|Japan, possibly formerly on the Korean Peninsula|
|Linguistic classification||One of the world's primary language families|
Japonic languages and dialects
Japonic or Japanese–Ryukyuan is a language family comprising Japanese, spoken in the main islands of Japan, and the Ryukyuan languages, spoken in the Ryukyu Islands. The family is universally accepted by linguists, and significant progress has been made in reconstructing the proto-language. The reconstruction implies a split between all dialects of Japanese and all Ryukyuan varieties, probably before the 7th century. The Hachijō language, spoken on the Izu Islands, is also included, but its position within the family is unclear.
Most scholars believe that Japonic was brought to the Japanese archipelago from the Korean peninsula with the Yayoi culture during the 1st millennium BC. There is some fragmentary evidence suggesting that Japonic languages were still spoken in central and southern parts of the Korean peninsula (see Peninsular Japonic) in the early centuries AD.
Possible genetic relationships with many other language families have been proposed, most systematically with Koreanic, but none have been conclusively demonstrated.
The extant Japonic languages comprise two well-defined branches: Japanese and Ryukyuan. Most scholars believe that Japonic was brought to northern Kyushu from the Korean peninsula around 700 to 300 BC by wet-rice farmers of the Yayoi culture and spread throughout the Japanese archipelago, replacing indigenous languages. Somewhat later, Japonic languages also spread southward to the Ryukyu Islands. There is fragmentary placename evidence that now-extinct Japonic languages were still spoken in central and southern parts of the Korean peninsula several centuries later.
Japanese is the national language of Japan, where it is spoken by about 126 million people. The oldest attestation is Old Japanese, which was recorded using Chinese characters in the 7th and 8th centuries. It differed from Modern Japanese in having a simple (C)V syllable structure and avoiding vowel sequences. The script also distinguished eight vowels (or diphthongs), with two each corresponding to modern i, e and o. Most of the texts reflect the speech of the area around Nara, the eighth-century Japanese capital, but over 300 poems were written in eastern dialects of Old Japanese.
The language experienced a massive influx of Sino-Japanese vocabulary after the introduction of Buddhism in the 6th century and peaking with the wholesale importation of Chinese culture in the 8th and the 9th centuries. The loanwords now account for about half the lexicon. They also affected the sound system of the language by adding compound vowels, syllable-final nasals, and geminate consonants, which became separate morae.
- Eastern Japanese, including most dialects from Nagoya east, including the modern standard Tokyo dialect.
- Western Japanese, including most dialects west of Nagoya, including the Kyoto dialect.
- Kyushu dialects, spoken on the island of Kyushu, including the Kagoshima dialect/Satsugū dialect, spoken in Kagoshima Prefecture in southern Kyushu.
The early capitals of Nara and Kyoto lay within the western area, and their Kansai dialect retained its prestige and influence long after the capital was moved to Edo (modern Tokyo) in 1603. Indeed, the Tokyo dialect has several western features not found in other eastern dialects.
The Hachijō language, spoken on Hachijō-jima and the Daitō Islands, including Aogashima, is highly divergent and varied. It has a mix of conservative features inherited from Eastern Old Japanese and influences from modern Japanese, making it difficult to classify. Hachijō is an endangered language, with a small population of elderly speakers.
The Ryukyuan languages were originally and traditionally spoken throughout the Ryukyu Islands, an island arc stretching between the southern Japanese island of Kyushu and the island of Taiwan. Most of them are considered "definitely" or "critically endangered" because of the spread of mainland Japanese.
Since Old Japanese displayed several innovations that are not shared with Ryukyuan, the two branches must have separated before the 7th century. The move from Kyushu to the Ryukyus may have occurred later and possibly coincided with the rapid expansion of the agricultural Gusuku culture in the 10th and 11th centuries. Such a date would explain the presence in Proto-Ryukyuan of Sino-Japanese vocabulary borrowed from Early Middle Japanese. After the migration to the Ryukyus, there was limited influence from mainland Japan until the conquest of the Ryukyu Kingdom by the Satsuma Domain in 1609.
Ryukyuan varieties are considered dialects of Japanese in Japan but have little intelligibility with Japanese or even among one another. They are divided into northern and southern groups, corresponding to the physical division of the chain by the 250 km-wide Miyako Strait.
