Revitalizing the Rykyuan Languages

On November 16, 2012, Katsunori Yamazato will speak on the topic “The Resurgence of Okinawan Language through Contemporary Okinawan Literature.” A professor at the University of the Ryukyus, Professor Yamazato will be making his presentation from 3 to 4 p.m. in the Tokioka Room, room 319 of Moore Hall, on the UHM Campus.

His talk is part of the distinguished lecturer series sponsored by the UHM Colleges of Arts and Sciences and the Dai Ho Chun Endowment.

Beginning in the Meiji Era, the Japanese central government began forcing the Japanese language on the people of the former Ryukyuan Kingdom, which they had annexed. In the quest to create a more powerful Japanese nation, unified through a single language (kokugo), Ryukyuan languages were disparaged as merely dialects (hōgen). In public schools, children were educated to identify themselves as culturally Japanese and were forbidden to speak their own language.

The prejudice against Ryukyuan languages—as a result of their being regarded as forms of inferior Japanese—became ingrained and persists into the present, accelerating the loss of the languages.

However, this condition is not irreversible. A new generation of scholars, citizens, writers, and educators is working to revitalize Ryukyuan languages. Literary authors are at the forefront of this movement, as Professor Yamazato will explain.

Katsunori Yamazato is professor of American literature and culture at the University of the Ryukyus, where he is also director of the American Studies Center. He was director of “Human Migration and the Twenty-first Century Global Society,” a five-year Pacific and North/South American Research Project, and founding director of the International Institute for Okinawan Studies. In addition, he chairs the Committee for Research, Art, and Education for the Okinawa Prefecture Promotion Committee, which focuses on the revival of the Ryukyuan languages.

Professor Yamazato has published almost forty books, including translations from English into Japanese of such American writers as Gary Snyder, and compilations of the American tradition of environmental literature. His recent books as editor include Human Migration and Literature (Tokyo: Sairyusha, 2012) and Living Spirit: Literature and Resurgence in Okinawa (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2011).

This lecture is made possible by the late Dr. Dai Ho Chun through his estate gift, which established the Dai Ho Chun Endowment for Distinguished Lecturers at the UH-Mānoa Colleges of Arts and Sciences. Dr. Chun was a distinguished and visionary educator. Other event sponsors are the UHM College of Arts and Sciences; the UHM College of Languages, Linguistics, and Literature; the UHM Center for Okinawan Studies; and Mānoa: A Pacific Journal of International Writing.

For more information, please contact the Center for Okinawan Studies at cos@hawaii.edu or (808)956-5754.

PDF version of the flyer

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