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Language spoken by about 125 million people on the islands of Japan, including the Ryukyus. The only other language of the Japanese archipelago is Ainu (seeAinu), now spoken by only a handful of people on Hokkaido, though once much more widespread. Japanese is not closely related to any other language, though a distant genetic kinship to Korean is now thought probable by some scholars, and an even more remote relationship to the Altaic languages is possible. Japanese is first attested in the 8th century AD, when Middle Chinese characters were utilized solely for their phonetic value to write native Japanese words. Japanese retains a huge stock of loanwords from Middle Chinese, long adapted to native phonetics.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on Japanese language, visit Britannica.com.
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