Japanese Language Classification: The classification of the Japanese Language is uncertain and disputed. Historical linguists who specialize in Japanese agree that it is one of the two members of the Japonic language family, but remain divided as to the origins of the Japonic languages. An older view, still held by many non-specialists, is that Japanese is a language isolate. However, since the Japonic family consists of two known members, Japanese and Ryukyuan, this analysis is now incorrect.


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Japanese Language External Relations

As for its relation to other languages, there are several theories, presented in descending order of probability:

Extinct Korean-peninsular languages hypothesis
The Korean-peninsular languages hypothesis proposes that Japanese is a relative of extinct languages spoken by historic cultures of Korea and Manchuria. The best attested of these is the language of Goguryeo (a.k.a. Koguryo), with the more poorly-attested Buyeo languages of Baekje (a.k.a. Paekche) and Buyeo (a.k.a Puyo) hypothesized to also be related. Supporters of the Buyeo languages theory generally do not include modern Korean as part of that family because it is thought to have derived from the ancient language of Silla. The limited data on these languages-just a few words, no sentences or even phrases-as well as these cultures' historic ties, are the primary evidence. Unless a significant body of documents in these extinct languages is discovered, the paucity of data on these languages necessarily limits scholars' ability to verify or falsify this claim.

Korean hypothesis
Scholars such as such as Samuel E. Martin and John Whitman have proposed that Japanese is a relative of Korean. This theory is partly based on the high degree of similarity between Japanese and Korean grammar, and supported by numerous non-trivial Japanese-Korean cognates that show regular correspondences. The idea of a Japanese-Korean relationship is often subsumed into the Altaic theory (see below), though not all versions of Altaic theory incorporate Korean. Furthermore, one can assume a relationship between Japanese and Korean without addressing the problem of Altaic. Critics of this theory have pointed out that the further back in time one goes, the less Korean and Japanese resemble each other; furthermore, they have no shared innovations.

Altaic hypothesis
Japanese is often included in the proposed Altaic language family; notable scholars supporting this hypothesis include Roy Miller and the late Sergei Starostin. The languages to which the Japonic family is connected via the Altaic grouping include Mongolic, Tungusic, Turkic, and, according to many proponents, Korean. Evidence for this theory lies in the fact that like Turkic and Korean, Japanese is an agglutinative language. Additionally, there are a suggestive number of correspondences in vocabulary, as shown in the following table.

Japanese Turkish gloss
ishi daş 'stone'
yo d�rt 'four'
kura k�rt�n 'saddle'
kiru kir- 'to cut'
inu it 'dog'
kuro k�l J 'black' T 'shadow'
kurai k�l J 'to be dark' T 'shadow'

These examples come from Starostin's database, which contains a comprehensive list of comparisons and hypothetical Altaic etymologies. While Starostin was a first-class scholar, there are weakness with Altaic, not the least of which is the poor quality of the vowel correspondences. Another one is the relative paucity of reconstructions for basic vocabulary terms. Furthermore, Starostin made numerous mistakes with the Japanese data, such as misidentifying Japanese words, reconstructing secondary phenomena in dialects back to the proto-language, overlooking accentual distinctions in Japanese, and ignoring the historical formation (i.e., morphological structure) of certain words. Moreover, he made mistakes with data in other Altaic languages as well. Whatever connection Japanese may have to Altaic languages cannot be demonstrated by the current state of Altaic reconstruction.

Creole hypothesis
The phonological similarities and geographical proximity of Japanese to the Austronesian languages have led to the theory that Japanese may be a kind of creole language, with an Altaic substratum and an Austronesian superstratum, or vice versa. However, different scholars have come up with lists of proposed Japanese-Austronesian cognates that do not agree with each other. This is a bad sign, because different scholars, working independently, should come up with similar results. Furthermore, the number of words possibly identified as Austronesian is extremely small.

Austronesian hypothesis
One of the less likely theories is that Japanese is a purely Austronesian language; this is rejected by all mainstream specialists in both Austronesian and Japanese, since the grammar, lexis, and morphology of Japanese are vastly different from those of any known Austronesian language. Proponents of this theory point out examples of convergent lexis, such as Japanese hina "doll" and hime "princess," as cognate with the Māori word hine "girl," or Japanese kaku "to write, to scratch" with the Hawaiian kākau "to write, to tattoo". However, it is important to note that many totally unrelated languages exhibit chance occurrences of convergent lexis; furthermore, these alleged "cognates" soon fall apart upon closer analysis. For example, the word Japanese word hime is clearly a compound word; modern Japanese /h/ comes from earlier /p/; Hawaiian /k/ comes from earlier /t/; and no language has to write as part of its basic vocabulary. Moreover, the time depths for Japanese and Proto-Polynesian do not match, and Polynesia is far more distant from Japan than Taiwan, the proposed Austronesian homeland. If there were an Austronesian connection, it might be found closer to the Japanese archipelago. Beyond that, the time depth for proto-Austronesian, at roughly 6000 years BP, makes it far too old to be compared with Japanese, which came to the Japanese islands perhaps 2500-3000 years ago (see the Yayoi page for more).

Tamil hypothesis
A few scholars have suggested that Japanese may be related to Tamil and possibly other Dravidian languages, mostly spoken in South India. This was first proposed by the Japanese language scholar Susumu Ohno, and is supported by a very few others, including R. Caidwell, Susumu Shiba, and Akira Fujiwara. Evidence for this theory is that Japanese and Tamil are both agglutinative languages and also have similar vocabularies and phonetics, though Japanese has nothing like Tamil's retroflex consonants. This hypothesis has little support outside of the scholars mentioned here, and has been strongly criticized by experts in both Japanese and Dravidian. One reason for this is that Ohno made errors in history and archaeology; another is that he made multiple methodological errors in applying the comparative method. For example, he posits multiple correspondences without giving conditioning factors, e.g., Tamil c : Japanese s; Tamil c : Japanese �; and Tamil � : Japanese s. Even if there is some validity to the hypothesis, it cannot be demonstrated in light of these major shortcomings in data and application of theory.

Other hypotheses
Since the late nineteenth century, various proposals have been made to link Japanese with any number of other languages, such as Basque, the Chinese languages, English, Sumerian, various West African languages, and others. These have all been discredited, though in the 1990s, Christopher Beckwith proposed a Japanese-Chinese connection. His efforts were sharply criticized by specialists in Japanese. Now, Beckwith is a proponent of the hypothesis linking Japonic to the extinct Korean Peninsular languages of Goguryeo, Baekje, Buyeo, and Gojoseon.

Known connections and analysis
Specialists in Japanese historical linguistics all agree that Japanese is related to the Ryukyuan languages (including Okinawan); together, Japanese and Ryukyuan are grouped in the Japonic languages. Among these specialists, the possibility of a genetic relation to Goguryeo et al. has the most credence; relationship to Korean is considered plausible but is still problematic; the Altaic hypothesis has less currency. Almost all specialists reject the idea that Japanese could be genetically related to Austronesian/Malayo-Polynesian languages or Sino-Tibetan languages, and the idea that Japanese could be related to Tamil is entirely excluded.

(Article based on Wikipedia article and used under the GNU Free Documentation License)

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