Revitalization of the Ryukyuan Languages

Authored by: Patrick Heinrich

The Routledge Handbook of Language Revitalization

Print publication date:  March  2018
Online publication date:  March  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138674493
eBook ISBN: 9781315561271
Adobe ISBN:


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Following the Meiji Restoration of 1868, the Ryukyu Islands were annexed by the Meiji state and Japanese was spread there. By 1950 language shift to Japanese reached the family domain, and all six Ryukyuan languages became endangered. By now two generations have been raised as Japanese monolingual speakers. However, in particular in the new millennium a great number of efforts have been made to reverse the trend of language shift and language loss. This chapter discusses efforts of clarification why Ryukyuan languages should be maintained and revived, then efforts of strengthening Ryukyuan languages in domains were they have been maintained, and then attempts to use the language in domains where Japanese is now the default language choice. It concludes that current efforts remain insufficient to maintain Ryukyuan at this stage but that recent trends are encouraging. In particular, contact between small children and the old generation are identified as promising settings, because no fixed language choice exists between them. It is also recommended that research into Ryukyuan sociolinguistics should be strengthened and that research into Ryukyuan language pedagogy should be established.

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