Hachijō language

The small group of Hachijō or Hachijōjima dialects are the most divergent form of Japanese or form an independent fourth branch of Japonic.[2] They are spoken on the southern Izu Islands south of Tokyo, Hachijō Island and the smaller Aogashima, as well as on the Daitō Islands of Okinawa Prefecture, which were settled from Hachijō in the Meiji period. Based on the criterion of mutual intelligibility, Hachijō may be considered a distinct Japonic language.

Hachijō dialects retain ancient Eastern Japanese features, as recorded in the 8th-century Man'yōshū. There are also lexical similarities with the dialects of Kyushu and even the Ryukyuan languages; it is not clear if these indicate the southern Izu islands were settled from that region, if they are loans brought by sailors traveling among the southern islands, or if they might be independent retentions of Old Japanese.[3]

Native toJapan
Regionsouthern Izu Islands
Native speakers
Unknown; 10,000 inhabitants of the islands (2007)
  • Hachijō
Language codes
ISO 639-3
ISO 639-6hhjm


The dialect of Aogashima is quite distinct. There are also numerous dialects on Hachijō Island, with the speech of nearly every village distinct. There may be a few speakers left of the dialect of Little Hachijō Island, which was abandoned in 1969.


Hachijō uses the be-verb aru with all subjects, without the animate–inanimate (iru–aru) distinction made on the mainland. It also distinguishes between the attributive form (連体形 rentaikei) and terminal form (終止形 shūshikei) of verbs and adjectives, a distinction that existed in Early Middle Japanese but has all but vanished from the modern language.


Hachijō preserves a number of phrases that have been otherwise lost in the rest of Japan, such as まぐれる magureru for standard 気絶する kizetsu suru 'to faint, pass out'. There are also words which occur in standard Japanese, but with different meanings:[4]

Hachijō Japanese Meaning Japanese cognate
yama hatake field yama 'mountain'
ureshi naru byōki ga naotte kuru to recover from an illness ureshiku naru 'to become happy'
kowai tsukareru to be tired kowai 'to be scary/fearful'
gomi takigi firewood gomi 'trash'
nikui minikui to be ugly nikui 'to be odious'
kamu taberu to eat kamu 'to chew'
oyako shinseki relatives, kin oyako 'parent and child'
ijimeru kogoto o iu to chide, to scold, to rebuke, to reprove, to tell off, to nag, to complain ijimeru 'to tease, to pick on, to bully'
hoeru oogoe de wameku to utter a loud cry, to shout, to yell, to scream, to raise one's voice hoeru 'to bark, to howl (as a canine)'


  1. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Hachijo". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  2. ^ Thomas Pellard. The comparative study of the Japonic languages. Approaches to endangered languages in Japan and Northeast Asia: Description, documentation and revitalization, National Institute for Japanese Language and Linguistics, Aug 2018, Tachikawa, Japan. ffhal-01856152
  3. ^ Masayoshi Shibatani, 1990. The Languages of Japan, p. 207.
  4. ^ "八丈島の方言" [The Hachijō-jima dialect]. Ōwaki izakaya. 居酒屋おおわき. Retrieved 2013-08-23.

Further reading

Classification of the Japonic languages

The classification of the Japonic languages and their external relations is unclear. Linguists traditionally consider the Japonic languages to belong to an independent family; indeed, until the classification of Ryukyuan as separate languages within a Japonic family rather than as dialects of Japanese, Japanese was considered a language isolate.

Among more distant connections, the possibility of a genetic relationship to the non-Korean languages of southern Korea or languages like Austronesian and or Kra–Dai, are discussed. A relation between Japonic and Korean is also considered plausible by some linguists, while others reject any relation between Japonic and Korean. Independent of the question of a Japonic–Korean connection, both the Japonic languages and Korean were sometimes included in the largely discredited Altaic family.


Hachijō-jima (八丈島) is a volcanic Japanese island in the Philippine Sea. It is about 287 kilometres (178 mi) south of the special wards of Tokyo, to which it belongs. It is part of the Izu archipelago and within the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park. Its only municipality is Hachijō. On 1 March 2018, its population was 7,522 people living on 63 km2. The Hachijō language is spoken by some inhabitants, but it is considered an endangered language and the number of speakers is unknown. The island has been inhabited since the Jōmon period, and was used as a place of exile during the Edo period. In modern times, it has been used for farming sugarcane and housing a secret submarine base during World War II; it is now a tourist destination within Japan.

