Modern literatures have defined language in several ways. All those definitions are right as long as their main or central focus is communication. Language is therefore a purely human method of communication that is free of instincts. It is through language that human beings can communicate ideas, emotions, and desires by way of a system of voluntarily produced symbols (Syal, P. & Jindal, D. 4). Different people in the world speak different languages. One of the reasons is because of geographical factors and difference in culture.
Japanese people speak Japanese language simply because the language developed in that particular region of the earth. On the other hand, English is spoken mainly in the US, Great Britain, Australia and the commonwealth countries simply because the language first developed in England and later spread to their colonies by virtue of their great colonial influence.
This paper discusses issues related to language differences and the accompanying difficulties that non native speakers find it hard to pronounce some words in a language that is not their mother tongue. In particular, the Japanese find it hard to pronounce English words due to a number of reasons.
The Japanese language, also known as Nihon-go, is spoken by over 125 million people who live in the island state of Japan. In its indigenous form, the language is known as either Nihon or Nippon. This language took shape in the early part of the 20th century based on the dialect spoken in some parts of Tokyo, the capital city of Japan. At present, this common language is used for educational purposes and mass communication. The language is actually understood throughout the country.
However, other distinct regional dialects are used for daily purposes. There are four major dialects in the whole of Japan (Iwasaki, S. 1). These dialects are the Eastern, Western, Kyushu, and Ryukyu dialects. The eastern dialect includes a population of 12 million people of the Tokyo dialect. This dialect is found from the eastern to the north eastern parts of the largest island of Honshu and the northernmost island of Hokkaido.
The Western dialect group which includes Kyoto and Osaka dialects, is found in the west and south west of Honshu, and also in Shikoku. The Kyushu dialect group is found in the southernmost island of Kyushu. The Ryuku dialect group is found in the Okinawan Archipelago extending off the Kyushu Island to the east of Taiwan between the East China Sea and the Philippine Sea.
The dialect contains many older forms of the language, but the number of speakers of the original Ryuku dialect is gradually diminishing among the over 1,200,000 inhabitants. The island of Hokkaido is also inhabited by another dialect called Ainu. This language is however not affiliated with the Japanese language. It is important to note that the language is almost getting extinct with only a handful of remaining speakers.
There are several facts that prevent a conclusive determination of the Altaic origin of the Japanese language. These facts include the phonological simplicity of Japanese compared to other Altaic languages. Japanese language is characterized by simple phonological systems. It can also be described as a language with an Altaic superstratum and elements of an Austronesian substratum. This language can also be described as an amalgam with the Altaic and Austronesian stocks that are equally mixed.
It is important to note that archeological evidence indicate that Japan was inhabited by people of the Jomon culture between 7500 to 300 B.C.E., though there are some indications that there were some pre Jomoan inhabitants before this period. The Jomoan language is believed to be some type of Austronesian language which is likely to have provided the substratum of the Japanese language.
The background of the Japanese language cannot be complete without some explanations of the Yamata Kingdom which appeared in the present day Nara region of central Japan. This kingdom took control of Japan. From this time on, the cultural influence that Japan received from the Yamato, a Chinese Kingdom cannot be overemphasized.
The adoption of the Chinese characters into the Japanese language was especially important because it chartered the future course for the written tradition in Japan. Thus, the language uses both phonetic and semantic values whose origin is Chinese (Iwasaki, S. 3).
It is actually justifiable to venture outside linguistic materials and use anthropometric, archeological, and ethnological approaches to Japanese cultural history, not to solve the problem of language relationship but to suggest fruitful lines of comparison.
This paper therefore reviews literature from linguistic sources and non linguistic sources. Taking into account that the historical background of the Japanese language cannot be complete without including some aspects of archeology and the other subjects mentioned in the preceding sentences of this paragraph.
It is therefore clear from the data that there are some indications of somatic variation along a cline running from northeastern to southwestern Japan. This paper also discusses issues related to the ways in which English language differs from the Japanese language in several grammatical aspects. The main sources used in this study are published literature and some internet sources.
The data gained from this study can be analyzed in order to come up with a short but comprehensive review of the sources of the data. Taking into consideration that books and internet sources were used, a short summary will compile this data in order to make it easier for the audience to comprehend the various aspects and discussions covered in this edition. For starters, the Japanese language is composed of various forms of phonetics in its phonology.
