Excepting the twin sister tongue spoken in the Luchu Islands, the Japanese language owns no kindred, and its classification under any of the recognised linguistic families remains doubtful. In structure, though not to any appreciable extent in vocabulary, it closely resembles Korean; and both it and Korean may possibly be related to Mongol and to Manchu, and might therefore lay claim to be included in the so-called "Altaïc" group. In any case, Japanese is what philologists term an agglutinative tongue, that is to say, it builds up its words and grammatical forms by means of suffixes loosely soldered to the root or stem, which is invariable. Though not originally related to Chinese, Japanese has adopted an enormous number of Chinese words, such words having naturally followed Chinese civilisation into the archipelago. Even at the present day, the Japanese language has recourse to Chinese for terms to indicate all such new things and ideas as "telegram," "bicycle," "photograph," "democracy," "natural selection," "limited liability," etc., etc., much as we ourselves have recourse to Latin and Greek. Hence a curious result:-the Europeanisation of Japanese institutions has made the language far more humbly tributary to China to-day than it ever was while Confucianism reigned supreme in the land.
The fundamental rule of Japanese syntax is that qualifying words precede the word they qualify. Thus the adjective or genitive precedes the noun which it defines, the adverb precedes the verb, and explanatory or dependent clauses precede the principal clause. The object likewise precedes the verb. The predicative verb or adjective of each clause is placed at the end of that clause, the predicative verb or adjective of the main clause rounding off the entire sentence, which is often, even in familiar conversation, extremely long and complicated. The following is an example of Japanese construction:-
|Kono goro ni itarimashite, Bukkyō||"At the present day,Buddhism has sunkinto |
being the beliefof the lower classesonly.
Few persons inthe middle and upperclasses
understand its raison d'être, most ofthem
fancying thatreligion is a thing whichcomes
into play only atfuneral services."
|This period at having-arrived, Buddhism|
|to mōsu mono wa, tada katō|
|that (they) say thing as-for, merely low|
|jimmin no shinjiru tokoro to nat|
|class-people's believing place that having|
|te, chōtō ijō de|
|become, middle-class thence-upwards in|
|wa sono dōri wo wakimae-teru hito|
|as-for, its reason (accus.) discerning-are people|
|ga sukunaku; shūmon to ieba,|
|(nom.) being-few, religion that if-one-says,|
|sōshiki no toki bakari ni mochiiru|
|funeral-rite's time only in employ|
|koto no yo ni omoimasu.|
|thing's manner in (they) think.|
This one example may suffice to show how widely divergent (compared with Europe) are the channels in which Japanese thought flows. Nor is it merely that the idioms differ, but that the same circumstances do not draw from Japanese speakers remarks similar to those which they would draw from European speakers. In accidence also the disparity is remarkable. Japanese nouns have no gender or number, Japanese adjectives no degrees of comparison, Japanese verbs no person. On the other hand, the verbs have peculiar complications of their own. They have a negative voice, and forms to indicate causation and potentiality. There is also an elaborate system of honorifics, which to some extent replaces the use of person in the verb and makes good the general omission of personal pronouns.
The Japanese vocabulary, though extraordinarily rich and constantly growing, is honourably deficient in terms of abuse. It affords absolutely no means of cursing and swearing. Another negative quality is the habitual avoidance of personification,-a characteristic so deep-seated and all-pervading as to interfere even with the use of neuter nouns in combination with transitive verbs. Thus, this language rejects such expressions as "the heat makes me feel languid," "despair drove him to commit suicide," "science warns us against overcrowding," "quarrels degrade those who engage in them." etc., etc. One must say, "being hot, I feel languid," "having lost hope, he killed himself," "on considering, we find that the fact of people's crowding together is unhealthy," and so on,-the idea being adequately rendered no doubt, but at the expense of verve and picturesqueness. Nor can any one fully realise how picturesque our European languages are, how saturated with metaphor and lit up with fancy, until he has familiarised himself with one of the tamer tongues of the Far East. Poetry naturally suffers more than prose from this defect of the language. No Japanese Wordsworth could venture on such metaphorical lines as
"If Thought and Love desert us, from that day,In fact, most metaphors and allegories are incapable of so much as intelligible explanation to Far-Eastern minds.
Let us break off all commerce with the Muse:
With Thought and Love companions of our way-
Whate'er the senses take or may refuse,-
The Mind's internal heaven shall shed her dews
Of inspiration on the humblest lay."
Japanese-with its peculiar grammar, its still uncertain affinities, its ancient literature-is a language worthy of more attention than it has yet received. We say "language;" but "languages" would be more strictly correct, the modern colloquial speech having diverged from the old classical tongue almost to the same extent as Italian has diverged from Latin. The Japanese still employ in their books, and even in correspondence and advertisements, a style which is partly classical and partly artificial. This is what is termed the "Written Language." The student therefore finds himself confronted with a double task. Add to this the necessity of committing to memory two syllabaries, one of which has many variant forms, and at least two or three thousand Chinese ideographs in forms standard and cursive,-ideographs, too, most of which are susceptible of three or four different readings according to circumstances,-add further that all these kinds of written symbols are apt to be encountered pell-mell on the same page, and the task of mastering Japanese becomes almost Herculean. Fortunately the pronunciation is easy, and there is no difficulty in acquiring a smattering that will greatly enhance the pleasure and comfort of those who reside or travel in the country. Another grain of comfort, in the midst of all Japanese linguistic complications, may be extracted from the fact that local dialects have but little importance. It is not as in China, where, if you speak Pekingese you are incomprehensible at Canton, and if you speak Cantonese you are incomprehensible at Amoy or at Shanghai. Here the one standard language will carry you right through the country. No doubt the peasantry of different districts have local modes of pronunciation and expression; but the trouble thus caused is no greater than what may be experienced at home in England. From the philologist's standpoint, the most interesting dialects are those of the extreme South and West, which preserve archaic forms. The speech of the more recently settled North is for the most part a mere patois, an omnium-gatherum produced by the concourse of immigrants from other provinces. (See also Articles on LITERATURE and WRITING.)
Books recommended - The foregoing Article is partly condensed from the present writer's Handbook of Colloquial Japanese. See also Imbrie English-Japanese Etymology.-The best book on the classical language is Aston Grammar of the Japanese Written Language.-The least unsatisfactory Japanese-English dictionaries are the Unabridged by Capt. Brinkley and several Japanese collaborators, and Dr. Hepburn's, the latter published both in a full and in an abridged edition. Satow's small dictionary. revised by Hampden and Parlett, is to be preferred for English-Japanese The best native dictionary is the Kotoba no Izumi.-The best collection of colloquial texts romanised is Benkyōka no Tonio, by the Abbé Caron, with French notes.-Rev. C. Munzinger essay entitled Die l'sychologie der Japanischen Sprache, published in Part 53 of the "German Asiatic Transactions," will interest the philological specialist.