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Okinawan language

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沖縄口/ウチナーグチ Uchinaaguchi
Native toJapan
RegionOkinawa Islands
Native speakers
980,000 (2000)[1]
Okinawan, Japanese, Rōmaji
Language codes
ISO 639-3ryu
ELPSouth-Central Okinawan
  (South–Central) Okinawan, AKA Shuri–Naha
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The Okinawan language (沖縄口, Uchināguchi) is a Ryukyuan language that is spoken in the Okinawa Islands of Japan.

Most linguists say that it branched off from Proto-Japonic, which is the ancestor of Japanese and the Ryukyuan languages. The Japanese government says Okinawan is a dialect of Japanese because of politics.

History[change | change source]

When a group of people called the Yayoi came into the Ryukyu Islands, they brought over a language called Proto-Japonic. This language over time turned into the modern Ryukyuan languages. Proto-Japonic was also spoken in mainland Japan, which turned into Japanese, meaning Japanese and the Ryukyuan languages are related/have the same origin.

Okinawan and other Ryukyuan languages were discriminated by Japan during the Meiji period, making the number of speakers go down. Before that, Okinawan was the official language of the Ryukyu Kingdom.

Classification[change | change source]

Okinawan belongs to the Ryukyuan languages. It is in the northern group with both Kunigami and Amami. Sometimes, Kunigami is listed as a dialect of Okinawan but that view is rare.

Speakers[change | change source]

Most older Okinawans speak Okinawan while younger Okinawans speak Japanese. This is why UNESCO lists Okinawan and the other Ryukyuan languages as “endangered”, meaning it’s possible for the language to die out in the future.

Sound Changes (Japanese vs. Okinawan)[change | change source]

There are many sound changes between Japanese (Standard) and Okinawan (Shuri-Naha variety):

Japanese “o” - Okinawan “u” (Okinawa = Uchinaa)

Japanese “k” - Okinawan “ch” (Okinawa = Uchinaa)

Japanese “mi” - Okinawan “nn” (minato = nnatu)

Similar sound changes are in other Ryukyuan languages. Kunigami also uses “u” instead of Japanese “o”.

Sample words[change | change source]

  • Mensooree (めんそーれー) - Welcome, Hello (when receiving)
  • Hai (はい) - Hello (gender neutral)
  • Haisai (はいさい) - Hello (male only)
  • Haitai (はいたい) - Hello (female only)
  • Ganjyuu (がんじゅー) - Fine health (in greeting)
  • Uchinaaguchi (沖縄口/うちなーぐち) - Okinawan language
  • Uchinaanchu (沖縄人/うちなーんちゅ) - Okinawan person
  • Yamatunchu (大和人/やまとぅんちゅ) - Japanese person
  • Yuntaku (ゆんたく) - Talking
  • Waa (わー) - Informal me or I
  • Wan (我ん/わん) - Formal me or I
  • Iyaa (いやー) - Informal You
  • Unjyoo (御所/うんじょー) - Formal you
  • Un, uu (うん、うー) - Yes
  • Aibiran (あいびらん) - No
  • Furaa (ふらー) - Foolish
  • Yinagu (女/よぃなぐ) - Woman
  • Yikiga (男/よぃきが) - Man
  • Warabaa, Warabi (わらばー、わらび) - Children
  • Uya (うや) - Parents
  • Kwa (きゎ) - A child ( as opposed to Parents)
  • Niisee (にーせー) - A young man
  • Boujya (ぼうじゃ) - A baby
  • In (犬/いん) - A dog
  • In-gwa (犬小/いんぎゎ) - Puppy
  • Mayaa (猫/まやー) - A cat
  • Mayaa-gwa (猫小/まやーぎゎ) - Kitty
  • Hiijyaa (ひーじゃー) - A goat
  • Uchinaa (うちなー) - Okinawa
  • Yamatu (やまとっ) - Japan
  • Too (とー) - China
  • Chooshin (ちょーしん) - Korea
  • Uranda (うらんだ) - Europe
  • Dake (岳) - Mountain

References[change | change source]

  1. Okinawan at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. Mimizun.com 2005, Comment #658 – 45-CAC-ai comprises most of Central Okinawa, including Shuri (Naha), Ginowan and Nishihara; 45-CAC-aj comprises the southern tip of Okinawa Island, including Itoman, Mabuni and Takamine; 45-CAC-ak encompasses the region west of Okinawa Island, including the Kerama Islands, Kumejima and Aguni.