Miyako belongs to the Ryukyuan group of languages which together with their “big sister” Japanese make up the Japonic language family. The Ryukyuan languages are spoken on islands with the same name that stretch from the southern tip of mainland Japan to Taiwan. Miyako is a severely endangered language, spoken mainly by older members of the Miyako people, while their children speak Japanese. Most researchers say that the real number of speakers worldwide is unknown, but assuming that all the people in the Miyako islands over 60 can speak native Miyakoan, the figure could be estimated at about 10,000 – 15,000 speakers.
While Miyako and other Ryukyuan languages are less and less used in everyday communication, they partly survive in traditional festivals or in songs, which are still sung in the local dialects. Recently the Miyako singer Isamu Shimoji has become popular all over Japan. Find two of his songs here:
or listen to him talking in Miyako and about Miyako here (film: Patrick Heinrich, English subtitles by Aleksandra Jarosz):
Read more on language and culture in Chapter 6 of the Book of Knowledge!
Find Miyako exercises on the Interactive Map!
FURTHER INFORMATION AND RESOURCES
A list of basic vocabulary in Miyako: http://language.psy.auckland.ac.nz/austronesian/language.php?id=455
Grammatical descriptions of two Miyako dialects can be found in the book An Introduction to Ryukyuan Languages, edited by Michinori Shimoji & Thomas Pellard, available online at: http://lingdy.aacore.jp/jp/material/An_introduction_to_Ryukyuan_languages.pdf
You can also listen to the speakers telling the “Pear Story” in their native dialect! (You will find the transcript in the Introduction to Ryukyuan Languages above.)
A more elaborate description of the Ogami-Miyakoan variety (in French) with a background on the classification and history of the Miyako language can be found in the following Ph.D. dissertation by Thomas Pellard:
You can listen to sample words of the Hirara variety here (Japanese version of the site only):
History and current situation of the languages are discussed in these articles:
Patrick Heinrich: Langugae Loss and Revitalization in the Ryukyu Islands (http://japanfocus.org/-Patrick-Heinrich/1596)
Fija Bairon, Matthias Brenzinger and Patrick Heinrich: The Ryukyus and the New, But Endangered, Languages of Japan (http://japanfocus.org/-Matthias-Brenzinger/3138 )
Source: Tida-nu suma Miyako-jima, http://m.noa195.net
94 year-old female drum player