Northern Ryukyuan languages are spoken in the northern part of the chain, including the major Amami and Okinawa Islands. They form a single dialect continuum, with mutual unintelligibility between widely-separated varieties. The major varieties are, from northeast to southwest:
- Kikai, on the island of Kikaijima.
- Northern Amami Ōshima, spoken in most of Amami Ōshima
- Southern Amami Ōshima, spoken in Setouchi on the southern end of Amami Ōshima.
- Tokunoshima, on the island of Tokunoshima.
- Okinoerabu, on the island of Okinoerabujima
- Yoron, on the island of Yoronjima.
- Northern Okinawan, spoken in the northern part of Okinawa Island, including the cities of Nakijin and Nago.
- (Central) Okinawan, spoken in the central and southern parts of Okinawa Island, and neighboring islands. The prestige dialect is spoken in Naha, and the former city of Shuri. The Shuri dialect was the lingua franca of the Ryukyuan Kingdom, and was first recorded in the 16th century, particularly in the Omoro Sōshi anthology.
There is no agreement on the subgrouping of the varieties. One proposal, adopted by the UNESCO Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger, has three subgroups, with the central "Kunigami" branch comprising varieties from Southern Amami to Northern Okinawan, based on similar vowel systems and patterns of lenition of stops. Pellard suggests a binary division based on shared innovations, with an Amami group including the varieties from Kikai to Yoron, and an Okinawa group comprising the varieties of Okinawa and smaller islands to its west.
- Miyako is spoken in the Miyako Islands, with dialects on Irabu and Tarama.
- Yaeyama is spoken in the Yaeyama Islands (except Yonaguni), with dialects on each island, but primarily Ishigaki Island, Iriomote Island, and Taketomi Island.
- Yonaguni, spoken on Yonaguni Island, is phonologically distinct but lexically closer to other Yaeyama varieties.
The southern Ryukyus were settled by Japonic-speakers from the northern Ryukyus in the 13th century, leaving no linguistic trace of the indigenous inhabitants of the islands.
An alternative classification, based mainly on the development of the pitch accent, groups the highly divergent Kagoshima dialects of southwestern Kyushu with Ryukyuan in a Southwestern branch. In the following revised internal classification by Elisabeth de Boer, Japanese is paraphyletic within Japonic, with the Ryukyuan languages classified within one of the various branches of Japanese.
- Eastern Old Japanese
- Central Old Japanese
- Conservative Izumo-Tōhoku
- Shimokita, East Iwate
- Peripheral Izumo
- Innovative Izumo-Tōhoku
- Central Izumo
- Conservative Izumo-Tōhoku
- Chapter 37 of the Samguk sagi (compiled in 1145) contains a list of pronunciations and meanings of placenames in the former kingdom of Goguryeo. As the pronunciations are given using Chinese characters, they are difficult to interpret, but several of those from central Korea, in the area south of the Han River captured from Baekje in the 5th century, seem to correspond to Japonic words. Scholars differ on whether they represent the language of Goguryeo or the people that it conquered.
- The Silla placenames, listed in Chapter 34 of the Samguk sagi, are not glossed, but many of them can be explained as Japonic words.
- A single word is explicitly attributed to the language of the southern Gaya confederacy, in Chapter 44 of the Samguk sagi. It is a word for 'gate' and appears in a similar form to the Old Japanese word to2, with the same meaning.
- Alexander Vovin suggests that the ancient name for the kingdom of Tamna on Jeju Island, tammura, may have a Japonic etymology *tani mura 'valley settlement' or *tami mura 'people's settlement'.
Vovin calls these languages Peninsular Japonic and groups Japanese and Ryukyuan as Insular Japonic.
Proposed external relationships
According to Shirō Hattori, more attempts have been made to link Japanese with other language families than for any other language. None of the attempts has succeeded in demonstrating a common descent for Japonic and any other language family.
