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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". 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?
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    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
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    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
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    @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
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    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
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In Okinawan, what is the ン in ウチナーンチュ?

User ithisa conjectured that this ン is from ぬ, from の. Let's explore.

Japanese 日本人【にほんじん】 doesn't seem to have an equivalent [to Okinawan ン].

You're correct, but note that the Japanese on'yomi term 日本人【にほんじん】 follows Chinese grammar, where "a person from XYZ place" can be expressed as [PLACE] + person. For a proper Japanese construction, you'd have to compare a wago phrase like 大和【やまと】の人【ひと】, where we do indeed find an equivalent with that の.

Could it be a reduced form of Okinawan ヌ, the equivalent of standard Japanese の?

Yes, it is!

The Shuri-Naha Dialect Dictionary is one very useful online source for readers of Japanese who are interested in "standard" Okinawan.

The site has easy lookup starting from either a Japanese word (click on the appropriate starting hiragana) or an Okinawan word (click on the appropriate starting katakana).

For instance, we find that this site has an entry for ンチュ, which explains that this means の人, and is a shift or abbreviation from fuller form ヌッチュ. We can also peruse their entries for possessive particle ヌ, equivalent to Japanese の, and for noun ッチュ, equivalent to Japanese 人【ひと】.

(FWIW, there's also JLect.com. I've found their coverage to be a bit spottier for some things, and the site is not as user-friendly. That said, they do include resources for Okinawan, as well as other varieties of Ryūkyūan like Amami or Miyako, which can be super useful.)


Please comment if the above does not fully address your question.

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    Sadly, the Shuri-Naha Dialect Dictionary was pulled offline by the university in early September. Despite their notice that 「新システムは10月中旬公開予定しております」, it is now mid-January and we still don't have anything in place. If anyone knows of a good online Okinawan dictionary, please let me know! – Eiríkr Útlendi Jan 11 at 19:23
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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.

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    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
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    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) – ithisa Apr 6 '14 at 20:49
  • @ithisa, Eastern OJP had //nu// where Western (what became "standard") had //no//, such as 野 read as //nu// in Man'yōshū poems. See also the KDJ entry. So it's possible that the ancient common ancestor was actually not necessarily closer to the Japanese branch. Also, re: "weird" Okinawan verb conjugations with をる, consider that Japanese completion auxiliary ぬ likely derives from 往【い】ぬ "to go; to pass; to be done". Weirdness is relative. 😊 – Eiríkr Útlendi Nov 25 '19 at 16:21

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