This Week’s #KnowOkinawa Topic: Ryukyuan Languages

Welcome to the Global Uchinanchu Alliance’s (GUA) #KnowOkinawa campaign! Our focus this week is on the Ryukyuan languages.
How many native languages are spoken in the area currently known as Japan? 

Hint: It's not just Japanese
Think you know? Take a guess before reading on below for the answer…
Feel free to tweet or post your answers on Facebook.

 

Did you know that there are eight native languages spoken in what is now considered “Japan”? Can you name them all?

Aside from Japanese, there is one extant Ainu language, and (at least) six languages in the Ryukyu Islands:

This includes Uchinaaguchi, spoken on the southern half of the island of Okinawa.

In terms of the Ryukyuan languages, many people often mistakenly refer to them as “hogen,” or dialects of Japanese. The reality is that these languages are unintelligible to Japanese language speakers and constitute their own distinct languages. They are not “dialects” of the Japanese language!

Currently, all of the six Ryukyuan languages are listed as endangered, according to the UNESCO Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger. Four are listed as “definitely endangered,” with the languages in Yaeyama and Yonaguni listed as “severely endangered.”

Many of the indigenous languages in the Ryukyuan Islands were threatened by two Japanese language promotion efforts, the first in the early colonial period from 1879 to 1945, and the second during the reversion movement from the 1950s through 1972. 

These and many other indigenous languages around the world could potentially disappear in only a few generations, signaling the importance of contemporary efforts to preserve and promote these languages. Localities in Okinawa have tried to stop the erasure of our culture through the development of radio programs and newspapers, through speech competitions, and through the promotion of the usage of Ryukyuan languages in everyday use.

 

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Through the #KnowOkinawa campaign we hope to spread awareness about Okinawan history, and also encourage folks to act now to #RiseForHenoko.

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