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A History of the Japanese People by F. Brinkley

The former undoubtedly was the language of the Yemishi


style="text-align: justify;">CHAPTER VII

LANGUAGE AND PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS

LANGUAGE

HOWEVER numerous may have been the races that contributed originally to people Japan, the languages now spoken there are two only, Ainu and Japanese. They are altogether independent tongues. The former undoubtedly was the language of the Yemishi; the latter, that of the Yamato. From north to south all sections of the Japanese nation--the Ainu of course excepted--use practically the same speech. Varieties of local dialects exist, but they show no traits of survival from different languages. On the contrary, in few countries of Japan's magnitude does corresponding uniformity of speech prevail from end to end of the realm. It cannot reasonably be assumed that, during a period of some twenty-five centuries and in the face of steady extermination, the Yemishi preserved their language quite distinct from that of their conquerors, whereas the various languages spoken by the other races peopling the island were fused into a whole so homogeneous as to defy all attempts at differentiation. The more credible alternative is that from time immemorial the main elements of the Japanese nation belonged to the same race, and whatever they received from abroad by way of immigration became completely absorbed and assimilated in the course of centuries.

No diligent attempt

has yet been made to trace the connexion--if any exist--between the Ainu tongue and the languages of northeastern Asia, but geology, history, and archaeology suffice to indicate that the Yemishi reached Japan at the outset from Siberia. The testimony of these three sources is by no means so explicit in the case of the Yamato, and we have to consider whether the language itself does not furnish some better guide. "Excepting the twin sister tongue spoken in the Ryukyu Islands," writes Professor Chamberlain, "the Japanese language has no kindred, and its classification under any of the recognized linguistic families remains doubtful. In structure, though not to any appreciable extent in vocabulary, it closely resembles Korean, and both it and Korean may possibly be related to Mongol and to Manchu, and might therefore lay claim to be included in the so-called 'Altaic group' In any case, Japanese is what philologists call an agglutinative tongue; that is to say, it builds up its words and grammatical forms by means of suffixes loosely soldered to the root or stem, which is invariable."

This, written in 1905, has been supplemented by the ampler researches of Professor S. Kanazawa, who adduces such striking evidences of similarity between the languages of Japan and Korea that one is almost compelled to admit the original identity of the two. There are no such affinities between Japanese and Chinese. Japan has borrowed largely, very largely, from China. It could scarcely have been otherwise. For whereas the Japanese language in its original form--a form which differs almost as much from its modern offspring as does Italian from Latin--has little capacity for expansion, Chinese has the most potential of all known tongues in that respect. Chinese may be said to consist of a vast number of monosyllables, each expressed by a different ideograph, each having a distinct significance, and each capable of combination and permutation with one or more of the others, by which combinations and permutations disyllabic and trisyllabic words are obtained representing every conceivable shade of meaning.

It is owing to this wonderful elasticity that Japan, when suddenly confronted by foreign arts and sciences, soon succeeded in building up for herself a vocabulary containing all the new terms, and containing them in self-explaining forms. Thus "railway" is expressed by tetsu-do, which consists of the two monosyllables tetsu (iron) and do (way); "chemistry" by kagaku, or the learning (gaku) of changes (ka); "torpedo" by suirai, or water (sui) thunder (rai); and each of the component monosylables being written with an ideograph which conveys its own meaning, the student has a term not only appropriate but also instructive. Hundreds of such words have been manufactured in Japan during the past half-century to equip men for the study of Western learning, and the same process, though on a very much smaller scale, had been going on continuously for many centuries, so that the Japanese language has come to embody a very large number of Chinese words, though they are not pronounced as the Chinese pronounce the corresponding ideographs.


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