The huge difference between the Japanese language and English language is the main factor that affects the Japanese people so that they do not pronounce English words correctly. From the information gained in the literature, it can be deduced that the Japanese language is such that no sharp distinction exists between singular and plural. There is no distinction between masculine, neuter, and feminine, there are no articles, postpositions are used and the distinction between nouns and the stems of adjectives is unclear.
In addition, there are no comparative or superlatives of adjectives, the basic forma of verbs are used as nouns and imperatives of verbs, and there is also no expression in the passive form. The Japanese language does not have relative pronouns. The adjectives and adverbs come before nouns and verbs. Last but not least, an interrogative sentence is formed by placing an interrogative word at the end (Smith, R. & Beardsley, R. 19).
The above paragraph actually shows how the Japanese language differs from English. It is also worth noting that the phonology of this language is simply the biggest contributing factor that makes it hard for Japanese people to pronounce some English words. The various dialects also contribute to this issue.
Phonetics and phonology of Japanese
Most societies which have developed or adopted a writing system have shown some degree of interest in pronunciation or phonological analysis. While spoken language is typically unconscious, writing is far less so, for the product remains before us for inspection and reconsideration (Clark et al.398).
Therefore, the existence of a written form of expression not only invites reflection on the relationship between speech and writing but also creates a distance between speakers and their language that encourages them to treat language as an object of analysis.
Symbols are also used in many languages which also includes the Japanese. For instance, the Japanese Hiragana syllabary has in principle distinct symbol for each syllable of the language. Various Semitic writing systems either omit the vowels or write them above or below the preceding consonant.
There are so many examples of Japanese phonetics as evident in the phonology of the Japanese language. The language is full of syllables that are moraic nasals, laminal, voiced as well as voiceless stops. There are also some fricatives, apical post alveolar flaps and the compressed velars. The above characteristics are mainly consonant based.
Vowels are actually pronounced as mophthongs. This is different from English yet some of the vowels such as /u/ are pronounced as their Spanish counterparts. The vowels of Japanese language have a phonemic length that is distinctly short or very long.
It is also important to note that all vowels in this language are treated as occurring at the same time with that of mora. For this reason, those vowels that are phonetically long are actually treated as a series of two similar short vowels. The language also permits long series of phonetic vowels. These vowels however do not intervene consonants. Only that the pitch accent breaks assist in tracking the time especially in identical vowels.
Languages differ in the ways in which consonants and vowels sounds can be grouped into syllables in words. English language tolerates several consonants before and after single vowels. For instance, the word ‘strength’ has three consonant sounds before and three after a single vowel sound.
In Japanese, the ratio of consonant and vowel sounds in syllables and in words is much more even. Speakers of such language find it difficult to pronounce these kinds of English words. To an Englishman, such words are natural, that is, they are within the sounds and sound sequences whose mastery is acquired in early childhood as part of ones mother tongue (Kharbe, A. 75). Since English is often the second or third language in the Japanese context, pronunciation of these words is not natural.
This causes them to have some aspects of non native pronunciation of English which comes about as a result of the non native users of the English language carrying the intonations from their first language into the English language. Japanese speakers may also carry phonological processes and pronunciation rules into the English language.
For these reasons, they may not be able to pronounce English words properly due to the influence of their first language. There is also a difference between the Japanese language and English language. In Japanese, high vowels are voiceless between or, in final position, following a voiceless obstruent (Lodge, K. 62). This is also one of the reasons that cause the Japanese people to have some difficulties in pronunciation of certain English words which may contain such kinds of vowels.
Connections between the two languages
In a crude sense, the grammatical structures of Japanese and English can be regarded as polar opposites. This is because of the dramatic differences in participant orientations to turn to construction and projection in the respective languages.
Specifically in contrast to English grammar which massively enables early projectability of the social action which might occupy a turn, the grammatical structure of Japanese permits the incremental transformation of a turn-in-progress, and overwhelmingly results in a later arrival of the point at which the emerging shape of a turn can be known.
It is worth noting that the particular delay in the Japanese language is compensated by a potentially greater degree of certitude. The certitudes enable participants to localize turn-endings through the use of devices which mark possible transition-relevance places.
