A writing system with unique complexity; but one country's economic power made Japanese an extremely important language in the field of international commerce. With 60 million users (the second largest internet market in the world), the country of the rising sun no longer fears for its language which proudly takes its place amongst the most important languages in the world.
Japanese, common language of some 120 million people, takes a large part of its vocabulary and the basis of its script from Chinese, but remains fundamentally different from its sizeable neighbour. Even if it has striking resemblances to Korean and the Altaic group of languages (Mongolian, Manchu, Turkish...), Japanese (and its dialects) alone forms the essential of the Japanese language family. Standard Japanese is called Hyojungo: it's the dialect of Tokyo. There are several different dialects, such as that of Kanazawa, of Kyoto, of Ehime and of Okinawa. Eastern dialects are closer to the official norm and those of the West are closer to the dialect of Osaka - that of Okinawa (about one million speakers) remains apart from all of the others. With more than 99% of citizens speaking Japanese as their mother tongue, Japan is one of the most homogenous countries in the world from a linguistic point of view.
Spoken essentially by the inhabitants of Japan and in certain countries colonized during the expansionist period such as Taiwan or South Korea, there are still other Japanese speakers. In Brazil there is a sizeable Japanese-speaking community. Elsewhere, Japanese is routinely taught as a foreign language in most Oriental Asian countries and Oceania.
Japanese uses three systems of writing: Hiragana, Katakana, and Kanji.
- Katakanas are used above all for the transcription of foreign words.
- Hiraganas represent all specific elements, notably endings, suffixes and other particles.
- Kanjis are used to represent the meaning of words of Chinese origin.
In modern usage, the two series of Kana (syllabic alphabet with 46 signs: hiriganas and katakanas) coexist with Chinese characters (Kanji, almost 2000) in a system of writing of unique complexity.