Let’s Speak Dialect in Japanese! 10 funny phrases in Okinawa!

Speak Dialect in Japanese! 10 funny-phrases in Okinawa

The Kanto region language that foreigners learn is ‘standard’ Japanese, but every region of Japan has its own local dialect (ben), and that is what this short series of articles is about. Okinawa-ben is not actually a dialect of modern Japanese at all, but has unique phrases and grammar derived from old Japanese.



 

Let’s Speak Dialect in Japanese! 10 funny phrases in Okinawa!

 

1. An Endangered Language

Okinawa has a unique history, culture and language. However, the assimilation of Okinawa by Japan has led to its language being classified by UNESCO today as ‘Endangered.’

* Nmarijima nu kutuba wasshii nee kuni n wasshiin (Forgetting your native tongue means forgetting your native country) – Okinawan proverb.

 

2. The Problem for Foreigners

On Okinawa (Uchina), the Okinawan dialect tends to be taught in Japanese, which makes it doubly difficult for foreigners to learn. All casual visitors can do is pick up what they can and try using it.

* Miinai chichi nai (Watch, listen and learn) – Okinawan proverb.

 

3. Welcome!

One of the first things you may hear when arriving in Okinawa is “Uchina mensooree” (Welcome to Okinawa). “Mensooree” is also used as a farewell, with a general meaning of “come again” such as in “Mata mensooree!” (Come back again sometime!) which you may hear on leaving bars or other establishments.

* Ataishi turu atairu (We get along well with those we can get along with well) – Okinawan proverb.

 

4. Greeting

There are equivalents of the standard Japanese phrases “Ohayōgozaimasu” (Good morning), “Konichiwa” (Good day) or “Konbanwa” (Good evening), but “Haisai” (“haitai” if you’re female) is a much more useful universal greeting at any time of day.

* Ichariba choodee (Now we’ve met, we’re like family) – Okinawan proverb.

 

5. Politeness

Like standard Japanese, Okinawan has many polite phrases. Instead of “Haisai”, for example, the polite greeting “Chuu wuganabira” might buy you some traction with older locals, as may “Hajimiti wuganabira” (Pleased to meet you). But if you’re already familiar with standard Japanese, it might be better to use that until you know Okinawan people better.

* Kuchi ganga naa ya yakutatan (A smooth-talker is a good for nothing individual) – Okinawan proverb.

 

 

6. Getting to Know You

Okinawans are very friendly and will happily exchange names with others, so “U naamee ta nuu yaibiiga?” (What’s your name?) is a useful phrase to know. Your reply or introduction could be “Waa naamee ya [….] yaibiin” (My name is [….]), or “[….] yaibiin” (short reply).

* Choo kukuru ru dee ichi (The heart is the most important human quality) – Okinawan proverb.

 

7. Drinking

In Japan, drinking alcohol seems essential in getting to know people, and Okinawa is no exception. Instead of the standard Japanese “Kanpai!” (Cheers!), try the Okinawan toast “Karii!” instead. And if it’s a birthday party, “Utanjoobi kariyushi unnukiyabira!” means “Happy birthday!”

* Ashibi nu chura saa ninju nu sunawai (The more the merrier) – Okinawan proverb.

 

8. Feasting

Visitors will definitely want to savour the wonderful flavours of Okinawan cuisine! When presented with food (or drink), you can say “Kwatchiisabira” (Thanks), and the host or cook will reply “Usagaimisooree!” (Enjoy/Dig in!). When you’ve finished your meal, say “Kwatchiisabiitan” (Thank you for the meal). “Ippei maasan” (Really delicious) is a way to comment on your meal.

* Kamuru ussaa mii nayun (The more you eat, the more you gain) – Okinawan proverb.

 

9. Money

Prices for things and services may be better discussed in standard Japanese, not least because numbers in Okinawan are spoken quite unlike in the rest of the country. However, you might like to try the phrase “Kuree chassa yaibiiga?” (How much is this?) at the market.

* Mookiraa kwee michi shiri (When you’ve made your fortune, learn how to spend it) – Okinawan proverb.

 

10. Respect

As with the rest of Japan, Okinawan culture places great value on respect, so knowing when to use phrases like “unige sabida” (please) and “Nifee deebiru” (Thank you), or “Wa sai bin” (Sorry) and “Shiwaa neebi ran” (That’s all right!), could be important.

* Chu uyamee ru duu uyamee (Respect others and they’ll respect you) – Okinawan proverb.

 

Conclusion

While the differences so outweigh the similarities, standard Japanese will continue to be more useful to the traveller than Okinawan. Indeed, much of the Okinawan dialect is today a mish-mash of local and standard Japanese anyway. However, the Okinawan language is being preserved through traditional theatre and song, so please support these arts when you visit Okinawa.

Shikinoo chui shiihii shiru kurasuru (Let’s live by helping each other in this world) – Okinawan proverb.

 

Let’s Speak Dialect in Japanese! 10 funny phrases in Okinawa!

1. An Endangered Language
2. The Problem for Foreigners
3. Welcome!
4. Greeting
5. Politeness
6. Getting to Know You
7. Drinking
8. Feasting
9. Money
10. Respect