Miyako language

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宮古口/ミャークフツ Myaakufutsu
Pronunciation [mjaːkufutss̩]
Native to Okinawa, Japan
Region Miyako Islands
Ethnicity 68,000 (2000)
Native speakers
(no estimate available)
(mainly older speakers)
Language codes
ISO 639-3 mvi
Glottolog miya1259[1]

The Miyako language (宮古口/ミャークフツ Myaakufutsu [mjaːkufutss̩] or 島口/スマフツ Sumafutsu) is a language spoken in the Miyako Islands, located southwest of Okinawa. The combined population of the islands is about 52,000 (as of 2011). Miyako is a Southern Ryukyuan language, most closely related to Yaeyama. The number of competent native speakers is not known; as a consequence of Japanese language policy which refers to the language as the Miyako dialect (宮古方言 Miyako hōgen?), reflected in the education system, people below the age of 60 tend to not use the language except in songs and rituals, and the younger generation mostly uses Japanese as their first language. Miyako is notable among the Japonic languages in that it allows non-nasal syllable-final consonants, something not found in most Japonic languages.


The most divergent dialect is that of Tarama Island, the farthest island away. The other dialects cluster as IkemaIrabu and Central Miyako.

An illustrative lexeme is Alocasia (evidently an Austronesian loan: Tagalog /biːɡaʔ/). This varies as Central Miyako (Hirara, Ōgami) /biʋkassa/, Ikema /bïbïːɡamː/, Irabu (Nagahama) /bɭbɭːɡassa/, Tarama /bivvuɭɡassa/.


The description here is based on Ōgami dialect, the Central Miyako dialect of the smallest of the Miyako islands, from Pellard (2009).

Central Miyako dialects do not have pitch accent.[2]

There are five vowels.

i~ɪ ɨ~ɯ   u~ʊ

/ɯ/ is truly unrounded, unlike the compressed Japanese u. It is centralized after /s/. /u/ is rounded normally, but varies as [ʊ]. /ɛ/ varies from [e] to [æ].

Numerous vowel sequences occur, and long vowels are treated as sequences of identical vowels, keeping the inventory at five.

Ōgami vowels are not subject to devoicing next to unvoiced consonants the way Japanese high vowels are. Thus sequences of phonetic consonants are analyzed as being phonemically consonantal as well.

There are nine consonants, without a voicing contrast. (Most Miyako dialects do distinguish voicing.)

Labial Alveolar Velar
Nasal m n
Plosive p t k
Tap ɾ
Fricative f s
Approximant ʋ

The plosives tend to be somewhat aspirated initially and voiced medially. There are maybe a dozen words with optionally voiced initial consonants, such as babe ~ pape (a sp. of fish) and gakspstu ~ kakspstu 'wolverine',[3] but Pellard suggests they may be loans (babe is found in other dialects, and gaks- is a Chinese loan; only a single word gama ~ kama 'grotto, cave' is not an apparent loan).

K may be spirantized before a: kaina 'arm' [kɑinɑ ~ xɑinɑ], a꞊ka 'I꞊NOM' [ɑkɑ ~ ɑxɑ ~ ɑɣɑ].

N is [ŋ] at the end of a word, and assimilates ([m~n~ŋ]) before another consonant. (When [ŋ] geminates, it becomes [nn], and so is treated as phonemically /n/. It tends to devoice after s and f. M, on the other hand, does not assimilate, and appears finally, as in mku 'right', mta 'earth', and im 'sea'.)

F is labiodental, not bilabial, and s palatizes to [ɕ] before the front vowels i, e: pssi [pɕɕi] 'cold'. Some speakers insert an epenthetic [t] between n and s, as in ansi [ɑnɕi ~ ɑntɕi] 'thus'.

V is clearly labiodental as well, and tends to become a fricative [v] when emphasized, or when geminate, as in /kuʋʋɑ/ [kuvvɑ] 'calf'. It can be syllabic, as can all sonorants in Ōgami dialect: vv [v̩ː] 'to sell'. Final v contrasts with the high back vowels: /paʋ/ 'snake', /pau/ 'stick', /paɯ/ 'fly' are accusative [pɑvvu, pɑuju, pɑɯu] with the clitic -u.

Various sequences of consonants occur (mna 'shell', sta 'under', fta 'lid'), and long consonants are bimoraic (sta [s̩.tɑ] fta [f̩.tɑ], pstu [ps̩.tu]), so they are analyzed as consonant sequences as well. These can be typologically unusual:

/mmtɑ/ (sp. small fruit)
/nnɑmɑ/ 'now'
/ʋʋɑ/ 'you'
/fɑɑ/ 'baby'
/ffɑ/ 'grass'
/fffɑ/ 'comb.TOP' (from ff 'comb')[4]
/suu/ 'vegetable'
/ssu/ 'white'
/sssu/ 'dust.ACC' (from ss 'dust')
/mmɑ/ 'mother'
/mmmɑ/ 'potato.TOP' (from mm 'potato')
/pssma/ 'day'

Double plosives do not occur, apart from a single morpheme, the quotative particle tta.

There are a few words with no voiced sounds at all (compare Nuxálk language § Syllables):

ss 'dust, a nest, to rub'
kss 'breast/milk, hook / to fish, to come'
pss 'day, vulva'
ff 'a comb, to bite, to rain, to close'
kff 'to make'
fks 'to build'
ksks 'month, to listen, to arrive', etc.
sks 'to cut'
psks 'to pull'

The contrast between a voiceless syllable and a voiced vowel between voiceless consonants can be seen in kff puskam [k͡f̩ːpuskɑm] 'I want to make (it)', ff꞊nkɑi [f̩ːŋɡɑi] 'to꞊the.comb', and paks꞊nu꞊tu [pɑksn̥udu] 'bee꞊NOM꞊FOC' (with a devoiced nasal after s). There is a contrast between ff꞊mɑi 'comb꞊INCL' and ffu꞊mɑi 'shit꞊INCL'. With tongue twisters, speakers do not insert schwas or other voiced sounds to aid in pronunciation:

kff ff 'the comb that I make'
kff ss 'the nest that I make'
kff kss 'the hook that I make'

The minimal word is either VV, VC, or CC (with the same C), as in aa 'millet', ui 'over', is 'rock', ff 'comb'. There are no V or CV words, though CCV and CVV are found, as above.

Syllabification is difficult to analyze, especially in words such as usnkai (us-nkai) 'cow-DIR' and saiafn (saiaf-n) 'carpenter-DAT'.


  1. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Miyako". Glottolog 2.2. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  2. ^ That is, they are of ikkei type.
  3. ^ Or perhaps 'glutton'; the French is glouton for both.
  4. ^ ff derives historically from fusi, but there is no indication of vowels in the Ōgami word.

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