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The Japanese Language

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Japanese Language


Japanese is the language of a millenary culture rich in traditions, history and all kind of artistic expressions. It's the daily way of expression for millions of people who live in a world of an impressive past and a vertiginous present. Japanese is a nicely flexible language, attentive to new influences and attached to its traditions at the same time.
 

Japanese today

With the exception of smaller groups of Japanese immigrants in other countries, the Japanese language is only to be found in its country of origin. However, there are 125 million native speakers living in this country, giving it a special status: it is one of the most spoken languages in the world with a relatively small territorial expansion.Japanese includes many regional dialects and different kinds  of speech styles  conditioned by specific social situations. Regioanl dialects are all over Japan's four main islands as well as the smaller islands. Some of them are incomprehensible for the speakers of other regions. This diversity generated the need to find one dialect to be the standard or common language. This function is efficiently performed by the dialect from Tokyo. This dialect has expanded even more in recent years thanks to television, press and books. Nowadays more and more Japanese people speak their local dialect and the one from Tokyo. Another important dialect family, in some ways different from the standard, is the group from Southwestern Japan, where major cities such as Osaka, Kobe and Kyoto are located.

In relation with social speech styles, Japanese has an ample system ways to express politeness and honor. This reflects a culture where the speaker always takes into account the kind of relationship he or she has with the interlocutor. This cultural specification is very important in Japanese society, and foreign students must take it into account when they study the language. For example, some verbs (like to go) have two basic forms (iku, irassharu) one is to be used in a familiar context and the other with an interlocutor in a higher social position. At the same time there are markers (normally suffixes, like -masu) which are added to indicate when one is talking to a stranger or to an elder. Another example is found in the use of pronouns, always in accordance with the social context and the gender of the speaker. 

Japanese is spoken all over the territory of Japan, and nowadays it has approximately 125 million native speakers. Although there are Japanese immigrants in other areas of the globe, none of these groups represents a true expansion of the language. From this point of view, the importance of Japanese does not stem from the number of countries where it is official language nor from its geographic expansion. Japanese is so important because it is the language of one of the richest nations in the world, key in a business world.   And the lengthy literary tradition and artistic legacy of the millenary culture behind the language should not be forgotten!


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