LA Times article about an Okinawan attempting to keep Okinawan language alive

LA Times article about an Okinawan attempting to keep Okinawan language alive

Chogi Higa teaches Uchinaguchi in the building of the Okinawa Association of Los Angeles.


March 25, 2013 Sadao Tome Correspondent of Ryukyu Shimpo

Ten years have passed since 72 year-old Chogi Higa established a class teaching Uchinaguchi or the Okinawan language in a room in the Okinawa Association of Los Angeles building in Gardena. On February 25, Los Angeles Times reporter Cindy Chang wrote a story entitled Keeping the Okinawan Language Alive. Chang participated in the class twice before writing the article.

Before the class, the students repeat expressions such as ukimisochi or “good morning” and uganjuyamisemi or “how are you?” About 40 students, ranging from teenagers to 80 year-olds, attend the class, which is held twice a month. Tokie Koyama said, “Attending the class reminds me of my childhood in Okinawa. It brings tears to my eyes.” Higa teaches Okinawan terms such as nihedebil or “thank you” and guburisabira or “excuse me” by translating them into English or Japanese. The students are members of the association.

Joan Oshiro, a 68 year-old second-generation Okinawan Hawaiian, who is fluent in Japanese, said, “The class makes me realize that being Okinawan is clearly different from other Japanese even though I am proud of being American citizen.”
Shoichi Iwasaki, a professor in the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures at University of California, Los Angeles who works on a collaborative project called the Ikema Project – an attempt to preserve an endangered language of Ryukyu Islands – said, “The language of Ikema Island, which is located to the northwest of Miyako Island in Okinawa, will possibly die out before too long. As has been the case with Ancient French, I think that Uchinaguchi – the language of main islands of Okinawa – will survive in the form of nursery songs for quite some time yet.”

Iwasaki went on to say, “I appreciate Higa’s passion for preserving and maintaining Uchinaguchi, but there is a limit to what he can do. He now needs to foster younger people to carry on his good work.”

(English translation by T&CT, Mark Ealey)

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