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Autoglottonym: Nihongo
Pronunciation: [/ni.ho.ɴ.go/, [nihõ̞ŋgo̞], [nihõ̞ŋŋo̞]]
Ethnologue name: Japanese
OLAC name: [1]
Location point:
Family: Altaic? (controversial)
Genus: Japonic
Country: Japan, USA, Brazil, Peru
Official in: Japan
Speakers: 126,000,000
Writing system: Japanese writing system
ISO 639-3: jpn


Pronunciation: [nihõ̞ŋgo̞]

The autonym 'Nihongo[nihõ̞ŋgo̞]' is the Japanese pronunciation of the compound word 日本語 which consists of two parts; 日本 (nihon; Japan) and 語 (go; language). The former part, 日本, means "sun-origin" and dates back to the Japanese missions to Imperial China in medieval time who referred to Japan in this way because of her eastward position relative to China.

The internationally acknowledged name Japanese derives from Mandarin or possibly Wu Chinese pronunciation of Japan, Cipangu, mentioned in a work of Marco Polo.


Japanese is spoken nearly exclusively inside of Japan.


The number of native speakers is estimated at 126,000,000. The most of them are concentrated in Japan (124 million).

Relatively large communities of Japanese expatriates exist in the USA (0.8 million), Brazil (0.38 million), Peru (0.1 million), Canada (43,000), Mexico (35,000), Argentine (32,000) as well as in Germany (21,000) and Singapore (20,000) et al.

The number of second language speaker of Japanese is relatively small. Its largest groups are the Korean minority in Japan (0.6 million) on the one hand, and the inhabitants of the Ryukyu Islands, the southernmost part of the Japanese archipelago, whose native language is a Ryukyuan language on the other hand.


Japanese is normally split up into Eastern and Western Japanese, which can in turn be further divided into subcategories.



Writing System

The Japanese writing system consists of four seperate systems: Chinese characters, Kanji 漢字, the two syllable systems Hiragana 平仮名/ひらがな and Katakana 片仮名/カタカナ, and the Latin writing system (being called ローマ字, Roomaji). Writing was first introduced to Japan from China around the 5th century AD, which caused the Japanese writing system to be highly influenced by Chinese standards, such as characters representing meaning instead of sound. It was not until the 7th century that the two syllable-based systems emerged from a set of Chinese characters originally used to represent grammatical inflections.


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Works on the language

Tsujimura, Natsuko. 2013. An Introduction to Japanese Linguistics. Wiley & Sons: West Sussex.
Archibald, John & O'Grady, William (ed.). 2001. Contemporary Linguistics. An Introduction. Fourth Edition. Bedford/St. Martin's: Boston.