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Ryukyuan languages

Ethnicity: Ryukyuan people
Ryukyu Islands (Okinawa Prefecture, Amami Islands of Kagoshima Prefecture)
Linguistic classification: Japonic
  • Ryukyuan
Glottolog: ryuk1243
Location of Ryukyu Islands

The Ryukyuan languages (琉球語派 Ryūkyū-goha?, also 琉球諸語 Ryūkyū-shogo or しまくとぅば Shima kutuba "Island Languages") are the indigenous languages of the Ryukyu Islands, the southernmost part of the Japanese archipelago. Along with the Japanese language, they make up the Japonic language family. Although the Ryukyuan languages have sometimes been considered to be dialects of Japanese, they are not mutually intelligible with Japanese or even with each other. It is not known how many speakers of these languages remain, but language shift towards the use of Standard Japanese and dialects like Okinawan Japanese has resulted in these languages becoming endangered; UNESCO labels four of the languages "definitely endangered", and two others "critically endangered".

Phonologically, the Ryukyuan languages have some cross-linguistically unusual features. Southern Ryukyuan languages have a number of syllabic consonants, including unvoiced syllabic fricatives (e.g. Ōgami Miyako /kss/ [ksː] 'breast'). Glottalized consonants are common (e.g. Yuwan Amami /ʔma/ [ˀma] "horse"). Some Ryukyuan languages have phonemic central vowels, e.g. Yuwan Amami /kɨɨ/ "tree". Ikema Miyako has a voiceless nasal phoneme /n̥/. Many Ryukyuan languages, like Standard Japanese and most Japanese dialects, have contrastive pitch accent.