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  • Quiz time: Are the following words Chinese or Japanese?

  • First.

  • Yes it's Japanese.

  • Next.

  • It's Chinese.

  • Next.

  • Actually, this is both Chinese and Japanese.

  • And finally.

  • Actually this is neither, this is Thai.

  • What, you thought all Asian languages are the same? Racist.

  • Hello everyone. Welcome to the LangFocus channel, my name is Paul.

  • Today's topic is: the question how similar are Chinese and Japanese.

  • A lot of people look at a map of Asia and see how close Japan and China are or they might look

  • at a sample of Chinese and Japanese writing and think that something looks

  • similar and they might conclude that the two languages are similar, but are they

  • really similar? Well, the short answer is no they are completely different

  • languages but Japanese has been highly influenced by Chinese in its vocabulary

  • and its writing system

  • Chinese and Japanese do not share any common origin and they don't belong to

  • the same language family

  • Chinese languages belong to the Sino-Tibetan language family and

  • Japanese as far as we know belongs to the Japonic language family.

  • Phonology: First off, the phonology of the languages is very different

  • With the most basic difference being that Chinese is a tonal language while Japanese is not.

  • A tonal language is one in which there are tones or pitches that help determine the meaning

  • of the words you use; if you used the wrong tone then the meaning of the word changes.

  • Here's an example: the word for teacher, "lao3shi1"

  • and the word for naive, "lao3shi2"

  • and the word for old-fashioned, "lao3shi4".

  • So I'm sure that Chinese teachers get called naive and old-fashioned all the time by mistake

  • or maybe not by mistake.

  • In Japanese there are basically no tones like this that determine the meaning of words.

  • In Japanese there is something called pitch accent which means that the syllables of a word have

  • either a higher pitch or a lower pitch but they're not like the tones in

  • Chinese because they typically don't determine the meaning of the word

  • they're more like stress in English.

  • Structure: the structure and grammar of the two languages is completely different

  • at the most basic level Chinese is an SVO language while Japanese is an SOV language

  • Here's an example in Chinese: "ta1shuo1zhong1wen2" This means he speaks Chinese and you can see

  • SVO: subject verb object.

  • And here's that sentence translated into Japanese:

  • "kare wa chūgokugo wo hanashimasu".

  • Here we can see SOV: subject object verb.

  • And you can see there are some extra little words in Japanese that don't exist in the Chinese sentence

  • for example Japanese has the topic marker "wa" which doesn't exist in Chinese

  • and Japanese also has the object marker "wo" which doesn't exist in Chinese.

  • Chinese is an analytic language which basically means that you create a

  • sentence by placing independent elements side-by-side. Analytic languages like

  • Chinese do not use inflection: inflection means modifying words to indicate some

  • kind of grammatical meaning like plural, gender, tense or case

  • You don't change any part of a word in order to change its meaning

  • Instead you can add to the meaning of that word by adding an extra word next to it

  • Japanese on the other hand is an agglutinative language that uses inflection.

  • Agglutinative languages use a lot of affixes:

  • Rather than just placing independent words side-by-side you attach additional pieces to words to

  • add or modify meaning: this kind of inflection in Japanese means that

  • Japanese words are often longer than Chinese words and that it may take a few

  • words in Chinese to translate one Japanese word.

  • In these Chinese sentences we can see that there's no inflection

  • "wo3qu4xue2xiao4"

  • this sentence means I go to school

  • "wo3qu4xue2xiao4"

  • this sentence means I went to school

  • so no part of the verb is changed indicate the past tense

  • We can show the past tense by just adding a time expression.

  • Now these similar sentences in Japanese show inflection

  • This sentence means I go to school "watashi wa gakkou e iku"

  • I went to school "watashi wa gakkou e itta"

  • And the polite form of "I go to school": "watashi wa gakkou e ikimasu"

  • I want to go to school: "watashi wa gakkou e ikitai".

  • In this Japanese example we use inflection changing the word "iku" to the "iki" form

  • and then we use agglutination to attach a form that shows intention: "tai".

  • In Chinese though there's no inflection or agglutination: you just add an extra word like this.

  • That's just a brief sample of how different the grammar is in Japanese and Chinese

  • basically they're completely different languages when it comes to their grammatical structure

  • The one area which there is some similarity between Chinese and Japanese is in vocabulary

  • and in the use of Chinese characters. During a period of great Chinese

  • influence between the 5th and 9th centuries CE there was a huge amount

  • of borrowing from early Middle Chinese into Japanese.

  • Japanese originally had no written form so Chinese began to be used as the literary language

  • and as the language of science and of religion.

