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Relations Between the Chinese, Japanese, and Korean Languages

relation between Asian languages

Being members of any social group and messengers in any culture, humans express themselves through a language system comprising conventional spoken, manual (signed), or written symbols. Language serves various purposes, including exchanging ideas, expressing oneself, and releasing pent-up emotions.

When we see the scripts of these languages, they all seem alike. In this article, we will try to figure out if they are related or not.

A Brief Introduction

1. Chinese

Mandarin is a branch of the Sino-Tibetan language family spoken by the Han Chinese majority and several minority ethnic groups in Greater China. 1.3 billion people (or around 16 per cent of the world’s population) speak Chinese as a first language, with diverse dialects and dialect variations.

2. Japanese

The Japanese language is one of the world’s main languages, with more than 127 million speakers in the early 21st century. It is largely spoken across the Japanese archipelago; there are also around 1.5 million Japanese immigrants and their descendants living overseas, particularly in North and South America, who have varying degrees of skill in Japanese.

Since the mid-20th century, no country other than Japan has utilized Japanese as a first or second language as widely as Japan has. Most Japanese people are Japanese ethnically and speak Japanese as their first language. However, a few native speakers scattered around the Western Hemisphere have emigrated to the country.

3. Korean

South Korea is home to 48 million people, whereas North Korea is home to 24 million. More than 75 million people speak the Korean language. More than 2 million people speak Chinese, 1 million speak English in the United States, and 500,000 speak Japanese. 

There are almost 100 million native speakers in the Republic of Korea and the Democratic People’s Republic. The Korean Language Society developed uniform standards for spelling, alphabetization, and vocabulary choice (including the names of the letters) in 1933, and both Koreas adhere to them.

The relationship between the Japanese and Korean languages

1. Korean Invaders Introduced to Japan

While it is widely accepted that Korean invaders introduced Proto-Japonic to Japan in the early to mid-4th century BC (the Yayoi era), it is also widely accepted that Proto-Japonic replaced the languages of the indigenous Jmon residents. 

I suppose historians can deduce anything about this period. In that case, it must be based on the internal reconstruction of Old Japanese or comparison with Ryukyuan languages and Japanese dialects because humans had not yet introduced writing in China.

2. Japonic Languages

The Japonic languages, including Japanese and Korean, are geographically close and share many typological traits, although their lexical similarities are minimal and their writing systems dissimilar. 

While kanji are used in Japanese orthography and hanja were used to write Korean, they both employ Chinese letters, which are used in both languages’ orthography (marginally for academic, legal, media, stylistic and disambiguation purposes in South Korea today, while eliminated in North Korea). 

3. Similar Cultures

Based on the similarities between Korean and Japanese culture, some language experts have suggested that the Korean and Japanese languages are related genetically. However, these theories either lack evidence or are subsets of theories that have been largely disproven (like versions of the well-known Altaic hypothesis that mainly attempt to group the Turkic, Mongolian, and Tungusic languages).

But natives have a lot to share and relate to each other. Based on linguistic and archaeological evidence, Roberts and co workers’ Transeurasian theory has reignited interest in the possibility of ancestry between the Indo-European languages. There hasn’t been any conclusive proof of a genetic connection between the two languages.

Common Grammatical Rules

SOV typology is found in Korean and Japanese, as is an agglutinative morphology in which verbs may act as prefixes. Both have a narrow emphasis on a single issue. In Japanese and Korean, the helper verbs “suru” and “hada” are often used to change nouns into verbs.

In light of the disparity between their lexicons, it has been considered that the two languages do not share any cognates (other than loanwords). According to one school of thought, Nara may have gotten its name from a Korean loanword.

Goguryeo’s four recorded numerals, an ancient Korean relative, have been likened to the old Japanese numbers.

There is a connection between the Japanese and Chinese languages.

1. Origin

Scholars are debating the origins of the Japanese language. Considering that they both use the same writing system, it’s easy to assume that the Japanese are descended from the Chinese. That is a bit ambiguous, but there are significant relations between Japanese and Chinese regarding their writing systems, grammar, and pronunciation.

2. Similar Writing System

In the 3rd century, the Japanese established a similar writing system, the sole significant connection between the Japanese and Chinese languages. The language had no written form before this time.

3. Chinese Cultural Influence on Japan

Some Chinese loanwords were adopted, as well as the use of Kanji (Chinese characters known as Hanzi in their native language). Furthermore, the Chinese cultural influence shaped Japan’s own culture. 

Columbia University’s Robert Oxman claims that “the Japanese actively and consciously borrow—in this case, from China.” Then, they form a distinct Japanese cultural synthesis.

Why Do These Asian Languages Look Similar?

The written forms of languages (which aren’t the same as the languages themselves) may be compared, and written Chinese and Japanese seem similar since they employ the same characters (with a caveat, of course). If two languages are unrelated, it makes no difference in what script they are written in. The fact that Chinese and Japanese are unrelated is irrelevant in this case.

While no one understands anything about forms written in Korean for Japanese or Chinese, there are certain parallels, particularly in the way syllables are arranged into blocks of consonantal sound. Compared to other writing systems, they are, in fact, quite similar—just in terms of appearance.

There is no way that the sounds of Chinese, Japanese, and Korean are even somewhat similar. Because they implicitly believe that these languages will sound similar even before hearing them. That’s just an opinion, and it has nothing to do with how the languages sound in real life.

These people mistakenly assume that these languages have a similar sound because of non-linguistic influences (such as geography, culture, stereotypes, and the phenotypic appearance of speakers).

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