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Language

 

uchinaguchi
the language of Okinawa

the history of uchina guchi
(Excerpt taken from Etsuko Higa's Master of Arts thesis,
Okinawan Classical Music: Analysis of Vocal Performance,
University of Hawaii, 1976.)

 

 

The language of Okinawa belongs to the Japanese-Ryukyuan language family which extends from Hokkaido in northern Japan to Yonaguni (73 km. off the coat of Taiwan) in the southern Ryukyus.  Although Hattori Shiro, one of the leading linguists of Japan estimates that the time of separation of the Shuri (Okinawa) and Kyoto (Japan) dialects was sometime between the beginning of the sixth century and the middle of the twelfth century, the Ryukyuan language is identified as an independent language due to its remote relationships in morphological, phonological, and lexical aspects.

Within the Ryukyuan language (extending from Amami Oshima to Yonaguni), the Okinawan language itself is comprised of many diffferent dialects and sub-dialects from village to village.  The Shuri dialect was standardized under the Ryukyuan kingdom central administration estiablished by King Sho Shin (1477-1526).  It was the official language used in conversation by the aristocratic class of Shuri castle.  Most Okinawan songs and poems were composed in the Shuri dialect.

The Shuri dialect is characterized by complexity of honorific markers which differentiate class, sex, and age.  A diversity of respect forms was strictly adhered to among the three social classes of aristocracy, gentry, and commoners; between male and female; and also between different age groups.  The appropriate respect forms had to be used not only when two speakers were from the same class, same sex, and even to the same age when the hierarchical distinction only related to the month of birth.  When two speakers were completely different status, conversational usage was extremely complex.

The phonological characteristics of the Shuri dialect as compared to standard Japanese are mainly the vowel changes of e to i and o to u.  For exmaple, the word for rain is pronounced ame in Japanese while it is pronounced ami in Shuri.  In the same manner, the word for cloud is pronounced kumo in Japanese while it is pronounced kumu in Shuri.  Some differences between Japanese and Shuri dialect also exist in consonants.  Some of the common differences are as follows:

 

 

Japan

Shuri

Japan

Shuri

k

chu

yuki (snow)

yuchi

chi

tsi

michi (road)

mitsi

mi

n

minato (port)

nnatu

ri

i

odori (dance)

udui

wa

a

kawa (river)

kaa

 

 

 

 

greetings
(Excerpted from the Okinawan Language Text by Dr. Mitsugu Sakihara.)

Chaabira sai.

Pardon me.  May I come in? (Used when entering a home.) 

Mensooree.

Welcome.

Ii misooree.

Please come in.

Chuu uganabira.

How do you do?

Hajimiti uganabira.

I'm glad to meet you.

Uchinaa-guchi 
wakai miseemi.

Do you understand Okinawan?

Uu, ufee wakai biin.

Yes, I understand a little.

Nifee deebiru.

Thank you.

Guburii sabira.

I would like to be excused.

Chaa ganjuu 
yaibiimi tai.

Have you been well?

 

 

 

 

 

words & phrases
(Excerpted from UCHINANCHU: A History of Okinawans in Hawaii)

 

 

 

abiyaa

person who talks loudly, yelling

 

 

 

achisan yaa tai

It's hot, isn't it?

 

 

 

andagii

Okinawan doughnut

 

 

 

anmaa or ayaa

mother

 

 

 

ashitibichi

pig's feet soup

 

 

 

chu (short sound)

people

 

 

 

churakaagii

good looking

 

 

 

gachimayaa

gluttonous

 

 

 

jin-gwaa

money

 

 

 

kumankai kuuwa

Come here.

 

 

 

maa kai ga

Where are you going?

 

 

 

magii

large, big

 

 

 

maasan

tasty, delicious

 

 

 

niibu yaa

sleepy head

 

 

 

njichabira

goodbye

 

 

 

Uchinanchu

people from Okinawa

 

 

 

uumaku

rascal

 

 

 

ningurugwaa

sweetheart (besides's one's wife); girlfriend

 

 

 

unju

you (polite)

 

 

 

warabi

child

 

 

 

yanakaagii

not good looking

 

 

 

yukuimisooree

Rest awhile.

 

 

 

Yamatunchu

Japanese from the main islands of Japan; naichi

 

 

 

yuntaku

talkative

 

 

 

Sourced from the Okinawa Home Site