The Basics of theJapanese LanguageWhat’s Tough and What’s Not
Which Would You Like to Learn…
Sounds and Word StructureCompared to English, the number of vowels usedin any given word is usually higherThis means that Japanese is an “open”language, or that it has an “open-syllable pattern”Most syllables end in a vowel, meaning that thepattern of most words is an alternation between aconsonant and vowel
The basic vowels are /a/, /i/, /u/, /e/, and /o/.These are pronounced a bit differently than in English,/ah/, /ee/, /ooh/, /eh/, and /oh/.The basic consonants are /k/, /s/, /t/, /n/, /h/, /m/, /y/, /r/,and /w/. There is also an /N/ that stands alone fromvowels and has a nasal sound.The combinations of these consonants and vowelsprovide all sounds needed to speak the language.
Quiz Time!What kind of syllable pattern does Japanesefollow?What are the basic vowels, and how do theysound?What are the basic consonants, and which doesnot pair with a vowel?
Grammar and Word OrderLanguages are normally classified by the order oftheir parts, namely the subject, verb, and Objectof a sentence.While English’s structure is S-V-O, a subjectdoes a verb to an object, Japanese follows theorder of S-O-V.While direct translation isn’t the clearest, thismeans that in Japanese a subject does to anobject a verb. That’s how the sentence is formed.
ParticlesParticles are the pieces of grammar that showthe relationships between subjects objects andverbs.For example, the particle /ha/ clearly shows whatthe subject of a sentence is. The particle /wo/shows what the direct object is.For example, “John /ha/ gohan /wo/ tabeta.” Johnate rice. (Gohan is rice, tabeta is “ate”)
Quiz Time!What is the basic order of a typical Japanesesentence? How does this differ from English?What is the name for a part of a sentence thatdenotes the relationship between subjects,objects, and verbs? Which were the twodiscussed earlier, and what do they show us?(Subject, object, or verb?)
Writing in JapaneseThe Japanese Language is split into twosyllaberic “alphabets” known as Hiragana andKatakana, along with borrowed Chinesecharacters known as Kanji that represent words.Kanji often gives the idea of a particularmeaning, while Kana offer us a specific sound.This gives each type of writing distinctadvantages, which is why both are used.
Kanji were brought to Japan about 1,500 years agofrom China.Before this time, Japanese was strictly a writtenlanguage500 years later, the kana were made from particularpieces of different Kanji.Kana let us sound out a word, while Kanji give learnersclues as to the meaning of a word, as long as they knowthe Kanji of course.While Hiragana denote the sound of Japanese words,Katakana is used to borrow words from otherlanguages, such as コンピュータ、or “konpyuuta.”Computer in English.
Quiz Time!What are the two syllaberic alphabets called inJapanese? What do they represent?What is the system of more complex symbolscalled, where did it come from, and when?What are the benefits to both styles of writing?Are they used together?
Moving ForwardThe key to learning any language is to get thefundamentals of speaking, reading, and grammardown.Using what we have learned as a basis, we canmove forward on each of those fronts.The Japanese language is one rooted in historyand steeped in culture. Remember, it takes timeto learn a different way of speaking.
日本語のすごい世界へようこ そ！Welcome to the wonderful world of Japanese!