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Paving ways to documenting an invisible linguistic minority in Japan: Ikema

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Title: Paving ways to documenting an invisible linguistic minority in Japan: Ikema
Authors: Iwasaki, Shoichi
Ono, Tsuyoshi
Takubo, Yukinori
Issue Date: 14 Mar 2009
Description: This presentation introduces our collaborative project (involving researchers from Canada, Japan, and the U.S.) on the language of Ikema in Okinawa, Japan. We highlight the problems we encountered and our attempts to overcome them - a necessary step before engaging in “Documentary Linguistics” (Himmelmann 1998) on Ikema. Ikema is a typical endangered language: no longer acquired by children and only spoken by a decreasing number of older speakers. Islanders express concerns that their mother tongue is disappearing, but most feel that the move toward monolingualism in Standard Japanese is inevitable and even desirable. This is an expected outcome; although, linguistically speaking, Ikema and other Okinawan languages should be considered as constituting a separate language group, for many years the Japanese government treated them as merely ‘dialects’ of Japanese. The 1916 government initiative of homogenizing the nation by spreading Standard Japanese was so successful that ‘dialect’ speakers believe that they are speaking inferior versions of Japanese. In fact, remaining Ikema speakers still recall the infamous ‘dialect placards’, which were placed around their necks as a form of punishment when they used Ikema at school. It is thus not surprising that islanders initially showed suspicion and resistance when our team showed interest in Ikema. However, we soon started finding community leaders with concerns about their rapidly disappearing language. Through discussions with us, these leaders started to realize that documenting Ikema for future generations in collaboration with our group is a significant first step. We also recognized the importance of establishing our presence in the community through getting involved in local projects, e.g. a kindergarten teacher’s project of compiling booklets to promote Ikema for the community, and local activists’ attempt to archive and display a large number of precious photos taken by an ethnographer in the 1960’s. By participating in these projects, we have been slowly gaining the trust of the community, which, we hope, will take us to our eventual goal of conducting a large scale community-centered documentation project. In fact, more recently we have been provided with opportunities to record narratives by older speakers (80s-90s), and to work with younger speakers (60s-70s) in eliciting sentences. Knowing their difficult history and our genuine involvement with community activities have been critical in decreasing tensions which existed in the community. These tensions may continue to exist, but we need to keep paving ways toward documenting Ikema and hopefully other invisible minority languages in Okinawa.
URI/DOI: http://hdl.handle.net/10125/5039
Rights: Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported
Appears in Collections:1st International Conference on Language Documentation and Conservation (ICLDC)



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