Japonic languages

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Linguistic classification: One of the world's primary language families
ISO 639-2 / 5: jpx
Glottolog: japo1237[1]
The Japonic languages

The Japonic language family includes the Japanese language spoken on the main islands of Japan as well as the Ryukyuan languages spoken in the Ryukyu Islands. The family is widely accepted by linguists, and the term "Japonic languages" was coined by Leon Serafim.[2] The common ancestral language is known as Proto-Japonic.[3] The essential feature of this classification is that the first split in the family resulted in the separation of all dialects of Japanese from all varieties of Ryukyuan. According to Shiro Hattori, this separation occurred during the Yamato period (250–710).[4]

Scholarly discussions about the origin of Japonic languages present an unresolved set of related issues.[5] The clearest connections seem to be with toponyms in southern Korea, which may be in Gaya (Kara) or other scarcely attested languages.[6]


The Japonic (or Japanese–Ryukyuan) languages are:

  • Japanese language (日本語 Nihon-go)
  • Ryukyuan languages (琉球語派 Ryūkyū-goha?): Languages originally and traditionally spoken throughout the Ryukyu Islands chain, most are considered "definitely" or "critically endangered" due to mainland Japanese influence after the conquering of the Ryukyu Kingdom by Meiji Japan. Most are considered dialects of Japanese in Japan, despite little intelligibility with Japanese or amongst each other.
    • Northern Ryukyuan languages (北琉球語群 Kita Ryūkyū-go-gun): Languages spoken in the northern part of the Ryukyu Islands chain, consisting of the major Amami and Okinawa Islands.
      • Amami language (奄美語 Amami-go)/Amami dialect (奄美方言 Amami hōgen)/Shimayumuta (シマユムタ・島口): Language spoken in most of the Amami Islands, particularly Amami Ōshima, Kikaijima, and Tokunoshima.
        • Northern Amami Ōshima language (北奄美大島語 Kita Amami Ōshima go)/Kita Amami Ōshima dialect (北奄美大島方言 Kita Amami Ōshima hōgen)
        • Southern Amami Ōshima language (南奄美大島語 Minami Amami Ōshima go)/Minami Amami Ōshima dialect (南奄美大島方言 Minami Amami Ōshima hōgen)
        • Kikai language (喜界語 Kikai-go)/Kikai dialect (喜界方言 Kikai hōgen)/Shimayumita (シマユミタ)
        • Tokunoshima language (徳之島語 Tokunoshima-go)/Tokunoshima dialect (徳之島方言 Tokunoshima hōgen)/Shimayumiita (シマユミィタ)
      • Kunigami language (国頭語 Kunigami-go)/Okinoerabu-Yoron-Northern Okinawan dialects (沖永良部与論沖縄北部諸方言 Okinoerabu Yoron Okinawa Hokubu syohōgen)/Yanbaru Kutuuba (山原言葉(ヤンバルクトゥーバ)): Language spoken in the northern region of Okinawa Island, and neighboring islands of Okinoerabujima and Yoronjima. Main dialect spoken in the cities of Nakijin and Nago.
        • Kunigami language (国頭語 Kunigami-go)/Kunigami dialect (国頭方言 Kunigami hōgen)/Yanbaru Kutuuba (山原言葉(ヤンバルクトゥーバ))
        • Okinoerabu language (沖永良部語 Okinoerabu-go)/Okinoerabu dialect (沖永良部方言 Okinoerabu hōgen)/Shimamuni (島ムニ)
        • Yoron language (与論語 Yoron-go)/Yoron dialect (与論方言 Yoron hōgen)/Yunnu Futuba (ユンヌフトゥバ)
      • (Central) Okinawan language ((中央)沖縄語 (Chūō) Okinawa-go)/Okinawa dialect (沖縄方言 Okinawa hōgen)/Uchinaa-guchi (沖縄口・ウチナーグチ): Language spoken in the central and southern regions of Okinawa Island, and neighboring islands. Main dialect spoken in Naha, and the former city of Shuri.
    • Southern Ryukyuan languages (南琉球語群 Minami Ryūkyū-gogun): Languages spoken in the southern part of the Ryukyu Islands chain, comprising the Sakishima Islands.
      • Miyako language (宮古語 Miyako-go)/Miyako dialect (宮古方言 Miyako hōgen)/Myaaku-futsu (ミャークフツ・宮古口)/Suma-futsu (スマフツ・島口): Language spoken in the Miyako Islands, with dialects on Irabu and Tarama.
      • Yaeyama language (八重山語 Yaeyama-go)/Yaeyama dialect (八重山方言 Yaeyama hōgen)/Yaima-muni (ヤイマムニ・八重山物言): Language spoken in the Yaeyama Islands, with dialects on each island, but primarily Ishigaki Island, Iriomote Island, and Taketomi Island, which is known as Teedun-muni (テードゥンムニ・竹富物言).
      • Yonaguni language (与那国語 Yonaguni-go)/Yonaguni dialect (与那国方言 Yonaguni hōgen)/Dunan-munui (ドゥナンムヌイ・与那国物言): Language spoken on Yonaguni Island, unique from the language and dialects of the other Yaeyama Islands.

Beckwith includes toponymic material from southern Korea as evidence of an additional ancient Japonic language there:[7]

It is not clear if "pre-Kara" was related to the language of the later Gaya (Kara) confederacy.


The relationship of the Japonic (or Japanese–Ryukyuan) languages to other languages and language families is controversial. There are numerous hypotheses, none of which are generally accepted.


  1. Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Japonic". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Shimabukuro, Moriyo. (2007). The Accentual History of the Japanese and Ryukyuan Languages: a Reconstruction, p. 1.
  3. Miyake, Marc Hideo. (2008). Old Japanese: a Phonetic Reconstruction. p. 66., p. 66, at Google Books
  4. Heinrich, Patrick. "What leaves a mark should no longer stain: Progressive erasure and reversing language shift activities in the Ryukyu Islands," First International Small Island Cultures Conference at Kagoshima University, Centre for the Pacific Islands, February 7–10, 2005; citing Shiro Hattori. (1954) Gengo nendaigaku sunawachi goi tokeigaku no hoho ni tsuite ("Concerning the Method of Glottochronology and Lexicostatistics"), Gengo kenkyu (Journal of the Linguistic Society of Japan), Vols. 26/27.
  5. Blench, Roger M. (2008). Archaeology and language, Vol. 2 , p. 201., p. 201, at Google Books
  6. Christopher I. Beckwith, Empires of the Silk Road: A History of Central Eurasia from the Bronze Age to the Present (Princeton University Press, 2009: ISBN 978-0-691-13589-2), p. 105.
  7. Christopher Beckwith, 2007, Koguryo, the Language of Japan's Continental Relatives, pp 27–28


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