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The origin of Japanese is in considerable dispute amongst linguists. Evidence has been offered for a number of sources: Ural-Altaic, Polynesian, and Chinese amonge others. Of these, Japanese is most widely believed to be connected to the Ural-Altaic family, which includes Turkish, Mongolian, Manchu, and Korean within its domain.
Korean is most frequently compared to Japanese, as both languages share significant key features such as general structure, vowel harmony, lack of conjunctions, and the extensive use of honorific speech, in which the social rank of the listener heavily affects the dialogue. However, pronunciation of Japanese is significantly different from Korean, and the languages are mutually unintelligible.
Japanese has an extremely complicated writing system, consisting of two sets of phonetic syllabaries (with approximately 50 syllables in each) and thousands of Chinese characters called “kanji”, approximately 2,000 of which the Ministry of Education has designated as required learning before high school graduation.
The adaptation of Chinese characters during the sixth to ninth centuries A.D. was the most important event in the development of the language. By the 12th century, the syllabic writing systems, “hiragana” and “katakana”, were created out of “kanji”, providing the Japanese new freedom in writing their native language. Today, Japanese is written with a mixture of the three: “kanji”, “hiragana”, and “katakana”.
Since the mid 18th century the Japanese have adopted a huge amount of “gairaigo”: foreign words mainly from English. These include “teburu” (table), “biru” (beer), “gurasu” (glass), “aisu” (ice), “takushi” (taxi) and “hoteru” (hotel).