The Japanese language ranks sixth in number of speakers worldwide after Chinese, English, Russian, Hindi, and Spanish. Most Japanese speakers are located within Japan, although there are also immigrant communities in the Americas and other parts of the world where a small number of Japanese speakers can be found. As Japan is said to be a linguistically homogeneous nation, most of its approximately 127 million residents do speak Japanese. It is important to remember, however, that Japan is also home to linguistic minorities such as the Ainu, Okinawans, and permanent foreign residents.
Scholars debate the origins of the Japanese language, and arguments have been made for links to Altaic languages (such as Mongolian), Korean, Dravidian languages (such as Tamil), Malayo-Polynesian languages, and Tibeto-Burmese. It seems probable that the Japanese language originated as a mix of languages from Central and Southeast Asia and had fully developed into a distinct language by the time of the Yayoi culture (300 BCE–300 CE).
Japanese vocabulary has been heavily influenced by loanwords from other languages. A vast number of words were borrowed from Chinese, or created from Chinese models, over a period of at least 1,500 years. Since the late 19th century, Japanese has borrowed a considerable number of words from Indo-European languages, primarily English.
The Japanese language is written with a combination of three different types of scripts: modified Chinese characters called kanji, and two syllabic scripts made up of modified Chinese characters, hiragana and katakana.
Learning Japanese involves understanding grammar, pronunciation, the writing system, and acquiring adequate vocabulary. While the sound system is simple compared with other languages, the writing system and certain words that have a close connection with Japanese culture usually prove to be difficult to master. A background in another language which uses Chinese characters may enhance the study of kanji. As for culture-specific terminology, study of translated works in Japanese philosophy and arts will simplify comprehension.
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