Japonic languages

language family

The Japonic languages are a language family made up of languages native to the Japanese islands. Known members of the language family are Japanese and the Ryukyuan languages (Okinawan, Kunigami, Amami, Miyako, Yaeyama and Yonaguni).

All Japonic languages are agglutinative languages with a simple syllable structure and SOV word order. They have many similar features, but they are not mutually intelligible, which means native speakers of one language will not understand the other language without already knowing it.

While Japanese is the ninth most spoken language in the world,[1] the Ryukyuan languages are critically endangered, which means there are very few speakers left. This was largely because of the Japanese government's assimilation of Ryukyu into the mainland Japanese culture. During the Meiji Era, the Japanese government called the Ryukyuan languages “dialects of Japanese”. This was used to forbid Ryukyuans from speaking the Ryukyuan languages and to force them to speak Japanese. In fact, Okinawan soldiers and civilians were put to death for speaking Okinawan during World War II. The Japanese military would accuse them of being spies so they could have an excuse to put them to death.

All of the languages write using a combination of Chinese characters, called kanji in Japanese, and kana, a Japanese-made syllabic writing system made for writing phonetically. This was true even before the Japanese takeover of the Ryukyu Kingdom.


  1. Babbel.com; GmbH, Lesson Nine. "What Are The 10 Most Spoken Languages In The World?". Babbel Magazine. Retrieved 2019-07-20.