Kunigami language

The Kunigami or Northern Okinawan language (Yanbaru Kutuuba (山原言葉/ヤンバルクトゥーバ)) is a Ryukyuan language of northern Okinawa Island in Kunigami District and city of Nago, otherwise known as the Yanbaru region, historically the territory of the kingdom of Hokuzan.

The Nakijin dialect is often considered representative of Kunigami, analogous to the Shuri-Naha dialect of Central Okinawan. The number of fluent native speakers of Kunigami is not known. As a result of Japanese language policy, the younger generation mostly speaks Japanese as their first language.

山原言葉/ヤンバルクトゥーバ Yanbaru Kutuuba
Native toJapan
RegionNorthern Okinawa Island
Native speakers
5,000 (2004)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3xug
Boundaries of the Okinawan Languages


In addition to the northern portion of Okinawa Island, Kunigami is spoken on the small neighboring islands of Ie, Tsuken and Kudaka.[3]

Scope and classification

Glottolog, following Pellard (2009), classifies Kunigami with Central Okinawan as the two Okinawan languages. Ethnologue adds Okinoerabu and Yoron; these (along with all other languages of the northern Ryukyus) are classified as Amami languages by Glottolog. The UNESCO Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger, following Uemura (2003), includes Okinoerabu and Yoron as varieties of Kunigami.[4]

Folk terminology

The speakers of Kunigami have various words for "language", "dialect", and "style of speech". For example, linguist Nakasone Seizen (1907–1995) stated that the dialect of his home community Yonamine, Nakijin Village had (corresponding Standard Japanese word forms in parentheses): /kʰu⸢tsʰii/ (kuchi), /hut˭uu⸢ba/ (kotoba) and /munu⸢ʔii/ (monoii). The language of one's own community was referred to as /simaagu⸢tsʰii/ or /sima(a)kʰu⸢t˭uu⸣ba/.[5] The Yonamine dialect was part of Nakijin's western dialect called /ʔirinsimaa kʰut˭uba/.[6] The northern part of Okinawa was colloquially known as Yanbaru and hence its language was sometimes called /jˀan⸢ba⸣rukʰut˭uuba/.[7]


Like most Ryukyuan languages north of Central Okinawan, Kunigami has series of so-called "tensed" or "glottalized" consonants. While the nasals and glides are truly glottalized, the stops are tenuis [C˭], in contrast to the aspiration of the "plain" stops [Cʰ].[8] Kunigami is also notable for the presence of an /h/ phoneme separate from /p/, which is believed to be the historical source of /h/ in most other Japonic languages; Kunigami /h/ instead has two different sources: Proto-Japonic /*k/ or otherwise the zero initial in certain conditioning environments. Thus, for example, the Nakijin dialect of Kunigami has /hak˭áí/ (light, a lamp, a shōji),[9] which is cognate with Japanese /akárí/ (light, a lamp); the Kunigami form is distinguished from its Japanese cognate by the initial /h/, tenuis /k˭/, and elision of Proto-Japonic *r before *i. The Kunigami language also makes distinctions in certain word pairs, such as Nakijin dialect /k˭umuú/ (cloud) and /húbu/ (spider), which are more similar (/kúmo/ and /kumó/) in Japanese.


One notable difference in the use of certain morphological markers between Kunigami language and Standard Japanese is the use of the /-sa/ form as an adverb in Kunigami: e.g. Nakijin dialect /tʰuusá pʰanaaɽít˭un/, which is equivalent to Standard Japanese toókú hanárete irú ("It is far away"). In Standard Japanese, the /-ku/ form is used adverbially, while the /-sa/ form is used exclusively to derive abstract nouns of quality ("-ness" forms) from adjectival stems.


