Japanese language history

Japanese language history

From “karate” to “karaoke”, from “adzuki beans” to “Zen Buddhism”, Japanese language has been exporting oriental traditions to the Western culture for decades. Some come and go as fads (bringing up a “Tamagotchi”); some take root (“bonsai”) and spread. Breeding giant fish (“koi”) or eating raw fish with rice (“sushi”), Japanese is ubiquitous nowadays.

More than 130 million people speak Japanese, making it the ninth most widely spoken language in the world. Outside of Japan, there are another 5 million people who speak Japanese with some degree of proficiency – predominantly Japanese descendants in Hawaii and Brazil. Japanese language services have become extremely important in social and business settings.

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Japan is one of the world’s leading industrial powers and is remarkable for its economic growth since World War II, considering it has few natural resources. Japan is known for its people’s strong work ethic and the high level of cooperation between industry and government.

Unlike most western languages, Japanese has an extensive grammatical system to express politeness and formality. Broadly speaking, there are three main politeness levels in spoken Japanese: the plain form (“kudaketa”), the simple polite form (“teinei”) and the advanced polite form (“keigo”).

Since most relationships are not equal in Japanese society, one person typically has a higher position. This position is determined by a variety of factors including job, age, experience, or even psychological state.

The person in the lower position is expected to use a polite form of speech, whereas the other might use a more plain form. Strangers will also speak to each other politely. Japanese children rarely use polite speech until their teens, at which point they are expected to begin speaking in a more adult manner.

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