Excerpt taken from Etsuko Higa's Master of Arts thesis, Okinawan Classical Music: Analysis of Vocal Performance, UH, 1976

The language of Okinawa belongs to the Japanese-Ryukyuan language family which extends from Hokkaido in northern Japan to Yonaguni (73 m. off the coast of Taiwan) in the southern Ryukyus. Although Hattori Shiro, one of the leading linguists of Japan, estimates that the time of separation of the Shuri (Okinawa) and Kyoto (Japan) dialects was sometime between the beginning of the sixth century and the middle of the twelfth century, the Ryukyuan language is identified as an independent language due to its remote relationships in morphological, phonological, and lexical aspects.

Within the Ryukyuan language (extending from Amami Oshima to Yonaguni), the Okinawan language itself is comprised of many different dialects and sub-dialects from village to village. The Shuri dialect was standardized under the Ryukyuan kingdom central administration established by King Sho Shin (1477-1526). It was the official language used in conversation by the aristocratic class of Shuri castle. Most Okinawan songs and poems were composed in the Shuri dialect.

The Shuri dialect is characterized by complexity of honorific markers which differentiate class, sex, and age. A diversity of respect forms was strictly adhered to among the three social classes of aristocracy, gentry, and commoners; between male and female; and also between different age groups. The appropriate respect forms had to be used not only when two speakers were from the same class, same sex, and even to the same age when the hierarchical distinction only related to the month of birth. When two speakers were of completely different status, conversational usage was extremely complex.

The phonological characteristics of the Shuri dialect as compared to standard Japanese are mainly the vowel changes of the e to i and o to u. For example, the word for rain is pronounced ame in Japanese while it is pronounced ami in Shuri. In the same manner, the word for cloud is pronounced kumo in Japanese while it is pronounced kumu in Shuri. Some differences between Japanese and Shuri dialect also exist in consonants. okinawa sanshin sanshin sanshin ryukyu language okinawan language japanese language uch


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Greetings and Phrases

The Okinawan Language consists of three main sounds: AH, EE, OOH


 Nice to meet you                     Hajimitee-wugannabiira 
My Name is)________              Wanne ________Di Ichoibiin


  • Ukimi soo chii. - Good morning. (Early morning)

  • Chaabira sai. - May I come in? Pardon me. (Used when entering a home)

  • Mensooree. - Welcome, please come in.

  • Hajimiti uganabira. - I'm glad to meet you.

  • Uchinaa-guchi wakai miseemi? - Do you understand Okinawan?

  • Uu, ufee wakai biin. - Yes, I understand a little.

  • Nifee deebiru. - Thank you.

  • Guburii sabira. - I would like to be excused.

  • Chaa ganjuu yaibiimi tai? - Have you been well?

  • Uu, nifee deebiru. - Yes, thank you.​

Other useful phrases:

  • Kure nuu yaibiiga- What is this?

  • Chuya ee wachi-chi debiru- Nice weather today

  • Chuya achi saibinya- Today is very hot

  • Kure chasa yaibiiga- How much is this?

  • Wan ne uchinaa shichi yaibiin-I like Okinawa

  • Mata Yaasai- See you again