Shimakutuba - Adapting the Ryukyuan Languages for the 21st Century

Friday, July 18, 2014: 10:30 AM
Room: Booth 62
Oral Presentation
Patrick HEINRICH , Dokkyo University, Soka, Japan
Language endangerment is often not the result of repressing language use but of repressing language adaptation. The way endangered languages are characterized is not neutral but include ideologies constructing these languages as static, marginal and obsolete. Due to such repression, endangered languages indeed often become static, marginal and reflect habits and knowledge of a past society. Revitalizing languages involves the modernisation of endangered languages in terms of language corpus and styles. Before that the static ideological view of endangered languages needs to be challanged. Language ideological clarification about the role and function of the endangered language in the present-day world must be delineated. It must be done so convincingly as to ensure that such reframing aligns as many people as possible to the task of language revitalization. This paper discusses this process on the case of the Ryukyuan languages which are spoken in the extreme southwest of the Japanese Archipelago. These severly endangered languages are currently witnessing a spectual reappreciation. As an effect, the task of ideological clarification is being pursued. This is urgently needed, because the Ryukyuan languages have huge lexical gaps, lack styles for public debate or for writing specific genres. They also maintain social varieties characterisic of its past use in a feudal society. Its large number of regional dialects, 750 in total, also reflect boundaries of community which no longer exist today. Dialect levelling is rampant. Mixing of formal and informal styles, and of high and common social varieties is also frequent in the language use of those seeking to revitalize Ryukyuan languages. In the view of criticism on their language use, they seek to adopt ideologies and use of Ryukyuan to present-day uses. This presentation draws on observations in the field and on interviews with language activists, researchers and prefectual authorities.