Wago, Kango and Gairaigo - Origin of Japanese words

Japanese words can have their origins divided into 3 called wago, kango and gairaigo. Being wago the native words of Japan, kango the native words of China and gairaigo words of foreign origin. In this article, we will talk a little about those words.

More than half of the Japanese language is made up of foreign words, about 49% from China, 18% from other countries and only 33% from ancient Japan. Even though the language distanced itself from Chines, many things were adapted, transforming Japanese into what it is today.

The native language of Japan is called Yamato Kotoba because of the period in which it was developed. It was in the long Yamato Period (250-710) that the Japanese language developed with influence from China and Korea.

Wago, kango and gairaigo - Japanese word origin

WAGO [和語] - Words of Japanese origin

Wago are words of Japanese origin, that is, the yamato kotoba [大和言葉]. They are usually words that have the KUN reading of an ideogram. It had been words created especially for Japanese, most of the time, without similarities with other languages.

The words wago generally have 3 or more syllables, make up the majority of verbs não suru [する] and adjectives ending in i [い]. The words Yamato Kotoba or wago are usually written with a mixture of hiragana and kanji.

Wago, kango and gairaigo - Japanese word origin

When a word composed of 2 kanji has an ON reading (Chinese) and a KUN reading (Japanese) that word can be considered a wago.

KANGO [漢語] - Words of Chinese origin

The Chinese language is very present in the Japanese language with its ideograms called kanji [漢字] which literally means Chinese characters. Kango [漢語] are words of Chinese origin used in Japanese. Kango can also be called Sino-Japanese words.

A kango word does not always correspond to a Chinese word, it was only adapted or had its origin in China. These words invented in Japanese are called wasei-kango and may have different meanings or be a false cognate.

Wago, kango and gairaigo - Japanese word origin

The words kango are usually read with the chinese reading (on yomi). Verbs in the form suru [する] tend to be of Chinese origin, adjectives of the type na [e] and words that are usually short, without the presence of hiragana, tend to be kango.

Japanese numbers are often pronounced with reading ON being one kango [ichi, ni, san], only in some cases is the wago to count [hitotsu, futatsu, mitsu].

GAIRAIGO [外来語] - Words of foreign origin

These are all the words used in Japan of foreign origin written in katakana. They can originate from English, French and other languages. Every day that passes, Japan I acquire more words of foreign origin in its vocabulary, making the average of 18% actually higher.

Gairaigo literally means borrowed words, and unlike Chinese, it had no influence on ancient Japanese and its development. These words ended up in Japanese because of new things that appeared in the westernization of the country.

Wago, kango and gairaigo - Japanese word origin

In English, there are also thousands of foreign words like hot dog, hamburger, milkshake, fitness, outdoor, internet, notebook, download and things like that. In Japanese, this is at an even higher level.

There are even verbs that were derived from gairaigo, both in suru shape [する] as in normal form.

I hope this article has helped you to understand a little about wago, kango and gairaigo. If you liked, share and leave your comments.

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  1. Interessante. Gostei muito do artigo, aprendo muito com seus artigos, continue trazendo mais !
    Vocês poderiam criar um grupo em alguma rede social ( WhatsApp, Facebook) para que os leitores pudessem se interagir, conversar sobre a cultura japonesa e essas coisas. Seria legal 🙂

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