Okinawan (沖縄口 / ウチナーグチ / Uchinaaguchi)

Okinawan is a member of the Ryukuan language family spoken on Okinawa and a number of other Ryūkyū islands, which are known as 南西諸島 (Nansei-shoto) or 'southwest islands' in Japanese. Uchina (うちなー) is the local name for Okinawa (沖縄).

Although it shares a common ancestor and some vocabulary and grammar with Japanese, Okinawan is largely incomprehensible to speakers of Japanese. Okinawan also has a much more complex honorific system than Japanese.

There are four other languages spoken in the Ryukyu islands: Amami (Shimayumusa), Miyako (Myakufutsu), Yaeyama (Yaimamuni) and Yonaguni (Dunangmunui). They are mutually imcomprehensible with each other, with Okinawan and with Japanese. All are highly endangered and are spoken mainly by older people. Young Ryukyuans tend to speak Japanese with Ryukyu accents.

During the reign of King Sho Shin (1477-1526), the Shuri dialect of Okinawan was standardised and was used as the official language of the aristocracy. It was also used as the language of songs and poems from that era.

Written Okinawan

From about the eary 13th century Okinawan started to be written with hiragana. Before then it is thought that the Ryukyu islanders were familiar with Chinese characters due to trade with China, Japan and Korea. Hiragana proved popular and most texts were written exclusively in hiragana. However by the 16th century Okinawan was written with a mixture of kanji and hiragana.

After Okinawa was taken over by the Satsuma clan 1609, the offical written language became Japanese and Kanbun, a variety of Classical Chinese. People continued to use Okinawan in local literature until the 19th century. After the Ryukyu islands were annexed by Japan in 1879, use of Okinawan and other 'dialects' in speech and writing in schools was discouraged and standard Japanese based on Tokyo dialect became the language of education. Use of Okinawan in writing eventually ceased.

Since 1945 written Okinawan has made a comeback using writing systems based on the Latin alphabet or the katakana syllabary devised by Japanese and American scholars. There is currently no standardised way of writing the language. Some people prefer to write Okinawan with hiragana and kanji.

Katakana for Okinawan

Katakana for Okinawan

Okinawan pronunciation

Okinawan alphabet and pronunciation

Some Okinawan proverbs

Nmarijima nu kutuba wasshii nee kuni n wasshiin.
Forgetting your native tongue means forgetting your native country.

Shinjichi nu ada nayumi.
Kindness will never be wasted in any way.

Tusui ya tatashina mun. Warabee shikashina mun.
The old should be treated with due respect. Children should be treated with gentleness.

Sample text in Standard Okinawan (Shuri-Naha dialect)

Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Okinawan

Transliteration

Ninjinoo taan 'nmariyagiinaa jiyu yai, mata, duu teeshichi ni umuyuru chimu tu duu mamurandiru chimoo taa yatin yunu gutu sajakatooru mun yan. Ninjinoo muutu kara iikani nu sunawatookutu, tageeni choodeeyandiru kangeesaani kutuni atarandaree naran.

Translation

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
(Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights)

Sample text provided by Paolo Tonie

Sample of spoken Okinawan

Information about Ojibwe | Useful phrases Okinawan | Tower of Babel in Okinawan

Links

Information about Okinawan languages
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Okinawan_language
http://www.okinawan-shorinryu.com/okinawa/uchina.html
http://japanfocus.org/products/details/2586

Online Okinawan lessons
http://www.okinawabbtv.com/international/uchinaguchi/byron.html http://www.cw-fc.com/karate/articles/okinawan_language_chart.htm
http://www.gyokusendo.co.jp/dialect/

Okinawan phrases
http://www.okinawabbtv.com/international/uchinaguchi/byron.html http://www.ling.hawaii.edu/~uhdoc/okinawathree/okn.htm
http://www.cw-fc.com/karate/articles/okinawan_language_chart.htm

Online Okinawan dictionaries
http://www.koza.ne.jp/koza_index/uchina-guchi/
http://hougen.ajima.jp

Japonic / Japanese-Ryukyuan languages

Japanese, Okinawan


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Additional Info
Additional Info