Old Japanese uses the Man'yōgana system of writing, which uses kanji for their phonetic as well as semantic values.Based on the Man'yōgana system, Old Japanese can be reconstructed as having 88 distinct syllables.
Texts written with Man'yōgana use two different kanji for each of the syllables now pronounced apparently was lost immediately following its composition.) This set of syllables shrank to 67 in Early Middle Japanese, though some were added through Chinese influence.
Due to these extra syllables, it has been hypothesized that Old Japanese's vowel system was larger than that of Modern Japanese – it perhaps contained up to eight vowels.
Some of these Chinese texts show the influences of Japanese grammar, such as the word order (for example, placing the verb after the object).
In these hybrid texts, Chinese characters are also occasionally used phonetically to represent Japanese particles.
However, it is not fully certain that the alternation between syllables necessarily reflects a difference in the vowels rather than the consonants – at the moment, the only undisputed fact is that they are different syllables.
A newer reconstruction of ancient Japanese show strikingly similarities with Southeast-Asian languages, especially with Austronesian languages. Several fossilizations of Old Japanese grammatical elements remain in the modern language – the genitive particle tsu (superseded by modern no) is preserved in words such as matsuge ("eyelash", lit.
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Chinese documents from the 3rd century recorded a few Japanese words, but substantial texts did not appear until the 8th century.
During the Heian period (794–1185), Chinese had considerable influence on the vocabulary and phonology of Old Japanese.
Very little is known about the Japanese of this period.