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🌏 Region(s): Ryukyu (Okinawa)


wenchu · qwenchu · 'wenchu · enchu

Pronunciation: [(ʔ)(ʷ)en̩t͡ɕu]



  1. (Common) Any small rodent of the Murinae and Deomyinae subfamilies: a mouse, a rat
    1. っゑんちゅぬをぅんぬ居ん】
      qwenchu-nu wun
      "There is a rat"
    2. っゑんちゅぬあんぬ有ん】
      qwenchu-nu an
      "There is a [dead] rat"


Cognate to Amami (dialectal) うんちゅ unchu, ういんちゅ uinchu; Okinoerabu (dialectal) おいしゃ oisha; Kunigami (Ogimi) ゑんつ wentsu; Kunigami (Oku) っゑんす qwensu; Kunigami (Iheya) えんちゅー enchuu; Okinawa (Zazami) ゑんちゅ wenchu; Okinawa (Torishima) っゑーんちゅ qweenchu and っゑんちゅ qwenchu; Okinawa (Shuri) っゑんちゅ qwenchu, ゑんちゅ wenchu, and えんちゅ enchu; Yaeyama (Funauki) おいざー oizaa (oidzaa); Yaeyama (Iriomote) おいざ oiza (oidza); Yaeyama (Shiraho) うえんちゅ uenchu; Yaeyama (Shiraho, Taketomi, Hateruma) うやんちゅ uyanchu; Yaeyama (Hatoma) うやざ uyaza; Yaeyama (unknown) ゑーだ weeda; and Yonaguni うやんとぅ uyantu "mouse, rat". Attested in the Okinawan language dictionary (沖縄語典, 1896), by Masayo Nakamoto, under the spelling うゑちゆ ʔwenchu. Attested in the 琉球戯曲辞典 Ryūkyū gikyoku jiten "Ryukyuan Drama Dictionary" under the spelling おやんちょ oyancho. Also attested with the meanings "a person who is not fair" in the Okinawan-English Wordbook.

Origin debated.

  1. In 奄美の民族語彙瞥見 Amami no minzoku goi bekken "Amami folk tale vocabulary glance" (1980), Yukishige Shinyashiki compares it to うえのひと【上の人】 ue no hito "superior; person above", and cites folk tales from Amami that describe the presence of a rat in one's home as a good omen and in which they are nearly qualified as spirits or kings. This reconstruction is supported by Masachie Nakamoto in 沖永良部島ことばの分布と歴史 Okinoerabushima kotoba no bunpu to rekishi "Okinoerabujima Language Distribution and History" (1988).
  2. In 採訪南島語彙稿 Saihō nantō goi kō (1980) (unverified), Miyara Toso presumably states that the term does not come from うえのひと【上の人】 ue no hito "superior; person above" as is popularly believed, with rats or mice living above near the rooftop, but that it instead comes from a compound starting with おや【親】 oya "parent". Miyara cites linguistic evidence from southern Ryukyuan and suggests a semantic drift from "parent" to something akin to "ancestor". A reconstruction of *親人 is supported by Shinichi Kajiku in 南琉球方言概説 Minami Ryūkyū hōgen gaisetsu "Overview of the Southern Ryukyuan dialect" (2016).

Phonologically, the first suggestion does not reconcile the existance of *uya in southern Ryukyuan varieties and, instead, a root starting with *oya (or similar, such as *ooya or *uya) is possible. Compare Okinawan っゑーきんちゅ qweekinchu or っゑーか qweeka.

Evidence thus far points to a compound of おや【親】 oya "parent" (> "ancestor"), a reduced genitive particle ん n, and a reduced form of ひと【人】 hito "person" (these being っゑー qwee, ん n, and ちゅ chu respectively in Shuri Okinawan, with っゑー qwee reducing to っゑ qwe due to the following nasal). Compare the term あまのひと amanohito "rat, mouse" recorded in the Hachijo region, which includes the word "person".


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