Published July 20, 2019
This video was recorded by Seth Wyatt and Naruko in Japan. UNESCO recognizes Dunan, more commonly called Yonaguni, as the most endangered language in all of Japan, with a declining speaker population of around 400 people. The Japanese government has not recognized Yonaguni as a language in its own right, instead considering it a dialect, for which Yonaguni language education and vitality efforts have suffered. Yonaguni used to be written in its own script, the Kaidā logograms, however those have since been replaced by Kana and Chinese characters during the Ryukyu Kingdom and annexation under the Empire of Japan. The Yonaguni people live on Yonaguni Island, part of the Yaeyama archipelago within the Ryukyu Islands. They have an extensive and longstanding fishing tradition. As a branch of the Ryukyuan people, the Yonaguni share some of their characteristics: matriarchal social structures, cuisine, and local religion. The Ryukyu people in general are also not considered a minority group within Japan, despite having more than 1.3 million people living within the Okinawa Prefecture alone. Japanese is the national language of Japan and a member of the Japonic-Ryukyuan language family. As such, it is distantly related to Yonaguni. Despite Japanese's contemporary prominence, little is known of its early history and origins. In its earliest attested forms as Old Japanese, a linguistic period beginning in the 8th century and lasting up to some time within the Heian period, the language was already being written in Chinese characters, and received considerable influence from Chinese in its vocabulary and phonology during its Late Middle Period. Japanese is an agglutinative language, meaning it has lexemes that string unchanged morphemes together to alter meaning. Japanese holds no official status as the national language of Japan -- that is merely de facto the case. Japanese history has promulgated a rich diversity of dozens of dialects spoken within the Japanese Archipelago. Yonaguni is spoken by around 400 people. It is a Sakishima language within the Ryukuan branch of the Japonic language family. Japanese is spoken by around 122 million people worldwide. Japanese belongs to the Japonic language family.