The Yaeyama language (八重山物言/ヤイマムニ, Yaimamuni) is a Southern Ryukyuan language spoken in the Yaeyama Islands, the southernmost inhabited island group in Japan, with a combined population of about 53,000. The Yaeyama Islands are situated in the Southern Ryukyu Islands, southwest of the Miyako Islands and to the east of Taiwan. Yaeyama (Yaimamunii) is most closely related to Miyako. The number of competent native speakers is not known; as a consequence of Japanese language policy which refers to the language as the Yaeyama dialect (八重山方言? Yaeyama 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 exclusively uses Japanese as their first language. As compared to the Japanese kokugo, or Japanese national language, other Ryukuan languages such as Okinawan and Amami have also been referred to as dialects of Japanese. Yaeyama is noted as having a comparatively lower "language vitality" among neighboring Ryukyuan languages.
Yaeyama is spoken in Ishigaki, Taketomi, Kohama, Kuroshima, Hatoma, Aragusuku, Iriomote and Hateruma, with complications of mutual intelligibility between dialects as a result of the Yaeyama Islands' large geographic span. The speech of Yonaguni Island, while related, is usually considered a separate language.
The Yaeyaman languages are classified under a Macro-Yaeyama branch of the Southern Ryukyuan languages. Innovations of Southern Ryukyuan languages, splitting Macro-Yaeyama and Miyako language families, include an "irregular shift from tone class B to A" in 'how many' and a special form for 'garden'". Macro-Yaeyama innovations, grouping together Yaeyama languages and Dunan contain the "grammaticalization of 'know' as a potential auxiliary", similarities between multiple special forms such as "bud", "happy", "fresh", and "dirt", as well as a semantic conflation of "nephew" to mean either "nephew" or "niece". Yaeyaman dialects are differentiated from Dunan by innovations regarding a replacement of the verb "sell" with a causative form of "buy", a special form of "get wet", as well as an irregular shift of "*g>n" in 'beard'.
Some of the pronunciations that disappeared from Japanese around the 8th century, Japan's Nara period, can still be found in the Yaeyama languages. One example is the initial "p" sound, which in Japanese became an "h," while remaining a "p" in Yaeyama.
While the Yaeyama language was more "conservative" in some aspects, in the sense of preserving certain pronunciations, in other aspects it was more innovative. One example is the vowel system. Old Japanese had eight vowels (some perhaps diphthongs); this has been reduced to five in modern Japanese, but in Yaeyaman, vowel reduction has progressed further, to three vowels. Generally, when modern Japanese has an "e," the Yaeyama cognate will have an "i" (this is seen in "puni," above); and where modern Japanese has an "o," the Yaeyama cognate will have a "u" (as seen in "patu," above).
Many of these preserved pronunciations have been lost in the language of the main island of Okinawa. One explanation for this is that it is possible to travel by sea from mainland Japan until the main island of Okinawa, while keeping one island or another in sight nearly at all times; but there is then a gap between Okinawa island and the Yaeyamas, that would have required several nights on the open sea. For this reason, there was less traffic between mainland Japan and the Yaeyama islands, allowing further linguistic divergence.
The Hateruma dialect contains seven vowels, with no distinction between long-short vowel length, and sixteen consonants. Hateruma is noted for having more vowels than any other dialect. There is a pharyngeal e present; this has been argued to be a result of "the coalescence of Proto-Yaeyama diphthongs "*ai and *aɨ".
There are three accent pitches present in Hateruma: Falling, Level, and Rising accents. To correlate pitches, there are three classes of words under an "A,B,C" system; class A words correlate with falling pitch, and class B and C are shown to have "an uneven correspondence with the Level and Rising patterns".
The Hatoma dialect contains two "tonal categories" denoted as marked and unmarked.Words of the marked class are analyzed as being "high from the syllable containing the second mora", whereas unmarked words begin from a low pitch word-initially and also end with a low pitch. "Peripheral tone classes" are also noted in certain nouns and adverb.
Hatoma is noted for having the simplest verb conjugation and morphophonology of the Yaeyama dialects. A phonological process included is a sequence of i-e becoming e in the case of i being in a light syllable and ja(a) in a heavy syllable. There is also a process of a u-a sequence becoming a long o with u in a light syllable, and uwa(a) on a final heavy syllable.
The Miyara subdialect of Ishigaki has 21 consonants and 6 vowels in its inventory. It is noted that e and o exist only as long vowels.
Hateruma employs morphology and suffixation in its verbs and adjectives. Derivational morphology expresses causative and passive forms in verbs; potential forms are equal to the passive form. Verbal inflection expresses two types of indicatives, an imperative form, as well as a cohortative and prohibitive ending. Adjectives, nouns and verbs also compound and reduplicate, especially in producing adverbs from adjectives.
The Ishigaki dialect is noted for having a peculiar expression of cardinal directions. It is found that when speaking to other native speakers, Ishigaki speakers use an "intrinsic" and "relative" frame of reference system, in which "north" and "south" are expressed in an intrinsic frame of reference as the verbs agaru ("go up,climb") and oriru ("go down, descend"), instead of Standard Japanese kita ("north") and minami ("south"). It is found that a majority of speakers express "east" and "west" as Standard Japanese hidari ("left") and migi ("right") in a relative frame of reference.
Miyaran Yaeyama has been argued to have no marked attributive form, unlike Okinawan and Old Japanese. However, there is evidence that phonological conditioning, namely an epenthetic -r marking between present stative -i and present tense marker -u (in order to avoid subsequent vowel sequences), accounts for non-overt attributive markings.
In Yaeyama, Wh-phrases are marked with du:
|Subject wh-question and answer||taa-du suba-ba fai||who-DU soba-PRT ate||Who ate soba?|
|Object wh-question and answer:||kurisu-ja noo-ba-du fai||Chris-TOP what-PRT-DU ate||What did Chris eat?|
Leaving du off of a wh-phrase leads to improper grammar. Yet, du marking is optional for adverbial or adjunct wh-phrases. In questions with multiple wh-words, only one can be marked with du. Further research is needed to learn more about Wh-questions in Yaeyama.
Endangerment & Revitalization
The endangerment of Ryukyuan languages is attributed to historical and governmental factors. Originating in the 1872 annexation of the Okinawan Islands to Japan and the creation of Okinawa Prefecture in 1879, there has since been a movement referred to as the "Japanization of the Luchuan Islands". A national language movement known as kokugo has developed in result of this.The kokugo movement includes the 1907 implementation of the Ordinance of Dialect Regulation, demoting diverse Ryukyuan languages to the status of "dialects" (hogen) and discouraging of speaking these dialects in the Japanese school system.
There is estimated to be a remaining 7,000-10,000 Yaeyama speakers, mostly being spoken in the home. There have been many revival societies and movements erected to preserve Ryukyuan languages and culture. The earliest language revival movement is regarded as being part of the Koza Society of Culture, instituted in 1955. A large benefactor to preserving and reviving Ryukyuan languages is the Society for Spreading Okinawan (Uchinaguchi fukyu kyogikai), whose constitution is dedicated to initiating dialect classes and Okinawan teacher training programs, as well as advancing towards a singular Okinawan orthography. There are also notable submovements in Ryukyuan language survival present in Okinawan radio broadcasts, as well as "presentation circles and plays" and language classes integrated in the Okinawan school curriculum on the local level.
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|Wikivoyage has a travel guide for Yaeyama phrasebook.|
- (Japanese) Shigehisa Karimata, 2008. Phonological comparison of Yaeyama dialects