian mainland

Into Japan 2- 3000 years go.

And the language or languages of the Jomon people

who were already living there?

But, the nature of the language is that these 2 groups of people

spoke is not clearly known?

Japanese was not a written language in

its early history, during the Yayoi period.

Which leaves us very little evidence of what it was

actually like during that time.

In the 3rd century CE, the Yamato state in Japan

established relations with China. And the next 600 years

would be a period of heavy Chinese influence.

During which the rulers and the elite thought that

emulates many aspects of Chinese culture.

Written Chinese was probably introduced to Japan

in the 4th Century.

And since Japanese had no written form,

"Classical Chinese became the first literary language" used by the elite.

Later, "Chinese characters" began being adapted to "write Japanese."

The earliest examples we have of Japanese

writing are from the 8th century

and there are 2 forms. Kanbun (漢文)

Kanbun (漢文)

And, Man'yōgana (万葉仮名)

Man'yōgana (万葉仮名)

kanbun was the writing of Japanese in "Classical Chinese style,"

using Chinese characters to represent

the meaning of Japanese words.

these texts were essentially Chinese,

but were "intended to be readable in Japanese."

Man'yōgana was a way of writing Japanese

entirely in Chinese characters, with

most of the "characters representing the phonetic sound" of

the underlying Japanese syllables.

For example,

The Japanese word for "mountain" - yama -

was written using these 2 Chinese characters:

for their phonetic value,

rather than using the Chinese character.

Which means mountain, which is the character used today?

And not only one Chinese character was used for each sound.

Numerous different characters could be

used to represent the same sound.

For example,

the syllables "ka" could be represented by

any of the following characters:

Writing Japanese characters phonetically using Chinese characters

that had no connection to the meaning,

must have felt like a lot of unnecessary hard work.

So, 2 systems of simplified phonetic characters

developed from the Man'yōgana system

in the 8th and 9th centuries

in order to simplify the writing process.

These 2 systems wereHiragana (ひらがな)❞ andKatakana (カタカナ)❞

one of the main uses of these

newKana (仮名)❞ systems was to annotateKanbun (漢文)❞ text.

So, that Japanese speakers could read these classical Chinese

or Chinese style texts as though they were Japanese.

Chinese characters represented the meaning of the content words

while Kana provided the pronunciation,

as well as the grammatical elements and inflections

that were not present in Chinese.

Some diacritic marks also indicated how to change the word order

when reading the text in Japanese.

This method of annotating Chinese texts with "Kana"

was the precursor to the Modern Japanese writing system.

Through this process of trying to make written Chinese language

fit with the spoken Japanese language,

a huge amount of Chinese vocabulary entered Japanese.

Chinese characters were sometimes

annotated to be pronounced with their Chinese pronunciation.

Known asON-YOMI (音読み)❞ and sometimes pronounced

as a native Japanese word with a similar meaning.

These pronunciations are known asKUN-YOMI (訓読み)❞

Such Chinese words have become an integral part of Japanese,

comprising 60% of the total vocabulary (particularly in writing).

During the Late Middle Japanese period,

from the year 1185 to 1600.

Japanese continued to develop and moved

closer towards Modern Japanese

phonologically in particular.

Towards the end of this time period, In the year 1543

the first Europeans visited Japan.

And some European vocabulary, entered Japanese

through contact with traders and missionaries.

This contact mostly came to a halt

during theperiod of national isolation

from 1603-1853.

During this time, contact with foreigners was strictly limited to

a couple of specific places, like the Dutch trading post

Dejimain Nagasaki.

A significant number of Dutch loanwords

did entered Japanese during this time period,

some of them common everyday words.

Like; "garasu (ガラス)," from "glas."

"ranpu (ランプ)," from "lamp."

"kōhī (コーヒー)," from "koffie."

"koppu (コップ)," from "kop" (cup).

These words are examples ofgairaigo (外来語)❞

loanwords aside from Chinese borrowings and compounds

normally loanwords from European languages.

Which are normally written in Katakana.

This period of isolation took place during the Edo Period

during which the capital moved from Kansai to Edo.

Present-day Tokyo. And the Edo dialect

became the standard variety of Japanese.

After this period of isolation ended in 1853,

interaction with the outside world greatly increased.