Hachijō-jima receives about 3,000 millimetres (120 in) of precipitation annually. With a humid subtropical climate, and an average high temperature of 21 °C (70 °F), the island and the surrounding oceans support a wide variety of sea life, birds, mammals, plants, and other life. The tallest peak within the Izu Islands, a Class-C active volcano, is found there. Transportation to the island is either by air or ferry. There are many Japanese-style inns, hot spring resorts, and hotels to accommodate tourists and visitors. The island is a popular destination for surfers, divers and hikers. It has several local variations on Japanese foods, including shimazushi and kusaya, as well as many dishes that include the local plant ashitaba.

Japanese dialects

The dialects of the Japanese language fall into two primary clades, Eastern (including Tokyo) and Western (including Kyoto), with the dialects of Kyushu and Hachijō Island often distinguished as additional branches, the latter perhaps the most divergent of all. The Ryukyuan languages of Okinawa Prefecture and the southern islands of Kagoshima Prefecture form a separate branch of the Japonic family, and are not Japanese dialects, although they are sometimes referred to as such.

Japonic languages

The Japonic or Japanese–Ryukyuan language family includes the Japanese language, spoken in the main islands of Japan, and the Ryukyuan languages, spoken in the Ryukyu Islands. The family is universally accepted by linguists and significant progress has been made in reconstructing the proto-language. The reconstruction implies a split between all dialects of Japanese and all Ryukyuan varieties, probably before the 7th century. The Hachijō language spoken on the Izu Islands is also included, but its position within the family is unclear. There is also some fragmentary evidence suggesting that Japonic languages may once have been spoken in central and southern parts of the Korean peninsula.

Possible genetic relationships with many other language families have been proposed, most systematically with Korean, but none have been conclusively demonstrated.

List of endangered languages in Asia

An endangered language is a language that is at risk of falling out of use, generally because it has few surviving speakers. If it loses all of its native speakers, it becomes an extinct language. A language may be endangered in one area but show signs of revitalisation in another, as with the Irish language.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization defines five levels of language endangerment between "safe" (not endangered) and "extinct":

Vulnerable - "most children speak the language, but it may be restricted to certain domains (e.g., home)"

Definitely endangered - "children no longer learn the language as mother tongue in the home"

Severely endangered - "language is spoken by grandparents and older generations; while the parent generation may understand it, they do not speak it to children or among themselves"

Critically endangered - "the youngest speakers are grandparents and older, and they speak the language partially and infrequently"

Extinct - "there are no speakers left; included in the Atlas if presumably extinct since the 1950s"The list below includes the findings from the third edition of Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger (2010; formerly the Red Book of Endangered Languages), as well as the online edition of the aforementioned publication, both published by UNESCO.

Ryukyu Islands

The Ryukyu Islands (琉球諸島, Ryūkyū-shotō), also known as the Nansei Islands (南西諸島, Nansei-shotō, lit. "Southwest Islands") or the Ryukyu Arc (琉球弧, Ryūkyū-ko), are a chain of Japanese islands that stretch southwest from Kyushu to Taiwan: the Ōsumi, Tokara, Amami, Okinawa, and Sakishima Islands (further divided into the Miyako and Yaeyama Islands), with Yonaguni the westernmost. The larger are mostly high islands and the smaller mostly coral. The largest is Okinawa Island.

The climate of the islands ranges from humid subtropical climate (Köppen climate classification Cfa) in the north to tropical rainforest climate (Köppen climate classification Af) in the south. Precipitation is very high and is affected by the rainy season and typhoons. Except the outlying Daitō Islands, the island chain has two major geologic boundaries, the Tokara Strait (between the Tokara and Amami Islands) and the Kerama Gap (between the Okinawa and Miyako Islands). The islands beyond the Tokara Strait are characterized by their coral reefs.

