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February 22, 2009

8 Japanese languages are endangered

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According to a UNESCO report, 8 languages in Japan are in danger of dying out. There are now only 15 speakers of the Ainu language. The others that are endangered are Yaeyama, Yonaguni, Okinawa, Kunigami, and Miyako in Okinawa Prefecture, Amami in Kagoshima and Hachijo which is spoken in and around Hachijojima island in Tokyo. UNESCO considers all these to be distinct languages, not dialects.

Osamu Sakiyama, professor of linguistics at the National Museum of Ethnology agrees with UNESCO's assessment and said, 'Coupled with the myth that Japan is ethnically homgeneous, people tend to think that one language is spoken in Japan. But I want people to know that there is quite a diversity.'

The report on Japanese languages is part of a worldwide report - the UNESCO Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger. The interactive digital version was released this week and is freely available online. A printed version will be published next month.

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