| Nihongo - The Japanese Language
There is a belief in Japan that the Japanese belong to a Solar Kingdom, because their Emperor is a divine descendent of the Sun Goddess - Amaterasu Omikami.
Amaterasu was called "the Great Shining Goddess of the Sky". Because she was so beautiful, the gods decided to raise her on the Sky Ladder and remain there forever. Thus, her beauty and brightness would shine forever over the Earth.
For this reason in Japan the Sun adoration was practiced for a long time.
The strangers used to speak about Japan as 'the country of the Rising Sun', "Hi no moto".
Therefore, the Sun, "Hi no maru" became the symbol for Japan and it was instituted as the national flag of Japan.
Nihon, the Kanji used for writing Japan have the meaning of "Solar roots".
Hence, one can translate Nihongo as "the language with Solar roots".
Beyond the poetry included in this name, the language itself is definitely related to the Japanese culture and traditions.
Nihongo is a polysyllabic language. Therefore, the association of the vowels with the consonants renders a certain melodic line to the Japanese words..
Comparing the Japanese and Rumanian grammar, the following are the major characteristics of the Japanese language.
1) In a sentence, the predicate verb is always situated at the end.
2) A verb has no ending to indicate person and number.
3) There is no article.
4) One and the same form of a noun is indicated by means of various particles occurring after the noun or pronoun.
5) The case of a noun or a pronoun is indicated by means of various particles occurring after the noun or the pronoun.
6) Subject and object are easily omitted, if they are understood in a context.
Japanese language is a post positional language, meaning that grammatical markers, such as prepositions come after the nouns they modify. These grammatical markers are called particles.
The Writing in the Japanese Language
In the Japanese language there are used four different ways of writing which convey to a very high level of linguistic complexity.
The four systems are römaji (Latin characters), the hiragana and katagana native syllabaries and kanji (the writing characters borrowed from China over 1600 years ago).
There are thousands of Chinese characters which include a specific way of reading, different signification and shape.
Kana is the system mostly used for writing a text in Japanese Language.
It includes two related syllabaries: hiragana and katagana.
Hiragana ( hiragana) are characters which represent sounds. In fact, they are syllables.
Generally, a syllable is composed of a consonant and a vowel, but there are situations when a vowel alone might be a syllable.
The modern Japanese language includes five vowels and 14 basic consonants, which form the phonemes of the language:
vowels: a, i, u, e, o;
consonants: k, s, t, n, h, m, y, r, w, g, z, d, b, p.
The basic kana syllables are inserted into a matrix shape table that is called sometimes "the table of the 50 sounds" ( gojüon zu sau gojüon hyö - although it has only 48 sounds).
Katakana ( katakana) is also a native Japanese syllabary, which renders with few exceptions the same phonemes as hiragana syllabary.
Unlike hiragana that is used for writing Japanese words, with katakana characters are written generally words of foreign origin, named gairaigo (gairaigo), onomatopoeic sounds, foreign names, etc.
Another difference between the two syllabaries is that katakana is used independently, while characters expressed by hiragana are added especially to the symbols expressed by kanji.
At its origin, katakana characters were shaped by taking out a part of a whole kanji, but they did not keep any longer the initial meaning. Thus the affirmation that katakana syllabary is included in kanji is made.
Katakana differs from hiragana by the way of writing, too. Therefore, hiragana is written more with curved lines, but katakana with straight lines, which confers to the latter an angular aspect.
Most of the katakana syllables are almost identical with some kanji characters.
They distinguish themselves by a smaller shape.
Along with kana syllabaries, kanji are very important for the Japanese way of writing.
Kanji, , are characters of Chinese origin that were introduced in Japan starting with the third century B.C.
Some 5000 years ago, in China was created a system of writing, which initially was based on pictographic elements.
This feature might be noticed to the old Egyptian writing (hieroglyphic symbols) and to the old Mesopotamia style of writing (cuneiform characters). The Egyptian hieroglyphic symbols were used to represent through pictures and drawings the conceptual idea for each character.
The Chinese characters, hanzi, although initially pictographic designed evolved toward a complex process of featuring abstract ideas. Finally, they expressed merely conceptualized ideas than simply "drawings".
Hanzi had a sacred character too, because they designated the questions addressed by the Chinese emperors to the gods. They also depicted the given answer.
Inscribed on cattle bones or written on tortoise shell, a priest made holes through them and with a fire reddened iron introduced into the holes produced cracks. The trajectories of these cracks conferred to these inscriptions the force of a sacred oracle, being thus considered the gods answers.
Within Chinese society, hanzi evolved toward administrative and educational purposes.
They multiplied their functions and significations. Many lines and dots which designed the words changed their aspects in order to correspond both to the calligraphic needs and to the new demands required by the society.
It was necessary an abstract emphasis based on ideas, beyond the immediate visual aspect.
This issue was achieved by a synthesis between "radicals" (simple characters) and other characters with a certain phonetic value. Working together, they conveyed to render the ideas. Thus, the radical expressed the "category" of the respective element and the character used for the phonetic symbol performed the sound of the new created word.
The great majority of the Chinese characters were developed in this manner.
During Tang dynasty (618-907) there were registered 26,000 characters and in period of Ching dynasty (1662-1912) their number exceeded 42,000.
These figures extend far beyond the idea of statistics, revealing the possibility of combination and the complexity of the ideographs.
When the Chinese culture began to spread in the neighborhood, the Chinese characters began to be used in Vietnam, Korea and Japan.
The old name for Vietnam was Annam. During Han dynasty (202-220) AC, Annam was powerfully influenced by China. Therefore, hanzi were used for the writing the documents of that period.