  1. ^ Kunigami at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Kunigami". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. ^ Nakamoto Masachie 中本正智 (1981). Zusetsu Ryūkyū-go jiten 図説 琉球語辞典 (in Japanese). p. 26.
  4. ^ "Kunigami". UNESCO. Retrieved 1 February 2014.
  5. ^ "Nakijin Dialect Dictionary: kotoba" (in Japanese). Retrieved 1 February 2014.
  6. ^ "Nakijin Dialect Dictionary: Nakijin-hōgen gaisetsu" (in Japanese). Retrieved 1 February 2014.
  7. ^ "Nakijin Dialect Dictionary: yanbaru kotoba" (in Japanese). Retrieved 1 February 2014.
  8. ^ Samuel E. Martin (1970) "Shodon: A Dialect of the Northern Ryukyus", in the Journal of the American Oriental Society, vol. 90, no. 1 (Jan–Mar), pp. 97–139.
  9. ^ Acute accent indicate a high tone
Amami Islands

The Amami Islands (奄美群島, Amami-guntō) is an archipelago in the Satsunan Islands, which is part of the Ryukyu Islands, and is southwest of Kyushu. Administratively, the group belongs to Kagoshima Prefecture, Japan. The Geospatial Information Authority of Japan and the Japan Coast Guard agreed on February 15, 2010, to use the name of Amami-guntō (奄美群島) for the Amami Islands. Prior to that, Amami-shotō (奄美諸島) was also used. The name of Amami is probably cognate with Amamikyu (阿摩美久), the goddess of creation in the Ryukyuan creation myth.

Kagoshima Prefecture

Kagoshima Prefecture (鹿児島県, Kagoshima-ken) is a prefecture of Japan located on the island of Kyushu. The capital is the city of Kagoshima.

Kunigami, Okinawa

Kunigami (国頭村, Kunigami-son, Kunigami: Kunzan, Okinawan: Kunjan) is a village in Kunigami District, Okinawa Prefecture, Japan. It occupies the north tip of Okinawa Island, with the East China Sea to the west, Pacific Ocean to the east, and villages of Higashi and Ōgimi to the south.As of 2015, the village has a population of 4,908 and a population density of 25.20 persons per km2. The total area is 194.80 km2.

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.


Nago (名護市, Nago-shi, Okinawan: ナグ Nagu, Kunigami: ナグー Naguu) is a city located in the northern part of Okinawa Island, Okinawa Prefecture, Japan. As of December 2012, the city has an estimated population of 61,659 and a population density of 288 persons per km2. Its total area is 210.30 km2.

Okinawan language

The Okinawan language (沖縄口/ウチナーグチ, Uchinaaguchi, [ʔut͡ɕinaːɡut͡ɕi]) or Central Okinawan, is a Northern Ryukyuan language spoken primarily in the southern half of the island of Okinawa, as well as in the surrounding islands of Kerama, Kumejima, Tonaki, Aguni and a number of smaller peripheral islands. Central Okinawan distinguishes itself from the speech of Northern Okinawa, which is classified independently as the Kunigami language. Both languages have been designated as endangered by the UNESCO Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger since its launch in February 2009.Though Okinawan encompasses a number of local dialects, the Shuri-Naha variant is generally recognized as the de facto standard, as it had been used as the official language of the Ryūkyū Kingdom since the reign of King Shō Shin (1477–1526). Moreover, as the former capital of Shuri was built around the royal palace, the language used by the royal court became the regional and literary standard, which thus flourished in songs and poems written during that era.

Within Japan, Okinawan is often not seen as a language unto itself but is referred to as the Okinawan dialect (沖縄方言, Okinawa hōgen) or more specifically the Central and Southern Okinawan dialects (沖縄中南部諸方言, Okinawa Chūnanbu Sho hōgen). Okinawan speakers are undergoing language shift as they switch to Japanese, since language use in Okinawa today is far from stable. Okinawans are assimilating and accenting standard Japanese due to the similarity of the two languages, standardized and centralized education system, the media, business and social contact with mainlanders and previous attempts from Japan to suppress the native languages. Okinawan is still spoken by many older people. It is also kept alive in popular music, tourist shows and in theaters featuring a local drama called uchinaa shibai, which depict local customs and manners.

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.

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