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«Josef Holmér Bachelor thesis Lund University Japanese Centre for Languages and Literature, Japanese Studies Spring term 2013 Supervisor: Lars Larm ...»

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Yet another endangered variety on Okinawa?

Josef Holmér

Bachelor thesis Lund University

Japanese Centre for Languages and Literature, Japanese Studies

Spring term 2013 Supervisor: Lars Larm


This thesis concerns the variety known as Uchinaa-Yamatoguchi, spoken on the island of

Okinawa and smaller surrounding islands. By discussing mainly historical, political, and social factors, the aim is to elicit the processes which affect its vitality and consequently are instrumental in the formation of its future. As complements to the already existing material relevant to the subject, a survey was conducted, and an interview carried out with an Okinawan informant. The survey was aimed mainly at investigating the degree of usage of, and attitudes held towards Uchinaa-Yamatoguchi among young Okinawans. The vitality of Uchinaa-Yamatoguchi is finally problematized from the three discourses identity, ideology and outside influences, concluding that passive influences from standard Japanese are still affecting the lexical stability of it, but the existence of a distinct Okinawan variety is not threatened.

Keywords: Uchinaa-Yamatoguchi, Okinawa, Japanese, language vitality, language shift, language attitudes, language ideology ii Acknowledgments I would like to express my deepest gratitude towards a number of individuals without whom this paper would not have been possible. In no particular order, my thanks go to Fuka Maehama, Niclas Blomberg, Peter Olsson, Yoriko Takaesu, Naka Yakabi, Fija Bairon, Yoshiko Jöhnemark, and Lars Larm. Their kindness and support in the past and during the writing process has been invaluable to me.

iii Contents


ii Acknowledgements iii Conventions vi Abbreviations vii 1 Introduction 1

1.1 Purpose 1

1.2 Methodology and disposition 1 2 Historical overview 3

2.1 The history of Okinawa and the Ryukyu Islands 3

2.2 Language policy 5 3 The vernacular and Uchinaa-Yamatoguchi 9

3.1 Linguistic situation on the Ryukyu Islands 9

3.2 The Okinawan language 12

3.3 Defining Uchinaa-Yamatoguchi 15 3.3.1 Contents 15 3.3.2 Label 17

3.4 Characteristics of Uchina

–  –  –

Glossing The glossing used in this paper is based on the Leipzig Glossing Rules. A list of abbreviations is given below.

Romanization Long vowels appearing in Japanese words will be transcribed with macrons, with the exception of long e and long i, which will be transcribed as ei and ii respectively. In contrast to this, words of Okinawan origin will not be transcribed using macrons but with double letters; this is also true for long e which will be transcribed as ee. This choice is based on the procedure used by other linguists, and it furthermore adds an extra level of distinction between the two languages. Uchinaa-Yamatoguchi words follow this same procedure.

Moreover, words that are now considered part of the English lexicon, such as place names, have been transcribed as is customary, that is, usually without indicating long vowels.

Typographical conventions Italics have been used to mark non-English vocabulary, excepting the words Uchinaaguchi and Uchinaa-Yamatoguchi. Translations have been denoted with single quotes, unless they appear within a word table.

Other conventions For the sake of easy readability and uniformity the transcription of the word “UchinaaYamatoguchi” has been changed in quotes where it differed from the manner adhered to in this paper.

Example sentences taken from other works have been adapted to fit the conventions of this paper.

To avoid confusion “Okinawa” always refers to “the island of Okinawa”. In case the prefecture is the subject, this will be clearly stated.

–  –  –

From the time the island of Okinawa was annexed by the Japanese state in 1872, the vernacular language has been undergoing attrition as the result of policies aimed at assimilating the population to become Japanese nationals. During the last century proficiency in the language thus quickly came to deteriorate with every generation to the current point where real proficiency is only found among the elderly. A consequence of this has been the emergence of a new variety called Uchinaa-Yamatoguchi, or Okinawan Japanese. This is a form of Japanese which incorporates elements of the Okinawan language and has come to be widely used among people of all ages on the island (Takaesu 1994; Ōsumi 2001).

1.1 Purpose

The vitality of the Okinawan language is unquestionably at a critical point and has been the subject of a wide debate. Most scholars agree that it is doomed to extinction within a foreseeable time if drastic measures are not taken. In the shadow of this discussion the question of the vitality and future of Uchinaa-Yamatoguchi has passed fairly unattended.

When given attention it is mostly as a parenthesis in the discussion concerning the Okinawan language. A few linguists have nevertheless dedicated efforts to describing the variety and some statements have been made about the future it is likely to face. The purpose of this paper

is, through a new assessment:

 To elicit the current condition of Uchinaa-Yamatoguchi.

 To cast further light on the factors affecting it.

 To make a statement about the future outlook of it.

1.2 Methodology and disposition

The discourse is built upon two parts, the first being analysis and expansion of previous research and the second being a survey conducted for the sake of this paper which investigates mainly the degree of usage of, and attitudes held towards Uchinaa-Yamatoguchi among young Okinawans. It was conducted to cast light on the current situation, and moreover to get 1 further basis to build argument upon. By matching previous research with the findings of the survey the hope is to be able to give an updated statement about the future outlook of Uchinaa-Yamatoguchi, and furthermore to explain the factors through which the future of it is formed. It must in all sincerity be pointed out that the modest number of participants in the survey leaves the result of it insufficient to prove an actual tendency; it will nevertheless be used to build a hypothetical statement presented at the end of the paper. An Okinawan informant was moreover interviewed once and also consulted at several occasions to get deeper insight into the linguistic situation on the island. The informant is a 23 year old woman from the city of Itoman, although she has been living in mainland Japan for the past four years.

