Island Languages Day in Okinawa Date in the current year: September 18, 2024

Island Languages Day in Okinawa Island Languages Day is an annual observance held on the Ryukyu Islands, Japan. It is dedicated to the indigenous languages of the Ryukyu Islands that have been labeled endangered by UNESCO.

The Ryukyuan languages, also known as island languages in Japan, belong to the Japonic language family, along with the Japanese language. They are believed to have split from Japanese in the 4th century, before the introduction of the Chinese writing system. Most scholars single out six Ryukyuan languages: Amami, Kunigami, Okinawan, Miyako, Yaeyama, and Yonagumi. Some of them additionally have dialects.

In Japan, the Ryukyuan languages are generally classified as dialects of Japanese, mainly for socio-political and ideological reasons. In reality, the Ryukyuan languages are not mutually intelligible with Japanese. Moreover, they are not even mutually intelligible with each other.

The exact number of the Ryukyuan languages speakers is unknown. Most of the fluent speakers belong to the older generation, whereas people under the age of 40 have little proficiency in the indigenous languages of the Ryukyu Islands, speaking standard Japanese or local dialects of Japanese instead. No wonder that two of the Ryukyuan languages are labeled severely endangered, and four others definitely endangered.

Island Languages Day was initiated by the government of Okinawa Prefecture. Its main goal is to raise public awareness of the importance of preserving the Ryukyuan languages and associated cultural heritage.

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Island Languages Day in Okinawa, holidays in Japan, cultural observances. Ryukyuan languages, Ryukyu Islands