Okinawan words recorded in the early 19th century

  1. 4 years ago


    Mar 2014 Administrator
    Edited 4 years ago by Zachary

    Thanks to the ever expanding Google Books database, today, we have access to innumerable works that have been digitized online. Interestingly, it features two books written by English-speaking authors that list some of the oldest attested words of Ryukyuan (Okinawan) in English literature.

    A Voyage of Discovery to the North Pacific Ocean, 1795-1798

    The first, written by William Robert Broughton, offers a very limited list of words, but an important one nonetheless. His list reveals that by the end of the 17th century, Okinawan had:

    • Undergone vowel raising (Okn hoonee 'huni' vs. Jpn fune "ship"; Okn mee 'mi' vs. Jpn me "eye"; Okn timma vs. Jpn tenma; Okn kanee 'kani' "copper" vs Jpn kane "money; metal");
    • Seemingly merged the yotsugana syllables (Okn mizee 'mizi' vs. Jpn mizu);
    • Lengthened monomoraic words (Okn haa vs. Jpn ha "teeth") (the sequence 'aa' is the only verifiable case of lengthening, since 'ee' and 'oo' generally transcribe the sounds 'i' and 'u');
    • Palatalized the sequence /ki/ (Okn ching vs. Jpn kimono "clothing");
    • Did not completely undergo the deletion of high-vowels after nasals (Okn ing vs. Jpn inu "dog"; but, Okn meemee 'mimi' vs. Jpn mimi).

    Particularly interesting is the orthography of yeeobee 'yiobi' (or yeoobee 'yiubi') "finger", which indicates that the shift /ju/ → /iː/ had not yet taken place. More peculiar yet is the word shee 'shi' which means "foot" and seems very similar to the modern Japanese word ashi "foot". Today, Okinawan favours the word hisa/fisa "foot". And of course, the word coya "cucumber", now gooya "bitter melon", is probably the most typical of Okinawan words.

    In terms of oddities, I am not too sure what the origins of ooshe 'ushe/ushi' "sun" and orra "hand" would be. The first could possibly be cognate to Japanese ひ【日】 hi "sun", preceded by the honorific prefix お【御】 o-. I base this on the fact that Okinawan had undergone vowel raising and [ç] → [ɕ] is an attested change in the language. If this is true, it would be the first indicator that the modern word tiida "sun" may have semantically competed with the former and ultimately supplanted it. As for orra "hand", I can only assume it is a mistranscription, possibly by confusion with the word tii-nu-ura "back of the hand", where ura simply means "back".

    Vocabulary of the language spoken at the Great Loo-Choo island in the Japan Sea

    In this second work, by Herbert John Clifford, the entire focus is on the language of "Loo-Choo" (Ryukyuan, Okinawan). Although the book is written less than two decades apart, we already see some differences. For example, the word "finger" is transcribed as eebee 'ibi', as opposed to yeeobee 'yiobi' (or yeoobee 'yiubi'), which we find in Broughton's list. The word for "sun" becomes teéda 'tída' instead of ooshe 'ushe/ushi'. The word for "foot" becomes shanna instead of shee 'shi' (I have not been able to determine what the word shanna would be related to). The word for "hand" becomes kee 'ki' instead of orra, and Clifford makes the mistake of confusing it and connecting it to the word kee 'ki' "tree", although he does correctly transcribe tee noo wátta 'ti nu wáta' "back of the hand".

    Aside from these discrepancies, Clifford's compilation also confirms the sound changes mentioned above as well as the following:

    • The preservation of /ɕ/ which has merged into /s/ in Modern Okinawan (shui vs sui "Shuri (capital)");
    • The flapping of /d/ to /ɾ/ intervocalically (Okn harráka vs. Jpn hadaka "naked");
    • The fortition of /ɾ/ to /d/ in word-initial position (Okn doóchoo 'dúchu' vs. Jpn ryuukyuu);
    • The distinction between /h/ and /ɸ/ before /a/, but not elsewhere (wha/fa "leaf" vs. há (an aspirate) "teeth");
    • The preservation of the palatal [ʲe] (Okn háyeh vs. Jpn hae "fly");
    • The sequences /ai/ and /ae/ do not appear to have merged yet (Okn háyeh vs modern fee/hee "fly"; quaítee 'kwaiti' vs. modern kweetaa "fat").

    The data also seems to point to the idea that the vowel /a/ in Okinawan (inconsistently) underwent rounding and raising after or near labial consonants such as /m/, /f~h/ and /w/. For example, "child" is distinctively transcribed as wórrabee 'wórabi' where it's written warabi today, and "young" is wock'ka 'woka' where it's now waka. Similarly, we find um'ma "mother" which is now anma/amma. There's also "bird (pigeon, dove)", which is written hótoo 'hótu' and has remained hootu in modern Okinawan, though most other Ryukyuan dialects preserve the vowel /a/ and the word remains hato in Japanese. It seems there may also be other similar instances with /u/, such as acoógannee 'akúgani' compared to Japanese akagane "copper".

    In terms of oddities in the vocabulary, well, the first thing to note is the very inconsistent spelling used. For example, we find the word "leaf" spelled both wha and fa, and we also see words that simply do not make sense, such as u'ndlecha "lizard". That aside, I find it interesting that the word for pig is boóta 'búta', like Japanese, instead of 'waa/qwaa [ʔwaː] which is used in modern Okinawan. There's also the fact that "eight" is transcribed as both kwat'chee 'kwachi' and fat'chee 'fachi' (Japanese hachi "eight"), the first which strikes me as odd.

    Other than these, the book covers a great many more words and provides some example sentences and comparisons to Japanese which seem to be based on Kyushu words. For anyone interested, I strongly suggest giving the book a look, especially since it's freely accessible online.

  2. Zachary

    Jun 2014 Administrator
    Edited 2 years ago by Zachary

    As a small addendum to my original post, I now believe that the word shee 'shi' "foot" noted by Broughton (1804) is cognate to modern Japanese あし【足】 ashi "foot; leg", and that the word shanna "foot; leg" noted by Clifford (1818) is a compound of 膝 "foot" + 穴 "hole; pit; rear" (which would give the pseudo word *hizaana in Japanese). This last one can be confirmed in modern Okinawan, which has ふぃさ fisa "foot" and ふぃさなー fisanaa "top of the foot" (variants: hisa and hisanaa). The syllable /sa/ would have historically been palatalized as /ɕa/.

    Another thing to be noted about Clifford's work (1818), is that he inconsistently uses the vowel 'i' to represent both the sound /ai/ and /i/ (on top of the fact that 'ee' also represents /i/; 'igh' represent /ai/; and 'ay' represents both /ai/ and /e(ː)/). An example would be eéki 'íkai' "anchor", which is cognate to modern Okinawan ichai "anchor" and modern Japanese いかり【錨・碇】 ikari "anchor".

or Sign Up to reply!