From the above paragraph, one can comfortably state that there are ways in which grammar has a critical bearing on turn-taking in general and turn projection in particular. In this scenario, turn-taking is a good example in which the differences and/or similarities between the two languages can be established.
The syntactic English structure is an important resource that participants draw on to project a probable shape of an emerging turn often well before the turn comes to a possible completion. The normative organization of the syntax also allows the projection of possible transition-relevance places.
Transition relevance places are those places where a turn is likely to come to an end. Thus, the immediate relation between grammar and turn taking in English is partly played out in the ways syntax has consequences for the projectability properties of turns. In Japanese however, less is known about the implications of cross-linguistic variations in grammar for turn taking operations.
Some Japanese literatures suggest that there are numerous differences between the grammatical structures of English and Japanese. A good example of this situation is discrepant ‘standard’ word order of the two languages. In this situation, there is a striking contrast in the use of prepositions in English as opposed to post positional particles in Japanese (Tanaka, H. 104).
Differences between Japanese and English language
There are a number of differences between the Japanese and English languages. Japanese language requires special attention in some particular areas especially when one is translating from English to Japanese or vice versa. The internal organization of a written text can be very different in Japanese and English.
English is particularly linear, because its individual sentences move a central idea forward one step at a time. It is common to find Japanese writers who have not been influenced by Western notions of writing adopting a spiral approach, thereby repeating what has already been said as they gradually converge on their target.
This can only result in an extended paragraph with only one full stop and numerous commas in the sentences. It is thus imperative for the translator to try and grasp the target of the information given, organize the paragraph into segments of suitable length, eliminate redundant portions, and render what is left into English (Sofer, M. 57).
Japanese and English do not operate in the same way. In Japanese, the verb comes at the end of the sentence while in English, the verb is normally at the center of the sentence. For this reason, one has to jump back and forth to pick up the subjects and the verb, and reorganize the whole thing when translating Japanese into English.
The Japanese language also disregards plural forms for definite and indefinite articles, and for verb tenses, all of which are often ignored and have to be figured out from the context (Sofer, M. 57). It is worth noting that despite all these difficulties, more than a few westerners have managed to pursue an effective career as translators of this particular language pair.
The link which language users as folk etymologists make as when they refer to the bottom of a mountain as the foot of a mountain is actually based upon a conceived similarity between the structure of the human body and a mountain.
This is just one of the reasons why languages differ with geographical locations. Modern literatures have defined language in several ways. All those definitions are right as long as their main or central focus is communication. Language is therefore a purely human method of communication that is free of instincts.
The Japanese language, also known as Nihon-go, is spoken by over 125 million people who live in the island state of Japan. In its indigenous form, the language is known as either Nihon or Nippon. There are four major dialects in the whole of Japan. These dialects are the Eastern, Western, Kyushu, and Ryukyu dialects. In a crude sense, the grammatical structures of Japanese and English can be regarded as polar opposites.
This is because of the dramatic differences in participant orientations to turn to construction and projection in the respective languages. Mother tongue influence is a major factor that contributes to the difficulties experienced by the Japanese when they pronounce English words.
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Dirven, Rene. Cognitive Exploration of Language and Linguistics. John Benjamin Publishing Company, Amsterdam, 2004.
Iwasaki, Shoichi. Japanese. John Benjamin Publishing Company, Amsterdam, 2002
Lodge, Ken. A Critical Introduction to Phonetics. Continuum International Publishing Group, London, 2009.
Kharbe, Ambreen. English Language and Literary Criticism. Discovery Publishing House PVT. Ltd, New Delhi.
Smith, Robert & Beardsley, Richard. Japanese Culture: Its Development and Characteristics. Routledge, London, 2004.
Sofer, Morry. The Translator’s Handbook. Ed. 6. Schreiber Publishing, Rockville, 2006.
Syal, Pushpinder & Jindal, D.V. An Introduction to Linguistics: Language, Grammar and Semantics. Prentice Hall of India, New Delhi, 2007.
Tanaka, Hiroko. Turn-Taking in Japanese Conversation: A Study in Grammar and Interaction. John Benjamin, Amsterdam, 1999.