The Ōsumi and Tokara Islands, the northernmost of the islands, fall under the cultural sphere of the Kyushu region of Japan; the people are ethnically Japanese and speak a variation of the Kagoshima dialect of Japanese. The Amami, Okinawa, Miyako, and Yaeyama Islands have a native population collectively called the Ryukyuan people, named for the former Ryukyu Kingdom that ruled them. The varied Ryukyuan languages are traditionally spoken on these islands, and the major islands have their own distinct languages. In modern times, the Japanese language is the primary language of the islands, with the Okinawan Japanese dialect prevalently spoken. The outlying Daitō Islands were uninhabited until the Meiji period, when their development was started mainly by people from the Izu Islands south of Tokyo, with the people there speaking the Hachijō language.

Administratively, the islands are divided into Kagoshima Prefecture (specifically the islands administered by Kagoshima District, Kumage Subprefecture/District, and Ōshima Subprefecture/District) in the north and Okinawa Prefecture in the south, with the divide between the Amami and Okinawa Islands, with the Daitō Islands part of Okinawa Prefecture. The northern (Kagoshima) islands are collectively called the Satsunan Islands, while the southern part of the chain (Okinawa Prefecture) are called the Ryukyu Islands in Chinese.

Ryukyuan people

The Ryukyuan people (琉球民族, Ryūkyū minzoku, Okinawan: Ruuchuu minzuku), also Lewchewan or Uchinaanchu (沖縄人, Japanese: Okinawa jin), are the indigenous peoples of the Ryukyu Islands between the islands of Kyushu and Taiwan. Politically, they live in either Okinawa Prefecture or Kagoshima Prefecture. Their languages make up the Ryukyuan languages, considered to be one of the two branches of the Japonic language family, the other being Japanese and its dialects.Ryukyuans are not a recognized minority group in Japan, as Japanese authorities consider them just a subgroup of the Japanese people, akin to the Yamato people. Although unrecognized, Ryukyuans constitute the largest ethnolinguistic minority group in Japan, with 1.3 million living in Okinawa Prefecture alone. There is also a considerable Ryukyuan diaspora. As many as 600,000 more ethnic Ryukyuans and their descendants are dispersed elsewhere in Japan and worldwide; mostly in Hawaii and, to a lesser extent, in other territories where there is also a sizable Japanese diaspora. In the majority of countries, the Ryukyuan and Japanese diaspora are not differentiated so there are no reliable statistics for the former.

Recent genetic and anthropological studies indicate that the Ryukyuans are significantly related to the Yamato people (mainland Japanese) but have also a relative closer relation to the Ainu people, compared with the Yamato people. This is possibly explained with partially shared ancestry of the population during the Jōmon period (pre 10,000 BCE – 1,000 BCE) and with the population of the Yayoi period (1,000 BCE – 300 CE), which were migrants from East Asia (specifically China and the Korean peninsula).The Ryukyuans have a specific culture with some matriarchal elements, native religion, and cuisine which had fairly late (12th century) introduction of rice. The population lived on the islands in isolation for many centuries, and in the 14th century from the three divided Okinawan political polities emerged the Ryukyu Kingdom (1429–1879) which continued the maritime trade and tributary relations started in 1372 with Ming dynasty China. In 1609 the kingdom was invaded by Satsuma Domain which allowed its independence being in vassal status because Tokugawa Japan was prohibited to trade with China, being in dual subordinate status between both China and Japan.During the Meiji period, the kingdom became Ryukyu Domain (1872–1879), after which it was politically annexed by the Empire of Japan. In 1879, after the annexation, the territory was reorganized as Okinawa Prefecture with the last king Shō Tai forcibly exiled to Tokyo. China renounced its claims to the islands in 1895. During this period, Okinawan ethnic identity, tradition, culture and language were suppressed by the Meiji government, which sought to assimilate the Ryukyuan people as Japanese (Yamato). After World War II, the Ryūkyū Islands were occupied by the United States between 1945 and 1950 and then 1950–1972. During this time, there were many violations of human rights. Since the end of World War II, there exists strong resentment against the Japanese government and US military facilities stationed in Okinawa, as seen in the Ryukyu independence movement.United Nations special rapporteur on discrimination and racism Doudou Diène, in his 2006 report, noted perceptible level of discrimination and xenophobia against the Ryukyuans, with the most serious discrimination they endure linked to their dislike of American military installations in the archipelago. An investigation into fundamental human rights was suggested.

Earlier forms
Japonic languages
Writing system
Grammar and
National language
Indigenous languages
Non-Indigenous languages
Creole languages
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