Japan Language and Literature

The origin of the Japanese language is still debated; there have always been numerous hypotheses. The old theory of its relationship with a vast Scythian or Turan language group has been abandoned; that of its Polynesian origin and that of its possible relationships with Indonesian Malay, whose phonetics and syllabic structure are similar, is a much disputed theory.

Korea was truly the first foreign country with which Japan had relations, but it cannot be inferred from this that its language originates from this country. Archaic Japanese has been admitted to have been transmitted orally through the bards; the graphic transcription of this recited Japanese was made around the s. VII. It is unknown whether the ancient Japanese had a written language; in 405, the country adopted the Chinese writing system through Korean scholars, despite the great difficulty of adapting the binding language of Japanese to Chinese ideograms.

This general adoption made the autochthonous deeds that might exist before this date completely disappear. Chinese monosyllabic and ideographic writing was used by cultivated people, but pronounced in the Japanese style. The Chinese character chen (man) was read, and still reads, milestone; the structure and vocabulary of the two languages ​​are completely different.

Towards the 9th century, like the ancient Egyptians, they looked for a way to simplify their writing using the Chinese ideograms, which were given a simple phonetic value without any other significance; In this way, the Japanese were able to write the grammatical endings of their language that did not exist in Chinese.

Thus, a 48-character syllabary was created, a phonetic writing system called kana (plagiarized names), for poorly literate people, so that they could write in this way in Japanese, without having to know the multiple and difficult Chinese ideograms. This syllabary is presented under two aspects: a) calligraphic, the katakana (kana, for ‘margin’), and b) cursive, the hiragana (win, that is, kana ‘easy’) more used than the preceding one.

Today, katakana is mostly used to write non-Japanese words. However, the Japanese always use Chinese characters next to the kana syllabary; Chinese characters are called kanji and are used to write the invariable part of nouns, adjectives and verbs, and kana signs are added to them to indicate the grammatical inflections, called okurigana.

The Japanese Government promulgated in 1946 a list of 1,850 characters, it was kanji (kanji ‘for practical use’), used in popular press and magazines. Of these, the most common are 881 and are learned during the ten years of primary education. The phonetic transcription of Japanese in Latin characters is called romaji. The Hepburn system is commonly used, named after an American missionary who dedicated his life (1815-1911) to the language and culture of Japan. A Japanese dictionary contains 5,000 to 15,000 characters. An extensive dictionary has recently been published that collects 48,902 kanji.

According to educationvv, Japanese, unlike Chinese, is a polysyllabic language. It still has traces of the use of tones, but not in terms of semantics. It has short and long vowels and double consonants. The word has no main accent, except on long vowels. It also has no grammatical gender and uses prefixes and suffixes for many grammatical functions. The notion of grammatical number and person is very vague and there is a curious indifference of the language towards the verbal gender.

The verb occupies a particular position; It is always placed at the end of the sentence; there is no special form for the passive voice, which is rarely used. The potential and passive forms are made by adding a suffix to the verbal stem, and the cases are indicated by means of propositions. There are familiar and courteous forms, as well as a multiplicity of modes and times. There are two forms of numerals, one pure Japanese and one derived from Chinese.

The first remains of a primitive Japanese literature are found in the texts of the Psalms of the Shinto ceremonies, collected in a collection in the sx These psalms are in the form of litanies, norito, magical-religious formulas, liturgical incantations written in prose and verse.

The Japanese Buddhism was introduced in 552 by Buddhist monks arrived from Kudara, Korean kingdom, in order to present to the Emperor of Yamato the new religion. After a period of opposition, Prince Regent Shotoku Taishi (573-621) imposed Buddhism throughout the Empire, by edict, in 604. China’s influence on Japanese thought was profound.

Since then there has been a true passion and great respect for Chinese letters that lasted throughout the history of Japan, powerfully marking its literature until modern times. The oldest known Sino-Japanese document is an inscription engraved on a Nara temple stele: it is a Buddhist text dating from 596.

Imitating the Chinese chroniclers, the Japanese wrote their own chronicles. The Kijujiki, written during the reign of Prince Shotoku, was burned, but another collection of chronicles has been preserved, the Koyiki, published in 712. In 720 appeared Nihonshoki (The Fastos of Japan), a collection of 30 vol. that collects legends, historical and fantastic stories, and that the Japanese consider sacred. Around the same time, called Nara, the first capital of Japan (710-794), a genealogical list of princely families and nobles was established: Shinsen-Seishiroku (New name almanac).

The Nara era does not seem to have any lyrical preoccupation yet and imitates the customs and costumes of the Chinese. It was a pre-classical period, during which the language, taste and aesthetics of Japan were gradually formed in the court and in the feudal milieus. A Ministry of Poetic Affairs was instituted, a kind of Acad. of Letters and Arts. By then numerous poems were written and, at the beginning of the s. ix, the first poetic anthology was published, entitled Manyóshú (Collection of a thousand leaves), and composed in Chinese characters.

The authors belonged to all social classes. This collection contains 4,173 tanka, short poems composed of 31 syllables, in five verses, respectively of 5, 7, 5, 7 and 7 syllables, excluding all words of Chinese origin, and 324 naga-uta, a long poem in which alternate verses of 5 and 7 syllables. This last form declined rapidly after the time of Nara, as Japanese poets have little disposition for long compositions.

The Japanese poem sings in short stanzas intimate emotions, human feelings, nature; therefore it is seen that the Chinese influence is zero. There remains, however, the calligraphic beauty of an autograph poem written on paper or silk and its aesthetically drawn ideograms. The rhythm of Japanese poetry is simple; classical verse always has an odd number of syllables, 5 or 7. These verses are used in the following five genres: naga-uta (or chóka), dodoitsu, tanka (or waka), haiku (or haikai), and shintaishi.

The Heian Era (794-1185). It took its name from the capital that succeeded the short-lived Nara, since it barely lasted a century. The lavish court, established for a short time in Nagaoka, came to reside in the “City of Peace”, Heian-Kyó (present-day Kyoto) and Japanese culture quickly reached extraordinary splendor and refinement, becoming the true age. classical Japanese, characterized by abundant prose and the dominance of talented women, court ladies or daughters of courtiers, who used the kana syllabary and made Japan known as the “country of queens.”.

Japan Literature