Thursday, February 26, 2009

Speaking in Fewer Tongues

With only 15 speakers left, the Ainu language is "critically endangered" while seven other languages in Japan are also at risk of disappearing, according to a UNESCO report. The seven other endangered languages in Japan are Yaeyama, Yonaguni, Okinawa, Kunigami, Miyako in Okinawa Prefecture, Amami in Kagoshima Prefecture, and Hachijo in Tokyo. The first six languages are spoken on the Nansei island chain, which stretches from north of Taiwan and south of Kyushu, and Hachijo in Tokyo's Hachijojima island and nearby islets. "People tend to think that one language is spoken in Japan. But I want people to know there is quite a diversity," says Osamu Sakiyama, professor emeritus of linguistics at the National Museum of Ethnology.