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)[1]
Native speakers
(mostly over age 20 cited 1989)[1]
Miyako Island
Language codes
ISO 639-3 mvi
Glottolog miya1259[2]
Miyako map.jpg

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) /biʋkasːa/, Ikema /bɯbɯːɡamː/, Irabu (Nagahama) /bɭbɭːɡasːa/, Tarama /bivːuɭɡasːa/.


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

Central Miyako dialects do not have pitch accent; therefore, they are of ikkei type. Tarama dialect distinguishes accent on the phonological word (stem plus clitics), e.g. /juda꞊mai neen/, /jadu꞊maiꜜ neen/, /maduꜜ꞊mai neen/,


There are five vowels.

Ōgami 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.

Historical *i and *u centralized and merged to /ɨ/ as *e and *o rose to /i/ and /u/. The blade of the tongue in /ɨ/ is close to the alveolar ridge, and this feature has been inaccurately described as "apical" (it is actually laminal).[3] In certain environments /ɨ/ rises beyond vowel space to syllabic /s̩/ after /p/ and /k/ (especially before another voiced consonant) and, in dialects that have voiced stops, to /z̩/ after /b/ and /ɡ/:

*pito > pstu 'person', *kimo > ksmu 'liver', *tabi > tabz 'journey' in Shimazato dialect.

Ōgami vowels other than /ɨ/ are not subject to devoicing next to unvoiced consonants the way Japanese high vowels are. Sequences of phonetic consonants have been analyzed by Pellard (2009) as being phonemically consonantal as well.

Tarama has four main vowels, and two marginal vowels /e, o/ found in a restricted set of words.

Tarama vowels
i ɨ u
(e) (o)

In Tarama, /ɨ/ is [s̩] between voiceless consonants, otherwise [ˢɨ] after plosives, and [ɨ] elsewhere:

[ps̩tu] 'person', [kˢɨːru] 'yellow', [mɨːɡɨ] 'right'

The sequences /*tɨ/, /*dɨ/, /*nɨ/, /*rɨ/ do not occur. They have changed to /tsɨ/, /zɨ/, /n̩/ and /r/ ([ɭ]).


In Ōgami dialect there are nine consonants, without a voicing contrast. (Most Miyako dialects do distinguish voicing.)

Ōgami consonants
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 'glutton',[4] 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 /ɑ/: kaina 'arm' [kɑinɑ ~ xɑinɑ], a꞊ka 'I (nominative)' [ɑkɑ ~ ɑxɑ ~ ɑɣɑ].

/n/ is [ŋ] at the end of a word, and assimilates to succeeding consonants ([m~n~ŋ]) before another consonant. When final [ŋ] geminates, it becomes [nn]; compare tin [tiŋ] 'silver' with tinnu [tinnu] 'silver (accusative)'. It tends to devoice after /s/ and /f/. /m/, on the other hand, does not assimilate and appears finally unchanged, as in mku 'right', mta 'earth', and im 'sea'.

/f/ is labiodental, not bilabial, and /s/ palatalizes to [ɕ] before the front vowels /i ɛ/: pssi [pɕɕi] 'cold'. Some speakers insert an epenthetic [t] between /n/ and /s/ in what would otherwise be a sequence thereof, as in ansi [ɑnɕi ~ ɑntɕi] 'thus'.

/ʋ/ is clearly labiodental as well and tends to become a fricative [v] when emphasized or when geminated, as in /kuʋʋɑ/ [kuvvɑ] 'calf'. It can be syllabic, as can all sonorants in the Ōgami dialect: vv [v̩ː] 'to sell'. Final /ʋ/ 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')[5]
/suu/ 'vegetable'
/ssu/ 'white'
/sssu/ 'dust.ACC' (from ss 'dust')
/mmɑ/ 'mother'
/mmmɑ/ 'potato.TOP' (from mm 'potato')
/pssma/ 'day'

Geminate 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 (consisting of a single geminate), as in aa 'millet', ui 'over', is 'rock', ff 'comb'. There are no V or CV words; however, CCV and CVV words are found, as shown above.

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

Tarama dialect does have voiced stops:

Tarama consonants
Labial Alveolar Velar
Nasal m n
Plosive p b t d k ɡ
Affricate ts  
Fricative f v s z
Rhotic r
Approximant w~ʋ j

The realization of /r/ is unclear. Word-finally it is [ɭ].

The two nasals may be syllabic, as in mm 'potato' and nna 'rope'. 'Onsets' include geminate consonants, as in ssam 'loose' and ffa 'child'. Otherwise, the only consonant clusters are /Cj/, as in kjuu 'today', sjata 'sugar'. Sonorants can end syllables and words, as in kan 'crab', mim 'ear', and tur 'bird'. Vowel sequences include long vowels Vː and the 'diphthongs' Vi, and Vɨ. This structure has been analyzed as a syllable, but initial geminate consonants, long vowels and diphthongs are all bimoraic, and codas are moraic as well, so that e.g. ssam is three moras ([s̩sam̩]. A phonological word must be at least two moras long.


  1. ^ a b Miyako at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Miyako". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. 
  3. ^ Hayato Aoi, in Handbook of the Ryukyuan Languages, p. 406
  4. ^ Less likely is 'wolverine'; the French glouton (like the English 'glutton') can both describe people and be a name for the animal, but the Miyako word is glossed as being composed of morphemes meaning "hungry ghost" and "person".
  5. ^ ff derives historically from fusi, but there is no indication of vowels in the Ōgami word.

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