Yonaguni is a Southern Ryukuan language spoken in Yonaguni (与那国島), one of the Yaeyama Islands (八重山列島) in Japan's Okinawa Prefecture, and the southernmost and westernmost part of Japan. It is classified by the Japanese government as a Japanese dialect known as 与那国方言 (yonaguni hōgen). However, it is not mutually intelligible with Japanese or with other Ryukuan languages.
In 2015 there were about 400 speakers of Yonaguni. While most speakers are over 50 years old, some younger people are learning the language. However, the language is not being passed on to children, who speak Japanese instead. There are plans to teach children Yonaguni through immersion in language nests.
In 2009 Yonaguni was classified as "severely endangered" by UNESCO.
After the Ryūkyū islands were conquered by the Japanese in the early 17th century, a poll tax was imposed on them. In remote islands such as Yonaguni, where few people were literate, pictograms known as Kaidā logograms or Kaidā glyphs - カイダー字 (Kaidā ji) in Japanese - were used to show what each person had to give as tax.
These glyphs were used until 1930s, when primary education was introduced throughout Japan, and most people became literate in Japanese. They are currently used as decoration in art and souvenirs.
Here is a selection of Kaidā glyphs with their Japanese and English meanings:
Yonaguni can be written with katakana or hiragana, the Japanese syllabaries, although few people do write it.
Information about written Yonaguni supplied by Wolfram Siegel (PDF)
Page last modified: 03.09.21
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