She speaks Japanese as her first language and has only a slight understanding of the Okinawan language. However, with friends and family on the island, Uchinaa-Yamatoguchi is used. The interview and all other consultation were carried out through a chat program.

This paper is divided into four main chapters, this introduction excluded. The first chapter will give the historical background and explain the language policies that Japan instigated during the last century. This is of import to the discussion at hand as the process whereby Uchinaa-Yamatoguchi emerged has to be explained from a historical and political perspective. The second chapter is aimed at introducing and explaining Uchinaa-Yamatoguchi to make the discussion more tangible. To give a broader perspective the linguistic situation in the Ryukyuan archipelago in which Okinawa is located will furthermore be sketched up and a short introduction to the Okinawan language will be provided. In the third chapter, based on earlier research, the future outlook of Uchinaa-Yamatoguchi will be discussed at length from a broad perspective mainly based on cultural, sociolinguistic, and political factors. The chapter following will be a presentation of the survey.

22 Historical overview

In order to understand the process whereby Uchinaa-Yamatoguchi came into existence and what possible future paths might lie ahead, it is imperative to have some knowledge of past political and social events in Japan and the Ryukyu Islands. Uchinaa-Yamatoguchi is not something that has come into existence through a natural process, but rather the result of a strict language ideology resulting in a forced language shift. In the first part of this chapter I will give a summary of the history of the Ryukyu Islands and especially Okinawa to cast further light on the relationship with Japan. Attention will be given the era before Japan extended its influence towards the islands only when it is of import to the discussion at hand.

In the second part of this chapter Japanese language policies from the Meiji restoration and onwards will be discussed since these are the direct cause of language attrition on the Ryukyu Islands, which eventually lead up to the current linguistic state where varieties like UchinaaYamatoguchi have come to exist.

2.1 The history of Okinawa and the Ryukyu Islands

The first inhabitants on the Ryukyu Islands are believed to have moved from the Japanese archipelago to the northern islands. It is possible that Japanese and the Ryukyuan languages had already begun to separate before this emigration. It is furthermore believed that the first major emigration from Okinawa to the Miyako and Yaeyama Islands occurred in the 13th century, and if any indigenous people already existed they were either assimilated or decimated (Shimoji 2010: 4). Before the formation of the Ryukyu Kingdom, Okinawa Island

was divided into the three separate kingdoms Hokuzan, Chuuzan, and Nanzan (Sakihara 1987:

99-102). All the three kingdoms had tributary relationships to China; a relation which was upheld even after the Ryukyu Kingdom was formed in 1429. This continued relationship resulted in good trade connections and a strong economy, which eventually drew the attention of the Japanese Shimazu clan of the then existing Satsuma province (Ōsumi 2001: 71).

Any relation between Japan and the Ryukyu Kingdom did not formally exist until 1609 when an army from the Satsuma province invaded the kingdom, forcing them to swear an oath of eternal loyalty to Satsuma. More interesting however is that the notion of „eternal‟ extended in both directions on the time line, stating that this relationship between the kingdom 3 and the ruling Shimazu clan in fact had always existed, thus in a sense alternating history (Smits 1999: 15-16). This is of interest since claims of Japan‟s and the Ryukyu Islands‟ common historical past, as Smits points out referring to Takara, occur even today among Japanese historians. This is based on the view that members of the same ethnic group must share a common political history (1999: 159). Despite this new influence from Japan, the kingdom officially remained independent (Ōsumi 2001: 71). The initial prospect by the Shimazu clan was to incorporate the Ryukyu Islands into their domain. The strategy, much like the one adopted by the Japanese government a few hundred years later, was establishing prohibitions against customs and practices which differed from those of Japan; this was done to eliminate opposition. Such plans were however quickly interrupted by the military government after trade negotiations with China had failed. The Ryukyu Kingdom was seen as a means to conduct indirect trade, but this could only be done under the appearance that the kingdom was free from Japanese influence. Differences from Japan consequently came to be highlighted and Japanese names, clothes and customs were banned; travel restrictions were

furthermore established to prevent Japanese people from visiting the kingdom (Smits 1999:

18-19). Japan could thereby acquire Chinese goods, and the Shimazu clan could tap into the kingdom‟s profits by demanding tributes (Heinrich 2012: 84).

This balance was sustained until 1872 when the newly created Japanese Meiji government claimed full hegemony over the Ryukyu Islands. The nobles of the kingdom were by this time split into two factions, one supporting cooperation with the Satsuma province and one opposing it which came to be an advantage to Japan (Smits 1999: 143-144). In 1879 king Shoo Tai of the kingdom was forced into exile in Tokyo as the Meiji government designated all islands south of the Amami Islands as Okinawa Prefecture, and the duty to integrate the islands into Japan was given to the chief secretary of the Japanese Home Ministry (Heinrich 2004: 156; Heinrich 2012: 84-85).

Okinawa then came to suffer greatly during the battle of Okinawa in the Second World War, and during the aftermath as well. The civilians were subjected to cruelty not only from the invading American forces but also from the Japanese army (Hein & Selden 2003: 14).

This negligence shown by the army meant to protect them has often drawn the focus from the Americans‟ role in the battle. Attention being drawn away from America‟s involvement is furthermore explained by the view among Okinawans that Japanese militarism brought about the deadly battle, and the fact that the Americans after the battle proved not to be as horrible as they had been made to believe. They did not, as the Japanese military officials had warned, rape and torture the population; although, they did suffer maltreatment of other kinds which 4 came to be sources of dissatisfaction (Hein & Selden 2003: 18). It is estimated that 130,000 to 140,000 civilians died during the twelve weeks of fighting, that was more than one-fourth of the entire Okinawan population (Hein & Selden 2003: 13).

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