Languages of Japan

Languages of Japan blog

The languages of Japan are not related to other world languages. Japan is the home to an estimated 127 million people. The major language is Japanese, which shares some common ancestry with Okinawa (a regional language of Japan).

Since Japanese is a language isolate and spoken by 99% of people in Japan; it will make an interesting exercise to look into the indigenous languages that are currently making the waves in present-day Japan.

Japan has 47 prefectures and is equally important to know what are the prefectures of Japan.

What Languages are Spoken in Japan?

Official Language (Japanese)

Japan today has an official language spoken by virtually every Japanese irrespective of the region where you might find them. The official, major, and main language in Japan today is known as Japanese and the language is spoken by the entire population less than 2 million people, in essence, 125 million Japanese speak the Japanese language.

This language is a member of the japonica language family that also involves another variant of the dialect- Ryukyuan language. The natives refer to this official language as “Nihongo”.

This official language is heavily influenced by the Chinese language because it is composed mainly of Chinese characters called – “kanji.” Aramaic numerals combine with Chinese characters to give us what is today called the official language of the Japanese.

Regional Languages of Japan

Aside from the official language spoken by the vast majority in Japan, there is the regional language referred to as the Regional Language.

When you get to Japan, you will find many speakers of this language spread across the country; however, they are majorly concentrated at the Ryukyu Islands with a population of about 1.45 million speakers. This language is a family of japonica language which is closely related to Nihongo.

In recent years, the younger natives are not showing any interest in this language, they rather prefer the official language to their native language. The young Ryukyu Islands inhabitants now speak a corrupted version of the language.

Hokkaido Ainu Language

This is yet another native languages of Japan that is still spoken in Japan to date but in great danger of going into extinction. This is the language spoken by the Ainu ethnic group residing in Hokkaido Island.

UNESCO has classified this language critically endangered with only 10 people speaking the language and all of them are above the age of 80. Policies are drastically been put in place as a rescue measure to save this language from the danger of extinction. One of such is the printing of the Hokkaido Ainu dictionary.

Video: Teruyo speaking Ainu

The 16th-century records revealed that the Ainu language did not have an alphabet. However, by the turn of the 19th century, this language began to use katakana.

Orok Language

This is also a language that is also known as Ulta that is spoken in Japan and it emerged before the Common Era. This language is used during the Edo period in the following areas: Hokkaido, Karafuto. and the Kuril Islands.

The reality of this language today is that there are very few speakers of the language in Japan today.

Nivkh Language

Like her sister language Orok, this dialect is spoken in Hokkaido, Karafuto, and the Kuril Islands. The speakers of this language can also found in Amur River.

Among the languages of Japan, Nivkh faces a serious threat of going into extinction. It is not known whether speakers of this language still exist in Japan today.

Bonin Language

This is one of native languages of Japan that is English based and it is the language of people around Bonin Islands.

This is another language that is gradually going down into the dustbin of history in Japan and efforts are been made to ensure the revival of the language in Japan.

Ryukyuan Languages

If you wanted to know about one of the languages spoken today in Japan that is not originally part of the indigenous languages of Japan, then reference can be made to Ryukyuan language.

This language is spoken by the people that live around Okinawa and parts of Kagoshima in the Ryukyu Islands. This language is classified as part of the Japonic language family. In actual sense, they are separate languages and have no bearing with the Japanese language.

But be that as it may, this is recognized as one of the languages in Japan with foreign influence. This is also one language that is classified under the endangered languages in Japan.

Ryukyuan Languages of Japan

Evenki Language

This is the language spoken in the region of Sakhalin which was formerly controlled by Japan. Like the other native languages of Japan discussed earlier, the Evenki language is also under very serious threat of going into total extinction if efforts are not taken to revive it from the claws of extinction.

This has been the lot of all the languages so far under review; each and every one of them is under the threat of going under due to western influence and it seems there is nothing the government of the day can do to redress the worsening situation.

Foreign Languages in Japan

If there is one country that foreign language has made great inroads, then one of such is Japan. Japan isolated herself from the global community for some time but in 1853, she broke the wall of isolation and embraced the world community.

The influx of foreigners after the wall was broken led to the importation of several foreign languages into Japan and these languages have gained a footstool in Japan. We have the following foreign languages in Japan today: English, German, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, and French.

The effects of globalization on languages can be felt in Japan. Foreign influence is gradually eroding the prominence of the local languages of the natives. This is responsible for the dominance of foreign languages over the indigenous languages in Japan. With globilzation

If you get to Japan in the years to come, there is the likelihood that you might not find some of the languages of Japan mentioned above.

10 Reasons to Learn Japanese

1. Opens doors to new cultures

You get to learn about the dialects of the Japanese language by getting to know more about the country and the culture of the western side of Japan. It can help you distinguish the specific words that help you to slowly open up and learn beyond the interesting history.

2. Increases job opportunities

The world’s economies are increasing rapidly in the global world which is a major tool for branching out diverse economies of Asia in Japanese companies like Toshiba, Nikon, Honda, Sony, Toyota to expand your job prospects as they have multinational companies of popular brands like these worldwide.

3. Enhance the translation services

The Japanese language is the 4th most used language in the internet with around 99.1 Japanese internet users which can help you expand the online jobs like providing translation services, growing markets in cultural exports, etc.

4. Expansion of International tourism

If you reside in an area with bustled tourists, you will gain plenty of opportunities to practice your Japanese language. For people who are interested in the tourism industry, the knowledge of learning the Japanese will set your business apart from the crowd.

5. A gateway to learn new languages

The South East Asian languages may vary, but they have certain similarities. Likewise, Japanese grammar is similar to the Korean grammar where both languages have a high volume of honorific terminology which demonstrates respect. It also uses the Kanji writing system, derived from the Chinese characters in helping you to be a step closer in understanding Chinese languages.

6. Easy to understand

The writing system is unique to European languages, but the Japanese language, though considered as a complicated language, is relatively simple to learn with the 44 hiragana or katakana characters. These characters represent sounds that are similar to the English alphabet. The Japanese grammar is also easier to learn compared to the European languages and nouns because it has no gender or plural forms and moreover there are only two verb tenses: present and past.

7. Get to be an explorer

Most of the Japanese people study English at some point or the other. Knowing Japanese language will allow you to easily work in the transport systems, accommodating books and find the best eateries while you meet new people along the way.

8. Be connected with like-minded people

Japanese is a fun language which is very easy to learn, especially for native English-speakers. While you are learning the Japanese words, you will come across many Western words that help you remember the Japanese language so easily. For instance, ‘pabu’ menas (pub), ‘kōhī ‘is (coffee) and ‘miruku’ is (milk).

9. Less Conventional Approach

Japanese cartoons and video games are very much popular in the United States, but Americans often opt to learn European languages. Some prefer languages like Spanish, French or German as a second language, but speaking fluent Japanese will make you unique and offer a unique perspective when compared to your peers.

10. Higher standards of education

Japanese schools have high standards of education. Japan would be an excellent place if you wish to study abroad. It is also beneficial if you can speak the language very well, by learning the three Japanese “alphabets” (hiragana, katakana and kanji) that helps you improve your knowledge of the world around you.

Related Articles