第001課: Okinawan Script
Okinawan, うちなーぐち (沖縄口), or more specifically, Central Japanese is a Japonic language of the Ryukyuan branch spoken by nearly 100,000 people in the southern portion of the island of Okinawa. It is also spoken in the Kerama Islands (慶良間諸島), Kume Island (久米島), Tonaki Island (渡名喜島), Aguni Island(粟国島), Ojima Island (奥武島), Hamahiga Island (浜比嘉島), Henza Island (平安座島), Miyagi Island宮城島, and Ikei Island (伊計島).
Chart Note1: Areas in red constitute where Okinawan is traditionally spoken. Areas in blue constitute where its closest relative, the Kunigami Language 国頭語 (Northern Okinawan) is spoken.
The main dialect of Okinawan is the Shuri-Naha variant (那覇市首里方言), which had been the de facto language of the region since the time of the Ryukyuan Kingdom.
Although the Japanese government classifies Okinawan as a dialect (方言), thus resulting in it usually being referred to as 沖縄方言 or 沖縄弁 by the general populace, it is not mutually intelligible with Japanese. In fact, none of the Ryukyuan languages are interchangeable among themselves. This is because the Ryukyuan branch presumably split off from Proto-Japonic, the language that is both the ancestor of Japanese and its dialects as well as the Ryukyuan languages and their subsequent dialects. This has given these languages nearly 2,000 years to diverge at the very least.
Okinawan Orthography ウチナーグチの表記
Okinawan has traditionally been written with an admixture of Kanji and Hiragana. Shortly after Hiragana had been created and taken hold in Japan during the 8th and 9th centuries, it was passed down to the Ryukyuan Kingdom as early as the 1200s, presumably during the reign of King Shuten (舜天王). Although Kanji had already been imported due to the islands’ longstanding trade relations with China, Hiragana became so popular that it was far more common to solely write entire documents in the script, a practice frowned upon in Japanese until the mid-20th century. An example of a document solely written in Hiragana in Okinawan is the おもろさうし, which was published in the 1500s as a compilation of song and poetry.
The oldest attestation of Kanji-Kana admixture can be found on the 玉陵の碑文 (ca 1501). A century later in 1609, however, Okinawa was invaded by the Satsuma Han (薩摩藩), which brought the end to Okinawan as a language of administration, which prevented Okinawan from being written prolifically.
Okinawan still remained a minority literary language, but many factors led to the drastic decline of speakers, and thus, writers. Consequently, only ad hoc means of spelling the language exist, although most speakers prefer to emulate how Japanese is written.
There are four orthographies for transcribing Okinawan, but none of them have been chosen as its official orthography, meaning that all of these are just attempts at standardization.
慣習的な表記法 (Historic Orthography): This a more conventional usage of ad hoc spellings found throughout Okinawa and shares most features with the other competing orthographies.
協議会による表記法 (Council Orthography): This orthography was proposed by the 沖縄方言普及協議会 (Council for the Dissemination of Okinawan Dialect).
琉球大学の表記法 (University of the Ryukyus Orthography): This is not meant to be used by actual people for writing in うちなーぐち. Rather, it implements only カタカナ and is meant for phonetic transcription.
新沖縄文字 (New Okinawan Letters): As been said before, this system was created by 船津好明. He devised it and first publicly used in his textbook on うちなーぐち called 美しい沖縄の方言. We will first see how the vowels and semi-vowels of うちなーぐち are written in these competing orthographies.
|[ʔa] (initial)/[a] (elsewhere)||あ||あ||ア||あ|
|[ʔi] (initial)/[i] (elsewhere)||い||い||イ||い|
|[ʔu] (initial)/[u] (elsewhere)||う||う||ウ||う|
|[ʔe] (initial)/[e] (elsewhere)||え・いぇ||え||イェ||え|
|[ʔo] (initial)/[o] (elsewhere)||お・うぉ||お||オ||お|
|[ʔja] (initial)/[ja] (elsewhere)||や||っや||イャ|
|[ʔju] (initial)/[ju] (elsewhere)||ゆ||っゆ||イュ|
|[ʔjo] (initial)/[jo] (elsewhere)||よ||っよ||イョ|
Note: In the system developed by the University of the Ryukyus, ヰ, ヲゥ, エ, and ヲ are always used to stand for [i]. [u], [e], and [o] regardless. Thus, イ, ウ, イェ, オ are never used inside words.
We will now look at the consonant-(glide)-vowel Kana symbols used in the four orthographies. However, labialized sounds will be left for last.
|s||さ||し [ɕi]||す||しぇ [ ɕe]||そ||しゃ [ɕa]||しゅ [ɕu]|
|h||は||ひ [çi]||ふ [ɸu]||へ [çe]||ほ||ひゃ [ça]||ひゅ [çu]||ひょ [ço]|
1. This system particularly doesn’t allow for the distinction between /dzi/ and /dʑi/.
2. Notice how this language lacks a lot of sound combinations that Japanese allows, but also note the sounds that it allows that Japanese does not.
Usage Note: This system has the same problems as the previous orthography.
Usage Note: This system allows for better transcription of dialectical pronunciation and sounds found in loanwords.
Usage Note: Rather than relying on combination of large size and small size Kana to represent sounds like to (てぃ), this system turns these combinations into a single Kana. Though they’re only fusions of who they would otherwise be written, it gives a fairer representation of the phonemic structure of うちなーぐち. Either way, though, both writing small Kana (小書き) and modifying the Kana change the vowel of the character similarly to abugida writing systems.
Now we need to see how the labialized sounds are represented in these four orthographies.
We also have to keep into account the uvular nasal sound found in Japanese, which is deemed by most scholars on Okinawan orthography to exist in うちなーぐち as well, though the assimilation rules are not exactly the same as Japanese. However, none of these rules are needed to represent this sound as these variant pronunciations are merely allophones not accounted for in the spelling, regardless of the orthography chosen.
Unlike Standard Japanese, Okinawan allows words to begin with ん, which constitutes its own mora just as it does in Japanese.
Another major difference between Okinawan and Japanese gleaned from these orthographies is the use of glottal stops before vowels. In Japanese, it is typically the case that word initial vowels are preceded by a glottal stop. For example, in Japanese, 音 (sound) and 夫 (husband) are pronounced as [ʔo̞to̞] and [ʔo̞t̚o̞] respectively. The contrasting feature is consonant gemination, and the existence or absence of a glottal stop does not result in unnatural speech. In Okinawan, these two words are respectively [ʔutu] and [utu]. As you can see, the glottal stop is a contrasting phoneme.
As indicated by the last chart, ʔɴ is also possible and very much used in Okinawan, though this will be naturally hard for natives of Japanese to pronounce.
Use of 漢字
Like Japanese, Okinawan has its own Sino-Japanese and native readings used for reading 漢字, but the majority of texts will have reading aids due to the lack of formal education for mixed script usage in the language. Texts are far more frequently left mainly in Hiragana, nonetheless, following the longstanding tradition of doing so.
Consider the following folk song 童神（わらびがみ）, spelled with no particular adherence to a specific orthography. The readings of words not the same in Japanese are given in parentheses.
泣くなよーや ヘイヨー ヘイヨー
ゆーいりよーや ヘイヨー ヘイヨー
泣くなよーや ヘイヨー ヘイヨー
ゆーいりよーや ヘイヨー ヘイヨー
泣くなよーや ヘイヨー ヘイヨー
ゆーいりよーや ヘイヨー ヘイヨー