And this affected the Japanese language

as it entered the Meiji Period.

The number of gairaigo began to Increase.

But even more than that

many new compound words were created from Chinese characters,

and pronounced using their Chinese pronunciation,

the "ON-yomi" pronunciation.

These new compounds words, were created to

represent new Western concepts,

as well as advanced academic vocabulary in the arts,

sciences, math, and technology.

These new words that were coined using Chinese characters

are referred to as "wasei kango (和製漢語)"

Which means something like, "Japan-made Chinese words."

Since the end of World WarⅡ,

Japanese has adopted a large number of gairaigo,

in particular from English.

Some of these represent everyday modern concepts, like;

コンピューター (konpyūtā) "computer."

And others represent specialized vocabulary of

academia and technology.

During the Meiji period, such specialized vocabulary

would have probably been created from Chinese compounds.

But in recent decades, English has been a much bigger

source of new vocabularies.

Varieties of Japanese.

Standard Japanese today is based on the dialect of Tokyo.

But there are also numerous unique and colorful

regional and local dialects as well.

There are the distinctive dialects of the Kansai region,

which other Japanese people often associate with comedy.

Then there are the dialects of Tohoku

(which a lot of people have trouble understanding).

And there are the dialects of Okinawa

which retains some "elements of" the area's

old "Ryukyuan" languages. And many more.

Almost everywhere you go in Japan

there is a distinctive local dialect.

The dialects of today are much closer to Standard Japanese

than they were in the past.

There are still some people who speak full-on traditional dialects:

in particular older people, working class people,

and people in the countryside.

Basically, if someone meets at least two of those criteria

that person probably uses much more

dialectal speech than a lot of other people.

The majority of people speak something

close to Standard Japanese.

But, with some elements from the traditional dialect.

And when speaking politely to strangers or

informal situations people tend to avoid dialectal speech.

So, what is Japanese like?


The basics of Japanese phonology are quite simple.

There are only 5 vowels in Japanese.






There are also long versions of these vowels.

あー ā

いー ī

うー ū

えー ē

おー ō

The distinction between short and long vowels is

important to the meaning of words.

Japanese vowels are always fully articulated, and are not reduced

like they sometimes are in English.

The consonants of Japanese are for the most part

similar to those of English,

and cause few problems for learners.

Japanese syllables basically all end in a vowel.

This makes pronunciation fairly simple.

Because there are a few consonant clusters.

You normally don't have to pronounce

multiple consonants side by side.

There are a couple of exceptions to this,

one is doubled consonants.

For example the word,

学校 "school" gakkou

if we pronounce these characters separately they are

ga"k"u + "k"ou

But because the consonants in these 2 syllables, is the same,

they merge together, as 1 lengthened consonant.

Written with a small letter, 2 between them,

to indicate that you hold the consonant

for twice as long.

you don't say "gaku-kou"

But, ga"kk"ou が "っ" こう

another exception is having a nasal sound

followed by another consonant.

The nasal sound

Functions as its own syllable without a vowel.

So, we have words like,

かんぱい 乾杯 (kanpai)

Which means, cheers.

To be completely precise, each Japanese Kana character,

represents a rhythmic unit called a "mora", rather than a syllable.

So, in the word;

Ka-n-pa-i かんぱい

There are 4 distinct, mora.

But if we think of it in terms of syllables,

It has just 2 syllables.

And in this word,

ga-k-ko-u がっこう

There are 4 moras.

But, in terms of syllables, it just has 2.

So, there are a couple of situations,

when a syllable doesn't end in a vowel.

But, for the most part, syllables end in vowels.

This becomes very clear, when you look at some of the gairaigo

foreign loanwords in Japanese.

in English there's "cake," but in Japanese it's

ケーキ (kēki) With the vowel, "e" at the end.

And notice the long vowel is much more distinct in Japanese.

Another example, in Englishhard disk" in Japanese

ハードディスク (hādodisuku)

And here's a bit of a wild example,

how do you say "McDonald's" in Japanese?

マクドナルド (makudonarudo)

This aspect of Japanese phonology, may make it a little bewildered to

use loanwords from English, or other languages.

But it makes it easier to pronounce native Japanese words.

One aspect of Japanese phonology

that can be challenging for learners is pitch accent.

