Japanese (日本語, Nihongo [ɲihoŋɡo] (listen)) is an East Asian language spoken by about 128 million people, primarily in Japan, where it is the national language. It is a member of the Japonic (or Japanese-Ryukyuan) language family, and its ultimate derivation and relation to other languages is unclear. Japonic languages have been grouped with other language families such as Ainu, Austroasiatic, Korean, and the now-discredited Altaic, but none of these proposals has gained widespread acceptance.
|~128 million (2020)|
Official language in
| Japan (de facto)|
(on Angaur Island)
Little is known of the language's prehistory, or when it first appeared in Japan. Chinese documents from the 3rd century AD recorded a few Japanese words, but substantial texts did not appear until the 8th century. During the Heian period (794–1185) in Japan, the Chinese language had considerable influence on the vocabulary and phonology of Old Japanese. Late Middle Japanese (1185–1600) included changes in features that brought it closer to the modern language, and the first appearance of European loanwords. The standard dialect moved from the Kansai region in the south, up to the Edo region (modern Tokyo) in the Early Modern Japanese period (early 17th century–mid 19th century). Following the end of Japan's self-imposed isolation in 1853, the flow of loanwords from European languages increased significantly. English loanwords, in particular, have become frequent, and Japanese words from English roots have proliferated.
Japanese is an agglutinative, mora-timed language with relatively simple phonotactics, a pure vowel system, phonemic vowel and consonant length, and a lexically significant pitch-accent. Word order is normally subject–object–verb with particles marking the grammatical function of words, and sentence structure is topic–comment. Sentence-final particles are used to add emotional or emphatic impact, or make questions. Nouns have no grammatical number or gender, and there are no articles. Verbs are conjugated, primarily for tense and voice, but not person. Japanese adjectives are also conjugated. Japanese has a complex system of honorifics, with verb forms and vocabulary to indicate the relative status of the speaker, the listener, and persons mentioned.
Japanese has no clear genealogical relationship with Chinese, though in its written form it makes prevalent use of Chinese characters, known as kanji (漢字), and a large portion of its vocabulary is borrowed from Chinese. The Japanese writing system also uses two syllabic (or moraic) scripts: hiragana (ひらがな or 平仮名) and katakana (カタカナ or 片仮名), however Latin script is used in a limited fashion (such as for imported acronyms). The numeral system uses mostly Arabic numerals, but also traditional Chinese numerals.