The history of the Japanese language can be roughly divided into four phases: Old Japanese, Early Middle Japanese, Late Middle Japanese, Early Modern Japanese, and Modern Japanese being translated today.
Old Japanese is characterized by its introduction of Chinese characters, Early Middle Japanese by the continuation of Chinese influence in terms of writing, phonology, and vocabulary, Late Middle Japanese by the introduction of loan words from European loanwords, Early Modern Japanese by evolutions in their writing system (the development of the two kana syllabaries), and Modern Japanese by the widespread use of a standardized and unified language among all of Japan.
Japanese can be traced back to old Japanese in the 8th century. It was mainly written using Chinese characters, before the creation of the two syllabaries. Chinese characters were brought from scholars from the mainland and through Korea due to the spread of Buddhism throughout Asia. Because of the introduction of Chinese characters, and with it Chinese culture and language, there was an influence on other linguistic characteristics of Japanese as well, such as the pronunciation of words, vocabulary, and more.
Throughout the history of Japan, and especially during the evolution of the Japanese language, the two syllabaries, Hiragana and Katakana, were derived from the Chinese characters. In addition, due to Japan participating in trade with other countries, Japanese absorbed vocabulary from a variety of other languages, ranging from Korean to Portuguese. These words now form the basis of a core vocabulary that is used in everyday speech.
While Japanese has been primarily used only in Japan throughout history, it has also been exported to other regions, such as Korea, certain parts of Mainland China, Taiwan, and Southeast Asia, specifically due to Japanese colonization during World War II. As a result, older generations in these areas still retain some fluency in the Japanese language. Japanese is also spoken by populations in certain regions and territories of the United States of America, such as in Hawaii and Guam, due to the prevalence of ethnic Japanese immigration populations in these areas.
Japanese is considered an agglunative language. To contrast this with English, suffixes attach onto words to express more nuanced meanings, and words can end up becoming very long. Thus, the Japanese grammar and syntax can be quite challenging to speakers who are more used to Western languages, such as English. In addition, the Japanese word order is quite different compared to Western European languages; the verb always comes at the end and other aspects come before it, including the subject and object. However, there is much flexibility for some ordering, especially in the spoken language. Along with other grammatical and vocabulary characteristics, Japanese can be considered quite a unique language among the worlds’ languages.
Modern Japanese can be characterized by many unique characteristics including its prominent use of vocabulary and grammar to signify politeness or social position, which is reflected in both the spoken and written languages. The language can express different aspects of social status, including age, job position, experience, familiarity, and more. These expressions are an integral part of Japanese society and culture and have an effect on everyday interactions in a variety of contexts, such as school, workplaces, customer-client interaction, and even among family members.
Japanese has a long tradition of literature, both in ancient times and modern times. Ancient Japanese literature stems from classical Chinese works, and modern literature contains influences of both older Japanese literature and international aspects. Currently, Japanese literature enjoys a fan-base that not only exists in Japan but also internationally.
In recent times, Japanese is used prevalently in certain industries internationally, including business and entertainment, due to the prominence of Japanese technological companies. Therefore, knowledge of the language and culture is useful for successful business relationships and transactions. Many Japanese concepts, and therefore expressions, have also been transferred to mainstream culture such as sushi, karate, manga comics, anime, karaoke, the music industry, and much more.