I first got to present this idea at an Endangered Island Language Forum last year at Ryukyu University in Okinawa. I have a couple more months until I have to take my presentation and powerpoint and turn it into an article to be published in an anthology on language revitalization movements amongst islanders. I have learned alot about language issues by traveling to places like Okinawa and Hawai'i and seeing the infrastructure or lack thereof. The main Okinawan language is called Uchinaguchi although there are many dialects on different islands in the chain. I once visited a language immersion school there run by my friend Shinako Oyakawa. It was an exciting experience. As part of my research for this article I came across a bunch of Uchinaguchi related articles from the Okinawa newspaper the Ryukyu Shimpo. I've pasted them below for people to check out.
Ryukyuan Heritage Language Society suggests Okinawa include Ryukyuan languages class in education at schoolsOctober 25, 2014 Ryukyu Shimpo
The Ryukyuan Heritage Language Society held the 18th Foundation of Endangered Languages Symposium this September. On October 24, the society wrote up a declaration for the symposium. The organization suggested that Okinawa should adopt Ryukyuan languages or Shimakutuba as second language and include classes for the languages in education programs at schools. A representative of the society handed over the statement to the Okinawa Prefectural Government and Prefectural Assembly on October 24. The organization plans to send the statement to the Agency for Cultural Affairs and Kagoshima Prefectural Government to which Amami belongs but is also part of the Ryukyu language region. Shinsho Miyara chair of the society said, “It is important to provide an environment where Okinawan people can choose to study languages inherited in the prefecture and learn them.”
(English translation by T&CT)
Uchinaguchi grammar guidebookSeptember 12, 2013 Yoshiya Hokama of the Ryukyu Shimpo
Professor Emeritus of the University of the Ryukyus Shinsho Miyara, who does research and works to help spread Uchinaguchi (Okinawan dialect), has been working to create a book provisionally titled Uchinaguchi Grammar and Idiom Guidebook. He has already written 600 A-4 size pages and will publish the book next year after adding another 100 pages. Miyara said, “There is no book that compiles the necessary grammar and idioms for studying Uchinaguchi. We need to create a guidebook like this to help spread the language.”
The guidebook compiles idioms used in Naha and Shuri. Unlike standard dictionaries, this guidebook explains idioms for learners to understand easily by putting words into grammatical categories such as nouns, verbs, and adjectives with example sentences. The book also explains how Uchinaguchi works and introduces examples of conversational expressions to make it a practical grammar book for teachers and learners.
Miyara serves as the president of the Naha City Culture Association Uchinaguchi Division and as an adviser for NPO Okinawa Language Diffusion Council. He started making the guidebook five or six years ago. Because there is no fully-fledged guidebook covering the necessary information for the teaching and learning of Uchinaguchi Miyara decided to make one by himself.
He visited schools in Hawaii to look at Hawaiian language education, which has been revitalized in recent years. Miyara found that Hawaiian translations of English textbook were used as educational material in the higher grades while there were more simple educational materials for lower grades of elementary school. He said, “In Hawaii they also need to make a grammar book. I felt that I should do my bit to make a guidebook like this. I hope that it will be something that people use widely.”
(English translation by T&CT, Megumi Chibana and Mark Ealey)
[Editorial] Shimakutuba lesson is essential to the development of Okinawa CultureSeptember 3, 2014 Ryukyu Shimpo
The Shimakutuba Liaison Council has made a petition to the Okinawa Prefectural Assembly seeking to enact a regulation on the protection of local languages. The liaison council wants to restore and inherit rights to protect Shimakutuba or Ryukyuan languages. The purpose of the petition is to stipulate rules on the spreading and teaching of Shimakutuba in school education. Introducing Shimakutuba into school education is essential to pass on it to the next generations. We want to give our full assent to the petition.
UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) announced in 2009 that 2,500 of about 6,000 languages in the world were at risk of disappearing forever. Six Ryukyuan languages are listed in the Unesco’s Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger of Disappearing. We should take this situation seriously.
The Okinawa Prefectural Government (OPG) carried out the Okinawan People’s Awareness Survey on Shimakutuba last year. According to the survey, around 80 percent of the residents have a sense of familiarity with Shimakutuba, and a desire to pass on it to the next generations. However, the rate of residents who mainly use Shimakutuba or use it as much as Japanese remained 35.4 percent of all residents. There are many people who want to use it, but they cannot use it because they do not have the opportunity to learn it. The results of the survey suggest it is beyond question that the educational initiative for Shimakutuba is needed.
