Southern Ryukyuan languages

The Southern Ryukyuan languages (南琉球語群, Minami Ryūkyū gogun) form one of two branches of the Ryukyuan languages. They are spoken on the Sakishima Islands in Okinawa Prefecture. The three languages are Miyako (on the Miyako Islands) and Yaeyama and Yonaguni (on the Yaeyama Islands, of the Macro-Yaeyama subgroup). The Macro-Yaeyaman languages have been identified as "critically endangered" by UNESCO[1][2] and Miyako as "definitely endangered".[3]

Southern Ryukyuan
Sakishima Islands, Okinawa Prefecture
Linguistic classificationJaponic

All Ryukyuan languages are officially labeled as dialects of Japanese by the Japanese government despite mutual unintelligibility. While the majority of Ryukyuan languages have used Chinese or Japanese script for writing, the Yaeyama Islands never had a full-featured writing system. Islanders developed the Kaidā glyphs as a simple method to record family names, items, and numerals to aid in tax accounting. This system was used until the 19th century introduction of Japanese-language education. Even today, communication in the Yaeyama or Yonaguni languages is almost exclusively oral, and written communication is done in Japanese.[4]


Proto-Sakishima, the proto-language ancestral to the Southern Ryukyuan languages, has been reconstructed by Bentley (2008).[5]


  1. ^ "UNESCO Atlas of the World's Languages in danger". Retrieved 2014-03-16.
  2. ^ "UNESCO Atlas of the World's Languages in danger". Retrieved 2014-03-16.
  3. ^ "UNESCO Atlas of the World's Languages in danger". Retrieved 2014-10-15.
  4. ^ Izuyama, Atsuko (2012). "Yonaguni". In Tranter, Nicolas (ed.). The Languages of Japan and Korea. Routledge. p. 416. ISBN 9780415462877.
  5. ^ Bentley, John R. 2008. A Linguistic History of the Forgotten Islands: A Reconstruction of the Proto-language of the Southern Ryūkyūs. Leiden: Brill. ISBN 9789004213265 doi:10.1163/ej.9781905246571.i-310