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Yonaguni phrasebook

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Yonaguni is a language spoken solely on the island of Yonaguni at the westernmost tip of the Yaeyama Islands, Japan. Of the roughly 1700 inhabitants, about half can speak the dialect.

If you're really interested in the language, the Yonaguni Ethnographic Museum sells a small dictionary written by an island auntie who is the museum's curator, Nae Ikema. The same woman, 87 years old, is also the last remaining soul with a traditional knowledge of the island's peculiar writing system known as "kaida dii" (two symbols found carved in the underwater ruins closely resemble the local characters for horse and goat, respectively).

Distinctive features[edit]

In general, Yonaguni only uses the 3 vowels, a, i, and u (compared to Okinawan, with 5, Yaeyaman, with 4, Miyako, with 4, and Amami, with 8), but e and o are still heard occasionally, such as in the imperative hire: (go!) and the emphatic particle do:.

The first thing that a speaker of Common Japanese is likely to notice is that initial y sounds (IPA [j]) have changed into d sounds, such as in du:ci ("four"; Okinawan yu:ci; CJ yottsu), dumi ("wife"), and Dunan, the island's name. Intervocalic voicing is also heard -- CJ haka (grave) is Yonagunian haga; CJ aka (red) > Yonaguni aga.

Aspirated t and k sounds, often indicated with an outward-facing apostrophe (ʻ), are distinguished from their unaspirated counterparts, which can be indicated with an inward-facing one ('). Vowel length varies with the speaker, and when writing in katakana some will use the long vowel mark and some not.

Pronunciation guide[edit]

c - like English "ch"

ŋ - like the "ng" in "ing"

ʻ - indicates that the preceding consonant is aspirated


Phraselist[edit]

Where are you going? 
M̩maŋki hiruna?
To Okinawa (main island) 
Wunnaŋki.
Welcome to this place 
Kʻumaŋki waːriː.
Who are you? 
Nda tʻaːya?
I am [a Yonagunian/Okinawa mainlander/Japanese mainlander/American/Australian/Briton]. 
Anuya [dunaŋtʼu/wunnaŋtʼu/damatuŋtʼu/amirikaŋtʼu/wusutiraːriyaŋtʼu/iŋciriŋtʼu] du.
I don't have money. 
diŋ minuŋ.
Please, eat! 
Yiː hayi.
This tastes good; eat it! 
Maru yun gara, hai.
I can't eat anymore, I'm full. 
Maː hwunuŋ, bataŋti du.
Is that sake? 
U ya sagi ka yaː?
Is there any tea? 
Saː aranu ka yaː?
I want to eat "sata andagi". 
Sata andagiː haibusa.
Please visit my house. 
Baya ŋki kuba hai.
thanks or congratulations 
Hwugarasa.
ahh, ok. 
Ishi-ishi.
idiot. 
Miŋburubutta.
beautiful 
Abyan.
mountain(s). 
Dama.
east. 
Aŋgayi.
west. 
Yiri.
south. 
Hayi.
north. 
Nici.
Sonai. 
Tumayimura.
Kubura. 
Kubura.
Higawa. 
Ŋdimura.
Atlas moth (world's largest moth). 
Ayamihabiru.
guava. 
Baŋshiru.
banana. 
Basu. ("basu" means 'bus' in Japanese, so using this word in an otherwise-Japanese sentence may cause confusion)
sake 
Sagi.
tea 
Saː.
fish 
Iyu.
snack (CJ 'okashi')
Kaci.
San'ai Isoba (legendary empress of Yonaguni). 
Sakayi Isuba.

Number words[edit]

Many Yonagunians who moved to the island as adults can't speak the dialect fluently and say that the only thing they can do is count to ten. If you can master this, you'll get a good summary of the sound changes in Yonagunian in the process (standard Japanese in parentheses):

  1. t'u:ci (hitotsu)
  2. t'a:ci (futatsu)
  3. mi:ci (mittsu)
  4. du:ci (yottsu)
  5. icici (itsutsu)
  6. mu:ci (muttsu)
  7. nanaci (nanatsu)
  8. da:ci (yattsu)
  9. kugunuci (kokonotsu)
  10. tu (too)
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