Why it is important to document the Ryukyuan languages (while there’s still time)

Thomas Pellard, Why it is important to study the
Ryukyuan languages – The example of Ōgami Ryukyuan
. Presentation PDF, full of linguistic data and convincing arguments.

Pellard argues that:

  • Ryukyuan languages are typologically fascinating (subject-object cases influenced by animacy! Ōgami /kff kss/ = “fish hooks [that I] make” with no acoustic trace of a vowel!);
  • Ryukyuan languages preserve a lot from Classical– and Old Japanese features (e.g. rentaikei/shūshikei distinction, kakari-musubi syntactic agreement), and even Proto-Japanese stuff older than OJ (reflexes of more vowel distinctions than OJ kan/otsu), which means that they’re a treasure trove of priceless data for reconstructing older forms of Japanese and also (as Vovin argued) to clarify the relationship between Japanese and Korean;
  • We’re very much lacking documentation, grammars, dictionaries, transcriptions etc., and much of what we have are informal descriptions biased towards Japanese – many Japanese still think of these languages as “dialects” (hōgen) (not to mention phonetics transcribed in kana!!!);
  • Young Okinawans are monolingual in Japanese, current Ryukyuan speakers are mostly aged 60+ and bilingual in Japanese, Unesco considers all of the languages to be ‘definitely’ or ‘severely’ endangered, and children aren’t being raised in them;
  • Linguistic descriptions are urgently needed!

I keep reading this guy and I’ll end up packing for Ryūkyū (or Hachijō, for which many of the same arguments can be made)…