Uchinaguchi – The Okinawan Dialect

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Have you ever heard of Uchinaguchi [沖縄口 / ウチナーグチ]? This is the dialect name of the Okinawa archipelago [沖縄県], a set of islands with a tropical climate located in the extreme south of Japan. It can also be called Okinawa-Go 沖縄語 – Language of Okinawa.

Among all Japanese dialects , Okinawan is probably the least known and studied among Japanese and foreigners alike, making it almost an entirely different language from standard Japanese.

To make things even more difficult, Okinawa encompasses several local dialects, some of which are even threatened with extinction. In this article we will know some words of this dialect and some curiosities related to the Okinawan language.

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Curiosities about the Okinawa Dialect – Uchinaguchi

Uchinaguchi - the Okinawan dialect
Uchinaguchi – The Okinawan Dialect

There is not enough information on the Internet about Okinawan dialect. Compared to the Kansai and Hakata dialects, the amount of articles, videos, historical records, documentaries, detailed explanations, dictionaries and works done on the subject are quite scarce. Even in manga and anime it is much more common to find expressions from the Osaka dialect (Kansai-ben) or from other dialects, while Uchinaguchi almost does not appear. Probably, one of the reasons would be the fact that, if there were manga written entirely in uchinaguchi, this would hinder the reading of the manga by the Japanese themselves, who do not understand the dialect.

However, there are some books and articles on the Ryukyuan and Okinawan languages that can be of great use to the more curious student of Japanese, although most are written in English.

If you are interested in knowing a considerable amount of Okinawan words, with equivalent synonyms of standard nihongo, you can access the website https://hougen.ajima.jp/ (it's all in Japanese). It has a lot of cool content in it.

Curiosities:

  • If you want to say “Hello” in Okinawa, you have to pay attention to a small but important detail. Men say はいさい (Haisai) and women はいたい (Haitai) when they want to say “Hello”. Haisai (masculine) and Haitai (feminine) are two different ways of saying “Hello”, being considered a fundamental greeting that can be used at any time of the day.
  • Okinawans refer to the rest of the Japanese island as “Naichi” – ナイチ, which means something like “main island” or “ mainland ”. This term is also used by the natives of Hokkaido (island in the north of the country).
  • “I” in Uchinaguchi isワン (wan) . One more way of saying “I” that enters the immense list of possibilities!
  • “Sanshin” (三線、さんしん) is the name of a typical Okinawan musical instrument. It literally means “three strings”, formed by the kanji for the number 3 (三) and the kanji for “line” or “string” (線). It is also known as the forerunner of Shamisen (三味線, しゃみせん).
  • The pronunciation of many of the Okinawan words sounds similar to the pronunciation of Korean and Chinese words.
  • When a main island (Japan) television program is broadcasting some Okinawan speaking, the program directors often put subtitles “translated” into standard Japanese (known as Hyojungo).
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Okinawan Dialect Words and Phrases

  • ちゅー・うがなびら – Chuu Uganabira – Hello or Good Afternoon.
  • にふぇーでーびる – Nifee Deebiru – Thank you (there are also other ways to say Thank you in Okinawa, which are more polite).
  • うちなんちゅ – Uchinanchu – People of Okinawa (“uchinanchu” is the way to refer to the natives of Okinawa).
  • ンジチャービラ – Nji Chaabira – See you later (equivalent to “Jya ne” – じゃあね in standard Japanese).
  • めんそーれー – Mensooree – Welcome (equivalent to “Youkoso” – ようこそ in standard Japanese).
  • うちな – Uchina – “Uchina” means Okinawa. It is the word that refers to the island itself.
  • なんくるないさ – Nankurunaisa – It has a meaning close to “Daijoubu” (大丈夫) which means “It's okay”. However, it has a deeper meaning, as it carries an idea of optimism and joy, something very typical of Okinawans. It came from a more complex sentence and is not used as often as “Daijoubu” in everyday conversation. Finally, it should be borne in mind that it is an optimistic expression that brings a good feeling of willpower and confidence in a good future ahead.
  • カリー – Karii – It is the term used when toasting. Equivalent to 乾杯 (かんぱい, Kanpai).
  • 長ーさやー (なげえさやあ) – Nagee Sayaa – How long has it been! Similar to お久しぶり (おひさしぶり, ohisashiburi).
  • チャーガンジューネー? – Chaa Ganjuu nee ? - How are you doing? How are you? (of health). Very similar to お元気ですか (おげんきですか, O genki desu ka) or 元気にしてるの (げんきにしてるの, genki ni shiteru no).
  • ワッサイビーン – Wassai Biin – Sorry. Pardon. Forgive me. I'm sorry. Equivalent to standard ごめんなさい (gomen nasai) or すみません (sumimasen).
  • まーさん – Maa San – Yummy. Tasty. Equivalent to うまい (umai) or 美味しい (おいしい, oishii).
  • アマンカイ – Amankai – That way. Equivalent to あっちへ (acchi he) or あちらへ (achira he).
  • クマンカイ – Kumankai – This way. Equivalent to こっちへ (kocchi he) or こちらへ (kochira he).

There are other important Uchinaguchi words and expressions to study, so I intend to keep updating the list in this article over time, inserting new ones as I learn.

Live explaining the Okinawan dialect in depth

On the YouTube channel of “123 Japanese”, an online Japanese language school, you can watch a complete live of more than an hour of content telling the details and specificities of Uchinaguchi. In the video, Professor Takashi Yamanishi interviews Sansei Akira Uema, grandson of Okinawans.

Watch below, subscribe to 123 Japanese channel and leave your like there too:

Other Dialects of Japan

  • Osaka dialect
  • Hakata dialect
  • Kagoshima dialect
  • Tohoku dialect
  • Tsugaru dialect
  • Nagasaki dialect
  • Hiroshima dialect

Want to know about another dialect? Feel free to suggest!

JLect – Online Dictionary of Dialects

Jlect is a website that works like an online dictionary. In it you can type words from different dialects, in addition to being able to select which region of the word you want to search. You can search in English, Romaji, or Japanese (hiragana, katakana, and kanji). It is an extremely intuitive and easy to use tool. In order not to be hostage to Jisho and refine the search for expressions from different dialects, JLect is the ideal option.

Click here to access the JLect.

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