Q. Is Okinawan an actual language or a dialect of Japanese?
A. Some linguists say the Okinawan language is an independent language because it was separated from the Japanese language long ago and has distinct phonological differences. However there is a fact that it is derived from the Japanese language. The Okinawan language has roots in ancient Japanese, which has been recorded in Kojiki (the oldest historical work existing in Japan) and Manyoushu (the oldest anthology of poems). Therefore some say it is one of the dialects, Ryukyu dialect, though it sounds very different from the other dialects.
The Ryukyu (the former name of Okinawa) kingdom, which had its own culture,
existed from the beginning of the 15th century. It was the trade center between Japan,
China and South East Asia and was influenced by many foreign countries. It was
an independent kingdom until 1879, then the Japanese government annexed Ryukyu into
Japan as the Okinawa prefecture. In 1945, Okinawa was occupied along with the rest of Japan,
and kept under American administration until 1972.
"Uchina" means Okinawa. "Uchinaguchi" is the Okinawan dialect (Ryukyu language) and the people who speak "uchinaguchi" are "uchinanchu".
Most of the younger generation in Okinawa can't speak uchinaguchi and they are not willing to learn it. Okinawa has such a unique culture and beautiful language. It will be very sad if the language and culture die.
To explore more about Uchinaguchi:
Learn more about other dialects (hogen).