The most systematic comparisons have involved Korean, which has a very similar grammatical structure to Japanese. Samuel Elmo Martin, John Whitman, and others have proposed hundreds of possible cognates, with sound correspondences. However, Alexander Vovin points out that Old Japanese contains several pairs of words of similar meaning in which one word matches a Korean form, and the other is also found in Ryukyuan and Eastern Old Japanese. He thus suggests that to eliminate early loans from Korean, Old Japanese morphemes should not be assigned a Japonic origin unless they are also attested in Southern Ryukyuan or Eastern Old Japanese. That procedure leaves fewer than a dozen possible cognates, which may have been borrowed by Korean from Peninsular Japonic.
Most Japonic languages have voicing opposition for obstruents, with exceptions such as the Miyako dialect of Ōgami. Glottalized consonants are common in North Ryukyuan languages but are rarer in South Ryukyuan. Proto-Japonic had only voiceless obstruents, like Ainu and proto-Korean. Japonic languages also resemble Ainu and modern Korean in having a single liquid consonant phoneme. A five-vowel system like Standard Japanese /a/, /i/, /u/, /e/ and /o/ is common, but some Ryukyuan languages also have central vowels /ə/ and /ɨ/, and Yonaguni has only /a/, /i/, and /u/.
In most Japonic languages, speech rhythm is based on a subsyllabic unit, the mora. Each syllable has a basic mora of the form (C)V but a nasal coda, geminate consonant, or lengthened vowel counts as an additional mora. However, some dialects in northern Honshu or southern Kyushu have syllable-based rhythm.
Like Ainu, Middle Korean, and some modern Korean dialects, most Japonic varieties have a lexical pitch accent, which governs whether the moras of a word are pronounced high or low, but it follows widely-different patterns. In Tokyo-type systems, the basic pitch of a word is high, with an accent (if present) marking the position of a drop to low pitch. In Kyushu dialects, the basic pitch is low, with accented syllables given high pitch, and in Kyoto-type systems, both types are used.
Japonic languages, again like Ainu and Korean, are left-branching (or head-final), with a basic subject–object–verb word order, modifiers before nouns, and postpositions. There is a clear distinction between verbs, which have extensive infectional morphology, and nominals, which have no inflection.
The proto-language of the family has been reconstructed by using a combination of internal reconstruction from Old Japanese and by applying the comparative method to Old Japanese (including eastern dialects) and Ryukyuan. The major reconstructions of the 20th century were produced by Samuel Elmo Martin and Shirō Hattori.
Proto-Japonic words are generally polysyllabic, with syllables having the form (C)V. The following proto-Japonic consonant inventory is generally agreed upon, except except that some scholars argue for voiced stops *b and *d instead of glides *w and *j:
The Old Japanese voiced consonants b, d, z and g, which never occurred word-initially, are derived from clusters of nasals and voiceless consonants after the loss of an intervening vowel.
Most authors accept six Proto-Japonic vowels:
Some authors also propose a high central vowel *ɨ. The mid vowels *e and *o were raised to i and u respectively in Old Japanese, except word-finally. Other Old Japanese vowels arose from sequences of Proto-Japonic vowels.
- Shimabukuro (2007), p. 1.
- Tranter (2012), p. 3.
- Serafim (2008), p. 98.
- Vovin (2017).
- Vovin (2013), pp. 222–224.
- Sohn (1999), pp. 35–36.
- Frellesvig (2010), pp. 12–20.
- Shibatani (1990), p. 121.
- Shibatani (1990), p. 122.
- Miyake 2003, p. 159.
- Frellesvig 2010, pp. 23–24, 151–153.
- Shibatani (1990), pp. 120–121.
- Shibatani (1990), pp. 142–143.
- Shibatani (1990), pp. 121–122, 167–170.
- Shibatani (1990), pp. 187, 189.
- Shibatani (1990), p. 1999.
- Shibatani (1990), p. 207.
- Pellard (2015), pp. 16–17.
- Pellard (2018), p. 2.
- Shimoji (2012), p. 352.
- Pellard (2015), pp. 21–22.
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- Shimoji (2010), p. 4.
- Shibatani (1990), p. 191.
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- Shibatani (1990), p. 194.
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- de Boer (2020), p. 52.
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- Beckwith (2007), p. 40.
- Vovin (2013), pp. 236–237.
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- Shibatani (1990), pp. 99–100.
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- Vovin (2010), p. 6.
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