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Nihongo (Japanese)

Japanese (Nihongo)

Before the 4th century AD, the Japanese had no writing system of their own. During the 5th century they began to import and adapt the Chinese script, along with many other aspects of Chinese culture, probably via Korea. However the Japanese were aware of Chinese writing from about the 1st century AD from the characters that appeared on imported Chinese goods.

Over time a writing system emerged in which Chinese characters were used to write either words borrowed from Chinese or Japanese words with the same or similar meanings. Chinese characters were also used for their phonetic values to write grammatical elements and these characters were simplified and eventually became two syllabic scripts, hiragana and katakana.

Japanese literature reached a high point during the 11th century with the Genji Monogatari (Tale of Genji) by Lady Murasaki Shikibu. Many other Japanese literary works were also written by women.

Modern Japanese is written with a mixture of hiragana and katakana, plus kanji. Modern Japanese texts may also include rōmaji, (Roman letters), the standard way of writing Japanese with the Latin alphabet, eimoji (English script), non-Japanese words written in their own script and various symbols known as kigō.

Notable features

Sample text in Japanese


Transliteration (rōmaji)

Subete no ningen wa, umarenagara ni shite jiyū de ari, katsu, songen to kenri to ni tsuite byōdō de aru. Ningen wa, risei to ryōshin to o sazukerareteori, tagai ni dōhō no seishinn o motte kōdō shinakereba naranai.

A recording of this text


All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
(Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights)

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