Japanese is a language spoken by over 130 million people in Japan and in Japanese emigrant communities. It is a member of the Japonic language family, which has a number of proposed relationships with other languages, none of which has gained wide acceptance among historical linguists.
Japanese word order is classified as Subject Object Verb. However, unlike many Indo-European languages, the only strict rule of word order is that the verb must be placed at the end of a sentence; other elements in the sentence may be in various orders for emphasis, or possibly omitted. This is because the Japanese sentence elements are marked with particles that identify their grammatical functions.
In Japanese, the subject or object of a sentence need not be stated if it is obvious from context. In addition, it is commonly felt, particularly in informal spoken Japanese, that the shorter a sentence is, the better.As a result of this grammatical permissiveness, there is a tendency to gravitate towards brevity; Japanese speakers tend to omit pronouns on the theory they are inferred from the previous sentence, and are therefore understood. In the context of the above example, hana-ga nagai would mean “their noses are long,” while nagai by itself would mean “they are long.” A single verb can be a complete sentence: Yatta! (やった！）”They did it!”.
Japanese has an extensive grammatical system to express politeness and formality. The Japanese language can express differing levels in social status. The differences in social position are determined by a variety of factors including job, age, experience, or even psychological state. The person in the lower position is expected to use a polite form of speech, whereas the other might use a more plain form. Strangers will also speak to each other politely. Japanese children rarely use polite speech until they are teens, at which point they are expected to begin speaking in a more adult manner.
Most Japanese sentences contain both kanji and hiragana. Kanji is used for nouns and the stems of verbs, and hiragana for the endings of verbs and for grammatical particles. Foreign borrowings are normally spelled in katakana. Some Japanese words are written with different kanji depending on the specific usage of the word—for instance, the word naosu is written 治す when it refers to curing a person, and 直す when it refers to fixing an object.
Traditionally, Japanese is written in a format called tategaki, which copies the traditional Chinese system. In this format, the characters are written in columns going from top to bottom, with columns ordered from right to left. After reaching the bottom of each column, the reader continues at the top of the column to the left of the current one. Modern Japanese also uses another writing format, called yokogaki. This writing format is horizontal and reads from left to right, just like English. A book printed in tategaki opens from what a Westerner would call the back, while a book printed in yokogaki opens from what traditionally in Japan would have been considered the back.
Japanese has five vowels, and vowel length is phonemic, with each having both a short and a long version. Elongated vowels are usually denoted with a macron over the vowel in rōmaji, or a chōonpu succeeding the vowel in Japanese.