This is something that a lot of learning materials

don't even mention at all.

Japanese moras have either a high pitch or a low pitch.

With the high pitch representing the accent of a word.

There are cases when pitch accent indicates

a distinction and meaning.

For example;

はし 端

Meaning, "end."

This word has an accent, on the second mora.

はし 橋 "bridge."

This word has an accent, on the first mora.


はし 箸

Meaning, "chop-sticks."

And this word has an accent, on the second mora.

Pitch accent also differs depending on the dialect of the speaker.

For learners, incorrect pitch accent rarely creates

problems for communication,

but it does give you a distinct foreign accent.

Word Order.

The basic word order of Japanese is SOV.

Subject - Object - Verb.

With the verb coming at the end.

In English we have, Paul ate takoyaki.

Or Paul ate (some) takoyaki.

But let's keep it simple for now,

in Japanese this sentence is

ポールがたこ焼きを食べた Pōru ga takoyaki o tabeta

Takoyaki by the way, are fried octopus dumplings.

Here's the subject, followed by thesubject marker=が(ga)❞

then the object, followed by theobject marker=を(o)❞

and here's the verb.

but in Japanese, various elements of the sentence can be dropped

if they are obvious from the context.

If you're speaking about yourself, and you say

たこ焼きを食べた takoyaki o tabeta

With no subjects, this is understood as meaning,

"I ate takoyaki."

But if you're speaking about your brother,

then it would be understood as, "He ate Takoyaki."

Or if somebody asks, who ate the Takoyaki?

the answer might be

私が食べた watashi ga tabeta

Meaning, "I ate (it)."

Even though the object is not mentioned.

Again, the object is obvious from the context.

Or let's say you ask Micky. Where did the Takoyaki go??

たこ焼きはどこに行ったの? takoyaki wa doko ni itta no?

You'll probably say

食べた tabeta

Meaning, "(I) ate (it)."

Even though there's no subject or object

they're obvious from the context.

There are also equation all sentences, that contain no verb,

but they end in a "verbal form."

A verbal form, can be a Noun + a copula

or an Adjective + a copula.

イチローさんは、野球選手だ Ichiro-san wa yakyū senshu da

This means, "Ichiro is a baseball player."

Here there's no verb, just the Subject + Topic marker.

Which will come back to you later,

than a noun, plus the copula "だ (da)."

この寿司屋さんは高いです kono sushi ya-san wa takai desu

This means, "This sushi shop is expensive."

here we have the Subject, Topic marker

then an adjective, plus a copula "です (desu)."

notice that the copulas are different,

"だ (da)" is the "casual form,"

while "です (desu)" is the "polite form."

if we want to say the second sentence casually,

we take away the copula.

Sinceis not used after adjectives, only nouns.

Topic marker and subject marker.

Just now, we saw 2 special little words;

"は (wa)" and, "が (ga)"

"は (wa)" is the "topic marker," and "が (ga)" is the "subject marker."

What's the difference?

They both seem to be placed after the subject of the sentence, right?

Well, the topic markeris used

when you want to talk about something

that is already part of the conversation,

and make it the topic.

So that everything else in the sentence relates to it.

Take this example.

田中さんは優しい人です Tanaka-san wa yasashī hito desu

This means, ❝Mr. Tanaka is a nice person.❞

The use ofin the sentence.

Means that, Mr.Tanaka has already been mentioned in the conversation.

with something like the nuance of...

Speaking of Mr. Tanaka, he is a nice person.❞

The subject marker が, on the other hand,

is used when you introduce something new to the conversation.

今日先生が怒った kyou sensei ga okotta

This means, "The teacher got angry today."

Here, 先生 (sensei) the teacher is new information,

this is the first time the teacher

has been mentioned in the conversation.

By the way, in the sentence you could add は (wa), after 今日 (kyou)

to make 今日 the topic of the sentence.

also has a second important use,

which is to "focus" on something.

For example, if you say

私がご飯を作る watashi ga gohan o tsukuru

That means, "I'll cook a meal."

With emphasis on "I".

In English, we do this by stressing and increasing the volume of a word.

Like, I'll cook a meal.

To be honest, I prefer to think ofas a focus marker

because of the use I just mentioned

and also because, it can be used to mark the "object"

when the object is stressed.

