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  • Old Japanese is the oldest attested stage of the Japanese language. It was spoken by the Japanese ethnic group from an unknown beginning point until it evolved into Early Middle Japanese in the eighth century, during the Heian period, although the precise separation of these two languages is controversial. Old Japanese was an early member of the Japonic family; no conclusive links to other language families have been drawn, although the Altaic family is frequently suggested. Old Japanese was written using Chinese characters, using an increasingly standardized and phonetic form that eventually evolved into man'yōgana. Typically for a Japonic language and for a step in the evolutionary line of modern Japanese, Old Japanese was a primarily agglutinative language with subject–object–verb word ordering. However, the language was marked by a few phonemic differences from later forms of Japanese, such as an eschewing of diphthongs. It distinguished between a few pairs of syllables with identical pronunciations—a phenomenon known as Jōdai Tokushu Kanazukai—but the function of this differentiation is not known.

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