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Given Japan’s famous homogeneity, it’s easy to assume that Japanese is the only language native to the island nation. That’s not entirely true, however. For example, Ainu is famously indigenous to Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island, although the language is critically endangered. But Japanese isn’t the indigenous language of the country’s southern Ryukyu Islands, either. The biggest and best-known Ryukyu island is Okinawa, which makes up its own prefecture in Japan and is home to its very own language: Okinawan.


Okinawan is not the same as Okinawan Japanese, the dialect of Japanese spoken on the island. Rather, Okinawan is a related but distinct and mutually unintelligible language that faces a serious threat of endangerment due to Japan’s oppressive language policies in first part of the 20th century. The number of Okinawan speakers is estimated at around 100,000, the vast majority being elderly. Young Okinawans typically have little understanding of the language, so although it’s kept alive in local music, plays, and tourist shows, it’s seriously threatened as a living language. Here at TranslationServices.com, we want to do our part by offering professional Okinawan translation services.


Reach out today to ask about a free quote for our professional Okinawan translation services!


Okinawan: a language that looks like Japanese but definitely isn’t

Okinawan is, of course, native to Okinawa, specifically the southern portion of the island (the indigenous language of the northern half is Kunigami). Okinawan hails from the small Japonic language family, which consists solely of Japanese, Okinawan, and a handful of other Ryukyuan languages. Though the language is written in the same script as Japanese—kanji, or Chinese characters, combined with kana, two native Japanese syllabaries—reading Okinawan proves impossible for a Japanese speaker, though they can glean minimal meaning from the kanji characters.


Much of Okinawan’s grammar is the same as Japanese—it’s an agglutinative subject-object-verb language with minimal inflection to nouns. It has much of the same verbal inflection as Japanese, sharing the active, passive, causative, and potential moods, just with the markers changed. Okinawan adjectives have different terminal and attributive forms, meaning the adjective changes depending on whether it’s used before or after the noun—this (usually) doesn’t happen with true adjectives in Japanese. Okinawan also uses two different subject markers—ga, which it shares with Japanese, is only used with pronouns and names, while most nouns use nu, not found in Japanese at all.


Are you looking for translation to or from Okinawan?

Since Okinawan is sometimes classified as a dialect of Japanese, the language is often overlooked, but the truth is that it’s a proud, vibrant, and distinct language that deserves to thrive into the future. We’ve built a team of passionate, native-speaking Okinawan translators happy to translate both to and from their native language.


If you want translation from Okinawan to English, we can help—for everything from traditional stories and plays, to contemporary songs, to historical documents. We’ll help you spread Okinawan culture far and wide.


If you want translation from English to Okinawan, we can do that too. We’ll translate anything—including business texts to promote your brand in Okinawa, pedagogical materials meant to teach native Okinawan kids in their ancestral language, and fun content (such as websites, apps, books, games, and poems) that all Okinawan speakers and learners can enjoy—and that helps preserve this precious language for the future.


We’re ready to translate to or from Okinawan for you. Message us today with your vision!


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Professional human translation for any language, any topic