Okinawa: “The Land of Courtesy” in a Conflict of Linguistic Interests


UNESCO has listed Ryukuan, the language of the ancient Ryukyu Kingdom, now Japan's Okinawa Prefecture, as severely endangered. That means there are few people who speak it as a home language, apart from the very old and those brought up on Okinawa's smaller islands. This is the result, not of a popular rejection of the old over the new, but of the determined effort of a conqueror to impose his language on the conquered. From Japan's assimilation of the Ryukyu Kingdom in 1867 until now, the people of Okinawa Prefecture have endured the deliberate destruction of their language, a link essential to their culture, by successive Japanese governments in accordance with a policy of national unity and modernization, benefiting not the needs of the local people but the aims of the central government. However, social changes have led many young Okinawans to reconsider the enormous value of this cultural asset on the verge of extinction. This paper will document the determination of the Okinawan people to preserve their language through social interaction (dance, music, festivals, storytelling, traditional sports etc.) linked to their cultural identity and focused on their young people, while eschewing its tuition in a state education system abhorrent of its very existence.

Author Information
William Arthur O'Donnell, Kobe International University, Japan

Paper Information
Conference: NACAH2014
Stream: Humanities - Language

This paper is part of the NACAH2014 Conference Proceedings (View)
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Posted by James Alexander Gordon