Kunigami language

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山原言葉/ヤンバルクトゥーバ Yanbaru Kutuuba
Native to Japan
Region Northern Okinawa Island
Native speakers
5,000  (2004)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 Variously:
xug – Kunigami
okn – Oki-No-Erabu
yox – Yoron
  Northern Okinawan (Kunigami)
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

The Kunigami language (山原言葉/ヤンバルクトゥーバ Yanbaru Kutuuba?) is an Okinawan language spoken in former territory of the Hokuzan: the Kunigami or Yanbaru region in the northern Okinawa Island and belonging islands. The Kunigami language includes the Okinoerabujima dialect (島ムニ Shimamuni) and the Yoronjima dialect (ユンヌフトゥバ Yunnu futuba) in the Amami Islands of Kagoshima Prefecture.

Like the Central Okinawan language, Kunigami is part of the Ryukyuan family. The Nakijin dialect is often referred to as representative of Kunigami, in comparison with the Shuri/Naha dialect in the 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.

In Japan, the Ryukyuan language family does not have national recognition as a language but are considered dialects despite the lack of mutual intelligibility with Japanese. As a result, the Kunigami language is referred to as the Okinoerabu-Yoron-Northern Okinawa dialects (沖永良部与論沖縄北部諸方言 Okinoerabu Yoron Okinawa Hokubu Shohōgen?).


The Kunigami language presents some unique phonological characteristics that set it apart from other Japonic languages. One of the most notable characteristics of Kunigami phonology is the existence of a full series of "tensed" or "glottalized" consonants, including stops, nasals, and glides. 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 modern dialects of the Japanese language. Thus, for example, the Nakijin dialect of Kunigami has /haʔkáí/ (“a light, a lamp, lamplight; a shōji, a translucent paper screen, a translucent paper sliding door”; accented vowels indicate morae pronounced with a high tone), which is cognate with Japanese /akárí/ (“light, bright light, a ray of light, a beam of light; a light, a lamp, lamplight”); the Kunigami form is distinguished from its Japanese cognate by the initial /h/, glottalized /ʔk/, and elision of Proto-Japonic *r before *i. The Kunigami language also makes distinctions in certain word pairs, such as Nakijin dialect /ʔkumuú/ (cloud) and /húbu/ (spider), which both appear as /kúmo/ 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 /tuusá panaaɽíʔtun/, 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 (17th ed., 2013)
    Oki-No-Erabu at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
    Yoron at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)