ドーナツが食べたい dōnatsu ga tabetai

Which means. ❝I want to eat donuts.❞

With the emphasis on "Donuts."

Or you could think of it likeDonuts are what I want to eat.❞

is also used to mark the object of certain stative verbs.

For example,

彼は英語が出来る kare wa eigo ga dekiru

in this sentence 英語 (eigo) is the object, and the subject is 彼 (kare)

And it's also the topic.

In which case, は is used instead of

There are also some other sentences in which what seems to be

the object is actually the subject and is marked by

For example,

りんごが欲しい ringo ga hoshī

which means, ❝I want an apple.❞

Word-for-word It's apple-subject marker-

or focus marker want.

in the sentence, " Hoshī " is actually an adjective meaning "desirable,"

so the subject is "ringo."

But learners would often mistake ringo for the object.

And try to use the object marker を (o)

Japanese has numerous other particles aside fromand

Particles are words that indicate the relationship of

a word, or a phrase or a clause,

to the rest of the sentence.

They always come after the word they're connected to.

Some show grammatical function of the word like は (wa) が (ga)

and the object marker を (o),

while others function like prepositions.

For example,

から (kara) meaning "from" に (ni) meaning "to"

and, の (no) meaning "of" or showing possession.


Japanese is to a large extent and "agglutinative" language

(particularly in its verbs)

In agglutinative languages, words have a relatively

high number of morphemes.

Rather than expressing an additional idea by adding an extra word,

you can add an additional affix to an existing word.

Let's say, this simple verb.

怒る okoru

which means, "to get angry."

"okoru" is the "stem," and "u" is the "dictionary form ending."

Which we can take away, we can add various suffixes to the stem

to add to its core meaning.

怒られる okorareru

this is the passive form ofget angry.❞

And it can be translated as "to be scolded."

Let's get rid of the る (ru) and add た (ta)

怒られた okorareta

This means, "I got scolded" or,

"(Someone) got angry at me."

And note that this is just a verb, with no pronouns.

But who you're talking about would be clear from the context.

た (ta) indicates the past tense.

Now, let's go back to the stem, and add a different suffix

"aseru" which creates the causative form.

怒らせる okoraseru

meaning, ❝to make (someone) angry.❞

Now, let's take this る (ru) away and add this;

怒らせたい okorase"tai" → "want to."

This means, ❝(I) want to make (someone) angry.❞

Just from this word, we don't know who someone is,

but the object would be clear from the context.

Even though the meaning is weird

let's say this means, ❝I want to make you angry.❞

Now, let's make this a negative, to do that

we take off い (i), and replace it with く (ku),

to make a connecting form then we add ない (nai)

怒らせたく "ない" okorasetaku"nai"

This means, ❝I "don't" want to make you angry.❞

And again, the you part depends on the context.

Now let's make it past tense,

怒らせたく "なかった" okorasetaku"nakatta"

This means, ❝I "didn't" want to make you angry.❞

なかった (nakatta) is the past tense form of ない (nai)

with た (ta) indicating the past tense.

So, you can see that Japanese verbs are highly agglutinative.

Vocabulary and the writing system.

As I mentioned before when talking about the history of Japanese.

Japanese vocabulary is a combination of:

Native Japanese words for 和語 (wago)

Chinese loanwords or words created from

Chinese characters 漢語 (kango)

and loanwords from other languages or 外来語 (gairaigo)

A typical Japanese sentence includes

Kanji or Chinese characters, as well as Hiragana.

One of the 2 Kana syllabaries that I mentioned earlier.

The Chinese characters sometimes represent kango.

So, the Kanji are pronounced with their ON-yomi.

But they sometimes represent native Japanese words

pronounced with their KUN-yomi.

Some native Japanese words are also written in Hiragana.

But Hiragana is mainly used for

"writing the grammatical elements of the sentence,"

such as particles, and inflections.

私は今日学校に行きたくない。 watashi wa kyou gakkou ni ikitakunai

This means, ❝I don't want to go to school today.❞

Word for word is,

I-topic marker-


to-don't want to go.

Here let's start with the verb,

its dictionary form is iku (行く)

ikitakunai (行きたくない) means, don't want to go.

