The Japanese Language and Its Variety Of Dialects
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The Japanese Language and Its Variety Of Dialects

The Japanese Language and Its Variety Of Dialects

Find out more about Japanese language, its origins, dialects and the importance of professional translation.

Around 126 million people in the world speak Japanese as the language they learned first. It’s also spoken as a second language, or additional language, in various locations across the world, particularly in Hawaii and Brazil.

Japanese Language & Business

Japan is a powerhouse in worldwide business and the rules with Japanese culture and politeness, social hierarchy and language expectations are highly complex. For that reason, if any global company wants to do business with a Japanese business, it’s essential they learn the language and the various cultural rules that go along with it. Likewise, when producing promotional material for a Japanese audience, it’s vital that businesses make use of suitable Japanese voice over artists.

The Origins of Japanese

The origins of Japanese are not in total agreement amongst experts. The most widespread belief is that it comes from the Ural-Altaic group of languages which also includes Korean, Turkish and Mongolian, amongst others.

It includes a mixture of writing characters which include Kanji, Hiragana and Katakana in modern times. They form part of a hugely complex Japanese writing system which has two, 50 syllables each phonetic syllabaries, and thousands of characters of which 2000 have to be learned before a Japanese student is able to graduate high school.

Over time, the Japanese have also added words from Portuguese, Dutch, Spanish and English as people from across the world began to visit.

Japanese Dialects

If you were to travel through Japan, you would hear all different kinds of dialects that sound very different compared to each other. They also sound very different from the main form of Japanese. If you’re creating business subtitles, or engaging a corporate video voiceover agency for a specific region of Japan, it is imperative to be mindful of these different dialects.

Japan has over six thousand islands as part of its territory and the various landscape features, such as mountains, naturally divide those areas into different dialect types. Those dialects differ with the way they sound, the way they work and the rules around the vowel and consonant use.

The amount of Japanese dialects is disputed. Some say there are as many as 47, some say there are as few as 16. This is widely discussed amongst linguists, but these days it is commonly accepted that there are seven main Japanese dialects which are:

Hakata-ben – Associated with Fukuoka and the Kyushu area

Osaka-ben and Kansai-ben – Associated with the Kansai area

Kyoto-ben – Associated with the Kyoto area

Hiroshima-ben – Associated with the Chugoku area

Nagoya-ben – Associated with the Nagoya area

Sendai-ben – Associated with the Miyagi region

Hokkaido-ben – Associated with the Hokkaido area

These main dialects still contain many different dialects within specific areas. Some are also so different from Standard Japanese that anybody aside from those in the region may struggle to understand the dialect at all.

Translate With Caution

Whilst the dialects of Japan are interesting for the budding linguist, for businesses wanting to properly communicate with an audience in a specific region, precise regional translation is key.

Working with a professional voiceover company or subtitle service really is imperative if you are looking to do business in a specific region of Japan – it’s the only way to be understood in the way you need, to move your project forward.

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