  • Chinese vocabulary began to be borrowed into

  • Japanese and the Chinese writing system was gradually adapted to fit the

  • Japanese language so not only were vocabulary borrowed

  • But the Chinese characters that represent them were also adopted.

  • 60% of the words used in Japanese are of Chinese origin but that includes all of the

  • words in the dictionary and that includes a lot of very specialized, academic

  • and formal vocabulary that's mainly used in writing.

  • In spoken Japanese the number of Chinese loan words used as much lower,

  • At about 18%. The borrowed words

  • were almost all Chinese nouns; even though in Japanese they might be used as verbs or as adjectives

  • that's just one way in which the vocabulary is used differently

  • but also the pronunciation of those Chinese words that were borrowed into

  • Japanese changed to match the Japanese phonological system and that included

  • the loss of the tones of those words. And also these words were borrowed a long time ago,

  • which means that the words have also changed in pronunciation in Chinese

  • so the pronunciation has diverged quite a bit,

  • meaning that modern Japanese pronunciation and

  • modern Chinese pronunciation of similar characters or words is quite different.

  • And it's also important to point out that Mandarin was not the standard form of Chinese back in those days

  • when those vocabulary words were borrowed into Japanese, so

  • Even at the time they were borrowed the pronunciation was different from standard Chinese today

  • And from what I understand the modern Japanese pronunciation of those loanwords

  • Is often more similar to modern Cantonese than it is to Mandarin

  • These examples show how the same words are pronounced very differently in Japanese and Mandarin

  • The word for family: In Japanese it's "katei"

  • and actually in Japanese the meaning is more like household or home

  • And in Mandarin: "jia1ting2".

  • Next, the word for death: In Japanese: "shibou"

  • And in Mandarin: "si3wang2"

  • Next, the word for season: In Japanese, "kisetsu"

  • And in Mandarin: "ji4jie2"

  • And the word for home country: "In Japanese: bokoku"

  • And in Mandarin: "mu3guo2"

  • So you can see that these words look the same and they have basically

  • the same meaning but they sound very different

  • So Chinese vocabulary represented by Chinese characters were borrowed into Japanese

  • but those Chinese characters were also then applied to native Japanese vocabulary

  • that had a related meaning to those Chinese loan words

  • That means that a Chinese speaker can often look at a native Japanese word and

  • understand its core meaning without knowing that Japanese word because

  • the Chinese character is used to represent it

  • So Chinese people can often read a text in Japanese and they can make sense

  • of the basic meaning of it based on the Chinese characters but they won't understand all the details

  • And the same is true in reverse: Japanese people can look at a Chinese text

  • and kind of make sense of the meaning of it

  • based on the Chinese characters that they know.

  • But it is easy to misunderstand the details of what's written

  • especially if they have zero knowledge of the other language

  • Here are some Japanese example sentences that have the same Chinese characters

  • but the meaning is very different because of the inflection that's used

  • "Neko wa sakana wo taberu". That means, The cat eats fish.

  • "Neko wa sakana wo tabenai". That means, The cat doesn't eat fish.

  • "Neko wa sakana wo tabeta". That means, The cat ate fish, in the past tense.

  • "Neko wa sakana wo taberutsumori" the cat plans to eat fish

  • "Neko wa sakana ni teberareta", that means The cat was eaten by a fish

  • So a Chinese character reading these sentences would

  • get the core meaning of the Chinese characters

  • But they would miss something in the inflection

  • For example the negative, or the past tense, or intention or the passive form

  • especially the last example could be highly misunderstood

  • So imagine you're an English speaker reading something with English loanwords

  • it might look something like this

  • Cat bla fish blah food blah blah

  • Of course even after just a little bit of studying Japanese a Chinese speaker could probably

  • learn enough to understand basic Japanese sentences like that

  • For me, as someone who studied Japanese to a relatively advanced level the same is true in reverse:

  • when I was in Taiwan last year on the subway for example I could read a lot of the advertisements

  • and I would get most of the meaning; I wouldn't understand all of the Chinese characters

  • but I would get usually 3 out of 4 of them and the fourth one would be new to me

  • because in Chinese there are a lot of characters that actually aren't used in Japanese at all

  • But just getting 3 out of 4 of them was often enough to understand the basic meaning

  • of that advertising but of course I had no idea how to pronounce those Chinese

  • characters and if I tried to read them out loud like the Japanese I would hear

  • laughter from both my girlfriend and from local bystanders.

  • It might seem strange that I can look at a Chinese character in Chinese and understand what

  • it means without knowing how to say it but think of it as a symbol like a number

  • the number seven right here is pronounced differently in different languages

  • but when you see it you know what it means no matter how you pronounce it

  • Chinese characters are kind of like that except that they represent a much wider range of meanings

  • The Chinese characters used in any particular sentence can be