Language Attitudes and Ideologies on Taketomi Island
Over the past 150 years, Japan has transformed from a feudal country into a nation state. Part of this change has been done through the creation of a standardized form of Japanese that serves as the national language. The spread of this language coupled with intense socioeconomic pressures have resulted in the near-eradication of the Ryūkyūan languages, which are six languages spoken in Okinawa Prefecture in southern Japan. While there has been relatively substantial work done documenting these languages, there has been little research done on their social place in contemporary society. This paper examines language attitudes and ideologies surrounding the Taketomi dialect of the Yaeyaman language, which is spoken on Taketomi Island. The island is only 1.5 square miles with a population of 350; it lies far from the region's cultural center, Okinawa Island. Over the course of 2013, I completed six weeks of fieldwork on the island. While there, I distributed an attitudinal survey, conducted semi-structured in-depth interviews with island residents, and engaged in participant-observation. I found that while most people cannot speak Taketomi dialect due to language transmission ending in the pre- and post-World War II period, island residents hold overwhelmingly positive attitudes towards their language. However, the language is not viewed as a productive linguistic system, but rather as a symbol of the island's cultural heritage that residents are dedicated to protecting.