Asian language translations: Japanese

Asia is a land boasting a wealth of languages that are both wonderful and wonderfully complex, languages that have retained an air of mystery throughout the ages.
Here at Soget Est, we have been specializing in the translation of Asian languages for years and look to the East with great fondness. Over the years, we have developed specific expertise in professional translation from and into the three most widely used languages in Asia: Chinese, Japanese and Arabic.

This short guide is designed to provide a little insight into the history, main linguistic characteristics and the various aspects that make Japanese such a fascinating language.


Japanese consists of Kanji characters, which are based on Chinese characters, and two syllabic alphabets known as Kana, dating from the 9th century AD. However, their linguistic forms and use were not established until the 20th century.
While the two systems can be used separately in modern Japanese writing, the combined use of Kana and Kanji is common practice. Some maintain that this is to reduce the ambiguity of the written language given that Japanese mainly comprises homophonous words.
he remote influence of Indian writing can be detected in the syllabic nature of the Kana, probably due to the spread of Indian Buddhism to the Far East.


The Japanese writing system is made up of three different graphic forms: Kanji, Hiragana and Katakana.
Hiragana and Katakana are syllabic systems and can be used as Furigana — namely short annotations resembling a Kanji character — to suggest a meaning or pronunciation.
Some also incorporate Romaji into Japanese writing: this method of writing Japanese with Roman letters is seen as essential for all-round learning.

There are around 2,000 Kanji characters deemed essential for everyday use, despite the number of existing characters being considerably higher. More specifically, characters for proper nouns are very unusual.
Kanji is used for simple units of sentences, like nouns, verb stems and noun stems. Compound words are instead written using one or more Kanji characters
Since there are clear differences between Japanese and Chinese in terms of phonology, the Japanese use of Kanji characters poses a further hurdle as each character has two readings.
For example, a character can have an on (phonetic) reading, which is based on the Chinese pronunciation in the event the character is a loan. Or it can have a kun (semantic) reading, which is based on the Chinese meaning as transposed into Japanese. Of course, not all Kanji characters have been borrowed. There are an estimated 150 Kanji characters coined in Japanese, and these are called kokuji.

Rounder in appearance, Hiragana is a syllabic alphabet comprising 46 characters and a number of diacritics.
Originally derived from the italic forms of the Kanji, Hiragana is used for the grammatical morphemes (units) of a sentence, like auxiliary verbs and inflectional endings.
Except in children’s books, Hiragana is not usually used on its own in Japanese.

Katakana, the spikier looking of the two Kana, comes from the italic forms of Kanji and can be regarded as parallel to Hiragana. Each Kana actually supports different, yet equivalent, characters for the same sounds. While Hiragana is used for units of grammar, Katakana is usually used for foreign words and names, onomatopoeic expressions, and for telegrams.

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