Yonaguni language

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与那国物言/ドゥナンムヌイ Dunan Munui
Native toJapan
Native speakers
400 (2008)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3yoi
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The Yonaguni language (与那国物言/ドゥナンムヌイ Dunan Munui) is a Southern Ryukyuan language spoken by around 400 people on the island of Yonaguni, in the Ryukyu Islands, the westernmost of the chain lying just east of Taiwan.[2] It is most closely related to Yaeyama. Due to the Japanese policy on languages, the language is not recognized by the government, which instead calls it the Yonaguni dialect (与那国方言, Yonaguni hōgen). As classified by UNESCO, the Yonaguni language is one of the most endangered languages in all of Japan, after the Ainu language.



The table below shows the vowels present in the Yonaguni language. Vowels which are only allophonic appear in parentheses.

Front Central Back
Close i u
Near-close (ɪ) (ʊ)
Close-Mid (o)[a]
Open a (ɑ)
^a [o] can also probably be recognized as an independent phoneme and not just as an allophone of /u/. However, its distribution is very limited. Excluding a few interjections, the only morpheme in which it appears is the sentence-final, exclamatory particle do.


The table below shows the consonants present in the Yonaguni language. Consonants which are only allophonic appear in parentheses. Plosive and affricate phonemes have three-way contrast between fortis, lenis, and voiced consonants.

Labial Labio-
Alveolar Alveolo-
Palatal Velar Glottal
Plosive p b t d k ɡ
Fricative (ɸ) s (ɕ) (ç) h
Affricate t͡s (t͡ɕ)
Nasal m n ŋ
Flap ɾ
Approximant (ʍ) w j

Phonological cognates[edit]

As a Southern Ryukyuan language, Yonaguni, similar to Miyako and Yaeyama, has /b/ in place with Standard Japanese /w/, such as Yonaguni /bata/ ('stomach, belly'), cognate with Japanese /wata/ ('guts, bowels'). Yonaguni also has /d/ where Japanese and other Ryukyuan languages have /j/ (orthographically y). Thus, for example, Yonaguni /dama/ ('mountain') is cognate with Japanese and Yaeyama /jama/ ('id.'). Yonaguni /d/ is probably a recent development from an earlier */j/, however, judging from the fact that even the */j/ in loanwords of Sinitic origin is pronounced /d/ by speakers of the Yonaguni language, such as dasai 'vegetables' from Middle Chinese *jia-tsʰʌi (野菜). An entry in the late-15th-century Korean annals Seongjong Taewang Sillok records the local name of the island of Yonaguni in Idu script as 閏伊是麼, which has the Middle Korean reading zjuni sima, with sima glossed in the text as the Japonic word for 'island'. That is direct evidence of an intermediate stage of the fortition *j- > *z- > d-, leading to the modern name /dunaŋ/ 'Yonaguni'.[3]

The Yonaguni language exhibits intervocalic voicing of plosives, as do many Japonic languages. It also exhibits the tendency for /ɡ/, especially when intervocalic, to be pronounced as a velar nasal /ŋ/, as in Standard Japanese.

Syllable structure[edit]

Below is the syllable template for Dunan:

(C (G) ) V1 (V2) (N)
  • C = consonant
  • G = glide [w] or [j]
  • V = vowel
  • N = moraic nasal

The onset allows for a single consonant with the occasional presence of a glide. The nucleus can contain up to two vowels. The only allowable coda is a moraic nasal.

Writing system[edit]

Yonaguni was once written with a unique writing system called Kaidā logograms. However, after conquest by the Ryukyu Kingdom and later annexation by the Empire of Japan, the logograms were replaced by Japanese kana and Kanji.


  1. ^ Yonaguni at Ethnologue (25th ed., 2022) closed access
  2. ^ Pellard, Thomas; Yamada, Masahiro (2017). "Verb Morphology and Conjugation Classes in Dunan (Yonaguni)". In Kiefer, Ferenc; Blevins, James P.; Bartos, Huba (eds.). Perspectives on Morphological Organization: Data and Analyses. BRILL. ISBN 978-90-04-34293-4.
  3. ^ Vovin, Alexander (2010). "Yonaguni initial d- as an innovation". Korea-Japonica: A Re-Evaluation of a Common Genetic Origin. University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 978-0-8248-3278-0.

Further reading[edit]

  • 高橋俊三. "与那国方言." 言語学大辞典セレクション:日本列島の言語. 三省堂, 1997. Print. (in Japanese) (ISBN 978-4385152073)
  • 高橋俊三. "沖縄県八重山郡与那国町の方言の生活語彙." 方言研究叢書. 4 (1975): Print. (in Japanese)
  • 平山輝男, 中本正智. 琉球与那国方言の研究. 東京: 東京堂, 1964. Print. (in Japanese)
  • 高橋俊三. "琉球・与那国方言の語彙". 東京: 法政大学沖縄文化硏究所, 1987. Print. (in Japanese)
  • 西岡敏. "与那国方言の動詞継続相のアクセント対立". 地域研究シリーズ 35, 95-105, 2008. (in Japanese)
  • 加治工真市, 仲原穣. "与那国方言について(与那国島の伝統文化調査研究報告書,加治工真市教授退官記念)". 沖縄芸術の科学 : 沖縄県立芸術大学附属研究所紀要 16, 17-74, 2004 (in Japanese)

External links[edit]