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What is the definition of 単語 in Japanese language?

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13 May 2019
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The dictionary or the translation usually says it is a word in the English language
Bearing that in mind a word in Japanese language could be one kanji or more than one kanji's, one kana or more than one kana's.
So how would Japanese people define it?
Should we say a term instead?
it can mean a specific word or "vocabulary" in general
Pretty vague, isn't it?
I wonder how the Japanese people count the number of words in an article. How can the teachers ensure the students to hand in a composition with a minimum number of words or 単語? Remember Mircrosoft Word has a function to count the number of words. I wonder how it can handle it. There is no space between words in Japanese. Sometimes they use kanji to sort of separate the words. However do they count 日本 as one 単語 or two 単語?
Context is everything.

I don't think they count words the same way, to my knowledge hand-written compositions usually are written on genko-yoshi, which have a set number of spaces for characters. Genkō yōshi - Wikipedia
日本 is a two-kanji compound word. A single word made of two kanji characters.
It's not really vague at all. 単語 is a single vocabulary word. 日本 is one 単語 and two 文字. Like nice gaijin-san said, when counting characters for a "word limit" for an essay test or something in Japan, they usually do it by moji (characters), where every single kanji, kana, or punctuation mark counts as one 文字.

If you want to say something like "She has a good vocabulary", you'd use a completely different word like 語彙力(ごいりょく).

The distinction is quite clear in Japanese. It only seems confusing because you're thinking in terms of English.
Thanks guys!

I would have expected 日本 by itself is one 単語. If they are written separately, 日 and 本 will be taken as two 単語, won't they? So is 今日 for example. Does 単語 refer only to nouns and pronouns? What about particles like に, へ, は , three 単語? What about 横に, の間に, 越えて, しかし, four 単語? What I'm getting at is whether we count even one kana as one 単語. if the word in question happens to consist of one kana only. Are verbs in various conjugated forms considered separate 単語 too?
単語 is a word. 文字 is a character. One kana is one 文字、 but it is not one 単語 unless it is a word in itself.

日本 is one 単語 and two 文字

人 is one 文字 and one 単語

Verbs are weird, but they are weird in English too.

Again, when writing essays and the like, it is more common in Japanese to count 文字 or characters instead of 単語 or words.
So does the term 単語 refer to nouns and pronouns only?
字 is not a 単語?
The particle with a single kana is not a 単語?
When the textbook talking about 単語 to be learnt and memorized seems to refer to everything.

In short, there are several ways of definitions. Some say that particles, auxiliary verbs and na-adjectives are 単語, but some say na-adjectives are two 単語 (stem and suffix), etc.

Remember Mircrosoft Word has a function to count the number of words. I wonder how it can handle it.
Here's an example. As you can see, 単語数 (the number of words) and 文字数 (the number of letters and characters) are the same because machines can't judge what 単語 is (and counting letters and characters is more valuable in Japanese, as already pointed out).
word count.jpg
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