The Okinawa Prefectural Assembly enacted a regulation drafted by local government to promote Shimakutuba and set up Shimakutuba Day, to be held every September 18 in 2006. The OPG made the Shimakutuba promotion plan after it held the Okinawan people’s Shimakutoba promotion rally for the first time last year. In this plan, the OPG warns that the annihilation of Shimakutuba would lead to a weakening of love for and pride in our hometown, and the decline of the Okinawa culture as a result.
However, the OPG has a cautious attitude towards introducing Ryukyuan language into school education programs, saying that it requires more consideration in line with the national government’s curriculum guidelines. We do not understand why the OPG hesitates to introduce Shimakutuba into public education despite asserting the disappearance of Shimakutuba will lead to the decline of the Okinawan culture.
Nakagusuku village has begun teaching the History of Ryukyu at its elementary schools from this year as part of its own education program. The OPG should think hard about this issue.
A native Hawaiian educational organization was founded in 1983 in Hawaii. Elementary, middle and high schools conducting lessons in Hawaiian language emerged. As a result, the number of people 70 years of age or younger who speak Hawaiian has increased to more than 2,000 people. Less than 50 people spoke Hawaiian in 1982. The Shimakutuba Liaison Council has suggested in its petition a plan to set up the Shimakutuba Education Center in order to train teachers systematically and develop teaching materials. We strongly recommend the OPG set up the center and start lessons in Shimakutuba in schools as soon as possible in order to regain our language as a foundation of culture and to develop Okinawan culture.
(English translation by T&CT)
Seventy people gather to discuss the establishment of an Okinawan Language Immersion School
November 29, 2011 Ryukyu Shimpo
On November 20, “An emergency meeting to discuss the establishment of an Okinawan Language immersion school” was held at Makishiekimae Hoshizora Community Center in Naha. The organizers were Okinawan Studies 107 (Okisuta 107), a group of the local people who have studied in Hawaii. Seventy people gathered and discussed establishing a school for studying local dialect.
Masahide Ishihara, professor of the University of the Ryukyus, gave a lecture about immersion schools in Hawaii where people are able to study in the Hawaiian language from kindergarten right up to graduate school.
Professor Ishihara explained that the passion of just six native Kauai Island mothers determined to pass on the Hawaiian language to their children was instrumental in the establishment of the immersion school.
Emphasizing the need to maintain local languages, Professor Ishihara said, “Language has a role to play in connecting us to the land and our ancestors. Losing the language means that we lose our relationship with our own land and our ancestors.”
A woman who teaches Okinawan language in Ginowan City commented, “I’ve been teaching the language for three years now in order to hand it down to further generations. If we don’t do this, it will disappear in no time. I want to make use of the Internet to spread the word.”
(English translation by T&CT, Shinako Oyakawa and Mark Ealey)
Symposium on endangered languages held to preserve the Ryukyuan languages
September 18, 2014 Ryukyu Shimpo
On September 17 at the Okinawa Convention Center in Ginowan City, the 18th Foundation of Endangered Languages Symposium was held. It was the first time for the event to be held in East Asia. Researchers presented the critical problem of the dying out of Ryukyuan languages. They also reported on preservation efforts in Hawaii, where the Okinawan community has initiated various activities to perpetuate use of the language. Presenting Ryukyuan dance and performing arts, the symposium showcased the cultural diversity and uniqueness of Okinawa to the world. About 100 people from 21 countries, including speakers and researchers of endangered languages, took part in the symposium.
Chair Shinsho Miyara of the Ryukyuan Heritage Language Society explained the origin and structure of Ryukyuan languages. Professor Masahide Ishihara from the University of the Ryukyus stated, “It is possible for Ryukyuan languages to coexist with Japanese language. If Shimakutuba (Ryukyuan languages) are more used in our daily life, this will establish a positive image of the language, eventually leading us to preserve Ryukyuan languages.”
Professor Tatsuro Maeda from the Tokyo University of Foreign Languages gave a presentation on Amami languages, saying; “In Amami, Kagoshima Prefecture has the administrative authority, and the population size and economic power are also small. Amami faces a more severe situation than Okinawa in preserving its languages. People in Amami and Okinawa need to work together for inheritance of the endangered languages.”
Professor Emeritus at the University of Hawaii Kyoko Hijirida reported on Okinawan language inheritance activities at the university. On September 18 and 19 at the Okinawa International University, researchers attended additional presentations in English that were not open to public.
(English translation by T&CT and Megumi Chibana)