Japanese Language Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for students, teachers, and linguists wanting to discuss the finer points of the Japanese language. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

The Okinawan word for "Okinawa" is ウチナー, for "person" is チュ, and for "Okinawan" (person) is ウチナーンチュ.

I'd like to know where this ン comes from between the part for "Okinawa" and the part for "person". Standard Japanese 日本人{にほんじん} doesn't seem to have an equivalent.

  • Could it be a reduced form of Okinawan ヌ, the equivalant of standard Japanese の?
  • Could it be an "epenthetic" sound added in certain kinds of compound words?
  • Or something else entirely?
share|improve this question
I would guess it's the same phenomenon which leads to rendaku in Japanese. Note that there are other words like アチネーンチュ, イナカンチュ, ヤマトゥンチュ... – Zhen Lin Mar 12 '14 at 17:31
@ZhenLin: I suppose it could seem like assimilation, which is what rendaku is an example of. But what makes it different is that in assimilation, properties of one or both sounds influence each other at a point of contact. Whereas epenthesis adds a new sound. Both are for reasons of prosodics though. These examples show that the first component can change but the n comes with the チュ – hippietrail Mar 12 '14 at 19:04
Rendaku is not just a phonological phenomenon. It is thought that the voicing is a remnant of an infix /n/. However I admit I do not know of other words with an infix /n/ in Okinawan – that's mostly because I don't know Okinawan. – Zhen Lin Mar 12 '14 at 23:27
@razorramon I've already checked, and I don't believe The Languages of Japan answers this question. By the way, books published prior to 1923 are in the public domain, but TLoJ was published in 1990, rather more recently. Although it's not free of charge, you can probably find it at a library. – snailplane Mar 13 '14 at 0:53
Random websites online seem to suggest ンチュ corresponds to Japanese の人, with the ヌ reducing to ン like you suggest, and チュ perhaps coming from と. Unfortunately, I don't have any good sources to check at the moment, so I'm not really qualified to write an answer. – snailplane Mar 13 '14 at 1:30

I conjecture it is from ぬ <- の. Why?

Okinawan actually has a regular sound change ぬ -> ん. For example, 犬{いぬ} -> いん. So I presume that somehow the regular sound changes got applied twice, and you get ん <- ぬ <- の.

share|improve this answer
You should think it terms of sound correspondence rather than sound change since we know Okinawan is not an offshoot of modern standard Japanese. They are sister languages rather than Okinawan being a daughter language of Japanese. Likely they have both changed from a distant common ancestor and we know from Old/Middle Japanese that modern standard Japanese has changed quite a lot. – hippietrail Apr 6 '14 at 3:20
Of course I meant sound change from some common ancestor. This common ancestor is much closer to the Japanese branch, and thus is usually approximated as Old/Middle Japanese. Really, Middle Japanese is okay, since we see no remnant of 上代特殊仮名遣い and all sound correspondences from Early Middle Japanese are perfectly regular. So ぬ does come from an ancestral の-like sound. (Case in point: Japanese retains the big picture of the proto-Japonic verb system. Okinawan does something weird with forming everything as a compound with をる) – user54609 Apr 6 '14 at 20:49
Great! You know much more about this than I do. Sorry for the dumbed down version (-: I find I frequently have to explain this stuff to people going just on intuition. Glad you're not one of them so I can learn something (-: – hippietrail Apr 6 '14 at 23:34
Lol, the inverted smiley is rather hard to read (fyi the "standard" version is :-)). I at first thought it was a disfigured sadface at first XD. (*^_^*) is way better – user54609 Apr 8 '14 at 2:26
Well I won't bow down to northern hemisphere cultural imperialism d-: – hippietrail Apr 8 '14 at 7:33

It's a small version of の just as you guessed. This happens a lot in Japanese, I wouldn't be surprised if you hear it elsewhere in Okinawa.

Searching the net, I found that the word has been translated to normal Japanese:

ウチナーンチュ is literally equal to 沖縄の人 we already know ウチナー is Okinawa and チュ is person, so the only remaining thing is the it could be is the の.

Here's my source.

You can see on this wikipedia page that in Osaka dialect they do in fact shorten some sounds to simply ン:

share|improve this answer
Well it's kind of like that. I took a photo of the appropriate section of a grammar book of Okinawan that I found in a secondhand bookshop but couldn't afford. I'll try to add it when I go through my photos at some point. – hippietrail Apr 4 '14 at 19:01
References? It's kind of a big claim to say that a possible particle in Uchinaguchi is derived from Japanese without qualification. – Trevor Alexander Apr 4 '14 at 22:00
Reference: Japanese friend. Sorry for not including that on the post - I was in a rush. – Worthy7 Apr 5 '14 at 9:37
I have updated my post with a lot more information from other websites, I had more links but cannot post more than 2. – Worthy7 Apr 5 '14 at 12:02
Usually similar features in Okinawan and Japanese can be traced back to a common origin, or a hypothetical one when evidence is lacking. That's more common than Okinawan borrowing grammar points directly from modern Japanese. – hippietrail Apr 5 '14 at 12:17

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.