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About Japanese
  1. Language
  2. Geography
  3. People and Culture
  4. Publications


Japanese is spoken by over 130 million people in Japan. Its genetic affiliation of Japanese remains unknown; though it shares many typological features with Altaic languages, its phonological features lead some researchers to suggest a possibility that it is related to Austronesian languages.

The word order is SOV. However, except that verbs regularly appear in the sentence-final position, it has a relatively free word order. It is an agglutinative language with a rich repertoire of suffixes that mark such information as voice, modality, tense and aspect.

Ellipsis is pervasive in Japanese discourse and it can be considered as a pro-drop language.

Japanese written system involves three different types of characters: characters of Chinese origin (kanji), and two Japanese original characters hiragana, and katakana. Kanji are logographic and is used for most content words while hiragana and katakana are syllabic. Hiragana are used for functional words and Katakana are usually used for loan words or foreign words.

Other interesting features of the language include:

  • a rich repertoire of mimetics
  • a highly pervasive system of honorifics
  • a trichotomous deixis system
  • a rich repertoire of final suffixes that mark epistemic stance



Japanese is spoken in Japan. The standard dialect, which developed based on the Tokyo dialect, is used in education and in official communications. In addition, there are regional dialects that have distinctive phonologies and morphologies.


People and Culture

Selected publications on Japanese people and culture:

  • Ruth, Benedict (1946/1954). The Chrysanthemum and the Sword: Patterns of Japanese Culture. Rutland, VT and Tokyo, Japan: Charles E. Tuttle Co.
  • Lebra, Takie S. ed. (1986). Japanese Culture and Behavior. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.
  • Ikegami, Yoshihiko (1991). The Empire of Signs: Semiotic Essays on Japanese Culture. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.



  • Hinds, John (1986). Japanese. Dover: Cloom Helm.
  • Iwasaki, Shoichi (2002). Japanese. Amsterdam/ Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
  • Kita, Sotaro. (1997). Two-dimensional semantic analysis of Japanese mimetics. Linguistics, 35, 379-415.
  • Kuno, Susumu (1973). The Structure of the Japanese Language. Cambridge: MIT Press.
  • Shibatani, Masayoshi (1990). The Languages of Japan. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Last checked 2017-12-16 by Mark Dingemanse
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Kaoru Hayano

Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics
PO Box 310
6500 AH Nijmegen
The Netherlands