In the 16th century, the first Christian missionaries came to Vietnam. They created a Romanized linguistic system for the people of Annam.
In the 19th century, when Annam was transformed into a French colony, the Latin alphabet became dominant and the Chinese characters were abandoned.
Annam was called Vietnam and the Latin alphabet was used as the national system of writing.
During the Han dinasty (202 i.Hr.-220 d.Hr.), Annam was under the chinese influence and hanzi were used to write the documents in that period.
Hanzi were introduced in Korea in the 4th century AC. Starting with the 15th century the Hangul system of writing was created. Hangul is still in use in Korea today with a limited number of Chinese characters.
At the beginning of the 3rd century AC, Wani, a scholar of his time, went to Japan. He brought with him the Analects written by Confucius and Senjimon, a Chinese textbook for the study of the ideographs.
Two centuries later, when the trade between Korea and Japan intensified, kanji penetrated in the Japan archipelago.
The Japanese imported kanji from China between the years 222 AC until 1279. During this millennium of linguistic import, the Chinese characters increased their number from 11,000 to 33,000. Therefore, many kanji were imported again. This situation was reflected in the specific way of reading of kanji, too.
The first round of this linguistic import took place between the years 222-589. Buddhist terms were mainly chosen.
The second round was between the years 618-907. The terms used for administrative purposes were targeted.
The third round occurred between the years 960-1279, when the Chinese developed about 33,000 hanzi at that time. The targeted terms were linked with Zen terminology.
During this period of cultural import, the greatest number of Chinese characters was borrowed in compounds of two or more kanji. In this context, one may find for a kanji different ways of reading, depending on the word in which it appears.
In the same time, the first two rounds of linguistic import had a considerable importance for the Japanese vocabulary.
At the beginning, the old Japanese language, Yamato kotoba, was developed without a system of writing. The communication was merely oral.
The descendents of the people who immigrated into Japan, through the Korean peninsula, wrote the Yamato kotoba within kanji.
Japanese themselves began to read Chinese texts and literature when kanji were introduced to Japan.
They have chosen the kanji that were phonetically equivalent with the syllables of Yamato kotoba. The Japanese used them for writing the language of Yamato in a phonetic manner, without considering the initial signification of the respective character. Finally these characters were called manyögana.
During Heian Period (794-1185), the classic Chinese literature was very appreciated by the Imperial Japanese Court.
As a native reaction the first elements of the Japanese literature appear. The aristocrat women wrote prose, tanka and other forms of poetry. They wrote in a simplified system of writing called onnade, which toward the end of 8th century became hiragana. Hira from hiragana means 'easy', characterizing thus the new style of writing.
Indeed, works of reference for the mediaeval Japan, Genji - monogatari, Makura no söshi etc., were written only in hiragana, using the Japanese lexicon.
Kanji were too complicated to form alone a phonetic writing. Therefore, in the 9th century was created another syllabary called katakana.
Kata from katakana suggests the idea of 'incomplete', because parts of the kanji that were used in writing manyögana was chosen to create this syllabary.
The Japanese modern language uses for writing a combination of kanji, hiragana and katakana.
Kanji are used to express the basic meaning of the words, no matter of their
function in the sentence: nouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs, etc.
Hiragana is used generally to write after kanji characters, modifying and adapting them to the rules of grammar.
Katakana has an independent use, designing the words of a foreign origin and replacing difficult kanji.
Kanji were simplified several times and the written language became more accessible.
In 1981, the Japanese government established a number of 1,945 kanji, Jöyö Kanji (every day use kanji), to be used in the public documents: press, textbooks and official writings. They were preceded by 1,850 kanji, Töyö Kanji (kanji common use) that were established in 1946.
For an educational purpose, Gakushü Kanji (educational kanji) was created in 1989. 1,006 kanji from Jöyö Kanji are taught in the first six grades grades in the Japanese schools. Gakushü Kanji were preceded by 881 kanji, Kyöiku Kanji (instructional kanji) that were established in 1948.
Both Gakushü Kanji and Kyöiku Kanji can be divided into six sets, for every year of study in the Japanese elementary school.
In 1997, 285 kanji were established, Jinmeiyö Kanji (personal name use kanji). They were designated for writing personal names.
Kanji, as they are written today, have evolved. However, they continue to transmit the traditional Japanese cultural heritage.
On and Kun Readings
Due to the way in which the Japanese borrowed the Chinese characters, every kanji used in the Japanese language may have at least two readings:
- the native reading, kunyomi ;
- the borrowed reading, onyomi .
The Japanese already had native words to express the meaning represented by the Chinese characters. This is the reason for they associated kanji with their native words not only with the Chinese words.
Thus, this method of reading the characters is called kun reading.
At the beginning, the kun reading was a sort of explanation used to interpret the meaning of a kanji in the text. Therefore, the kun reading acted as a translation of the Chinese character concept.
In time, this rule was generalized and the kun reading became the reference reading for a Chinese character. Generally, the kun reading is often used when a kanji appears alone.
The On reading represents a phonetic approximation of the original reading of a Chinese character. On readings are found more frequently in compound words.
Because kanji were imported from China at different periods, they were not standardized at once. This is the reason for different On and kun readings may be found.
This multiple readings is also a distinctive feature of the kanji use in the Japanese language.
Kanji are found alone and in compounds to express complex ideas.
In this work, conventionally, the On readings was written with capital letters.
This site is dedicated to the people interested in the study of Nihongo as an important stronghold of the Japanese Culture.
The cultural message of the site is focussed to make an approach of an exotic and unique language in its complexity, which will welcome the reader with warmth and tenderness.