How to tell difference between Chinese and Japanese writing

Chinese and Japanese languages – An introduction 

Chinese and Japanese are really important and most spoken languages. Chinese has its speakers in billions and is spoken in China, Singapore, Thailand, and other parts of the world where the Chinese diaspora is spread. As for Japanese, it has 120 million speakers and is mainly spoken in Japan. 

Chinese and Japanese are often misunderstood to be the same. People often complain about how they can not really differentiate between Japanese and Chinese.

Besides that, people also feel that they can communicate in Chinese as they are good at Japanese, which is not the case as both languages though, share some characters but are quite different in writing. 

However, factually writing, it is not true. The matter is quite confusing as many characters look alike. These are not the same actually and do not intend to mean the same things or translation since both of these languages are dissimilar totally.

As per the language experts, it is recommended to differentiate both languages on the basis of their characters. People can try to understand the languages by setting the characters apart on the basis of their families, sentence structure, and order of words in sentences.

However, it is foremost important to throw light on the main factors that confuse people between Chinese and Japanese writings.

There are a few main correlations that make people confuse and differentiate between both languages. The standard Japanese has thousands of the different ‘Han’ characters that the language has borrowed from China centuries earlier.

Moreover, there are many words that are written the same way in Chinese and Japanese however, carry different meanings. This also confuses the people big time. It is like implicating that English, Turkish and Vietnamese languages are the same because they share a single Latin script.

Chinese writing

Chinese writing is one logographic writing system and it is one of the world’s oldest and greatest writing patterns. It has no alphabets and experts use and apply particular characters to write each meaningful and non-meaningful syllable.

Origin of Chinese writing

As historians report, with its inception in the early 2nd millennium BC, Chinese writing was an essential thing for the writing system in the East. Its earliest inscriptions were inscribed on bones and dating from the Shang dynasty, there existed between the 18th and 12th centuries BC.

Japanese writing

Japanese writing is a combination of syllables and elements and characters. Japanese writing is written in two writing systems.

These are Kana and Kanji systems.

Kana: This is one of the traditional passages of Japanese writing

Kanji: This system talks about the Japanese-Chinese characters collaboration. There are particular characters, that have been borrowed from Chinese. Kanji system has its composition of further two systems that Japanese use to write their language. These are

  1. Hiragana
  2. Katakana

Origin of Japanese writing

The origin of the Kanji system is reported to be sprouted back in the 8th century CE. It is a Japanese-Chinese writing system.

Chinese and Japanese writings (Chinese vs Japanese)

Read Also: Similarities between Chinese and Japanese Language

Comparison of Chinese and Japanese writings

Chinese writing is one of the oldest writing among all languages. It is reported to have its roots back in the 2nd millennium BC whereas, in Japanese writing, Kanji had no writing system.

It borrowed and imported Chinese characters from China during the 8th century CE. The historians and calligraphers used the Kanji system to write verbs roots, adjectives, and nouns since there was development in kana syllabaries.

It is important to note that Chinese writing depends on ‘hanzi’ which is the Chinese version of Kanji while Japanese is dependent on Japanese Kanji which is heavily influenced by Chinese characters.

Pronunciation of Chinese and Japanese words

Among other differences, one basic difference is two writings lie on pronunciations that vary with words using the same characters. For instance, Hanzi is the Chinese pronunciation of Kanji that is the Japanese version of pronouncing this particular term 漢字. However, this is important to note that this term is used in both languages.

Another example that differentiates the pronunciation is how the term is written in both languages. Talking about the Chinese language, Chinese, pronounce it as chéng whereas, in Japanese, people pronounce it as Makoto or also pronounce it as sei.

Notably, Chinese pronunciations are single and the same for every word however, pronunciation differs and varies in Japanese. They have multiple pronunciations.

Pitch, accents, and tones

There are no phonetic similarities between both languages, i.e, Chinese and Japanese. This is because of the fact that Chinese writing is tonal and there is a pitch accent for Japanese. This is one of the basic differences between these languages.

This can further be understood by these examples. Mandarin Chinese, for instance, has around four additional tones with one neutral, however, for Japanese, they speak in a pitch accent system. That mainly depends on rising and falling intonations.

So the people who face problems while differentiating between Japanese and Chinese languages can take notes of this how this is one basic difference to understand the variations. The speaking pattern and system of the above-mentioned languages are totally opposite to each other.

Phonemes in Japanese and Chinese

There are almost 420 sound combinations in Chinese writing. However, Japanese on the other hand has quite a lesser and fewer sound combinations. These are 110 in total.

Vowels in Chinese and Japanese

As for vowels, these are present there in both languages. However, the number of vowels is different. There are ten vowels in Chinese writing and Japanese has five vowels.

Consonants in Japanese and Chinese

Consonants are also different in Japanese and Chinese. These are 25 in Chinese writing. Japan, however, has only 18 of these consonants.

Syntax and grammar

Going through all the above details, it is quite clear now that Japanese and Chinese are different languages. These are different in their phonetics, vowels, and sentence structure. Though Japanese has borrowed a few words from Chinese even apparently same words have different meanings.

Similarly, the basic structure of sentences is also different. For example, word order in a sentence is always SVO (subject-verb-object) in Chinese. Whereas for the Japanese writing system it is SOV order, i.e subject-object-verb.

Final thoughts

Chinese and Japanese writings may appear similar at first for the new learners, but these are more dissimilar than similar. Learners also find it hard to distinguish between characters and words.

However, there are significant and notable differences in both languages on the basis of characters. The Chinese language has its original writing system which is Hanzi, and Japanese have Kanji. Kanji refers to a collection of characters that have been borrowed from the Chinese language. 

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