The Chinese character here represents the meaning "go."

But phonetically it only represents the first syllable i (い) and Ki (き)

comes after the kanji.

That's because this sound changes depending on the form of the verb.

The way that suffixes are added to

the stem, is meant to be read in Hiragana.

This use of Hiragana to show the inflections

and part of a kanji's pronunciation is called "okurigana."

Moving back a little we have 学校 (gakkou)

this is a kango a Chinese compound.

It's followed by the particle に (ni) meaning, "to."

Then here we have 今日 (kyou) another kango,

then we have 私 (watashi)

Which is a native Japanese word, represented by a Chinese character

using it kun-yomi pronunciation.

Let me pause for a little sidenote here.

I've been sayingon-yomiandkun-yomias though

there's just one a reach for every kanji,

but it's not really that simple.

There are often multiple ON-yomi readings and multiple kun-yomi

readings for a single character.

And some of them have additional

irregular pronunciations when used in names.

Which pronunciation you use depends on the context.

For example;

when you see okurigana you know that

you're using a kun-yomi, and not an ON-yomi.

And a quick sidenote about kango.

Many kango can be turned into verbs

by adding the word, "suru" meaning, "to do."

For example,

料理 ryouri

Which means, "cuisine."


料理 "する" ryouri "suru"

Which means, "to make food" / "to cook."

協力 kyouryoku

Means, cooperation.


協力 "する" kyouryoku "suru"

Means, "to cooperate."

Some Japanese sentences also contain "katakana,"

usually to represent "外来語" (gairaigo)

foreign loanwords that aren't kango.

"カメラ"の使い方が分からない "kamera" no tsukaikata ga wakaranai

This means, ❝ I don't know how to use the "camera" ❞

word-for-word its camera-possessive particle-

use-way-subject marker-don't know.

Here we see the word カメラ written in katakana.

Then we see the kanji meaning "use"

followed by okurigana い (i)

So we know it's a kun-yomi pronunciation.

Then there's "方 (kata)" which means, "way."

So, tsukaikata means, "way of using."

Then we see the subject marker or focus marker

in this case, marking the object then we see "wakaranai"

Which means, "I don't know."

Again, this is a chinese character with okurigana.

There are no kango in this sentence.

The 2 syllabaries, hiragana and katakana,

are more or less two versions of the same script.

Each letter in either alphabet has an equivalent In the other.

And they often look fairly similar,

except that katakana tends to be more angular,

while Hiragana is rounder.

"Why do some Hiragana and Katakana pairs

look so similar while others don't?"

Well, if you remember before,

the kana syllabaries, developed from Kanji.

In some cases, Hiragana and Katakana characters

developed from the same kanji.

But In other cases they developed from different kanji.

The kana syllabaries are quite easy to learn.

But as learners of Japanese inevitably discovered

reading a sentence written entirely in kana

is actually harder than reading a sentence that contains kanji

provided that you know the kanji.

That's because kanji give you an immediate visual cue of a word.

So you understand the meaning more quickly than

if you have to phonetically pronounce all the kana.

As you can see Japanese is a fascinating multifaceted language.

In fact, there are so many different interesting aspects to the language

that people feel intimidated,

because they think that they can't learn everything.

Well, who cares if you learn everything?

You don't need to know 2,000 kanji characters

or be really good with honorifics in order to,

talk and make friends with Japanese speakers.

Or to enjoy Japanese Manga, animation, and music.

Japanese is a very rewarding language to learn

even at a basic or intermediate level.

And the richness of the language will provide you

with countless treasures to discover

no matter how far you go with the language.

Special thanks to Hiromi.

Who recorded the Japanese samples for this video.

She's not only a Langfocus viewer.

She is also, a special woman in my life

my partner in crime, and a lovely person.

Please say hi, to Hiromi, in the comments down below.

Be sure to follow langefocus on Facebook, Twitter,

and Instagram. And once again

I want to say thank you to my amazing Patreon supporters.

Especially these people right here on the screen

for their monthly pledges.

An exclusive bonus scene on Japanese honorific language

will be available to these people and some other patrons

on the Langfocus Patreon page.

Bonus clips like this are one way of saying thanks to my Patrons.

Thank you for watching, and have a nice day!

The Description of The Japanese Language