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Hachijōjima: The Language Isle - Talk-Story with Dr. David Iannucci

A view of the coastline between Nakanogō and Kashitate villages

On July 30, 2020, the Japan-America Society of Hawaii (JASH) hosted another installment in our Summer 2020 Talk-Story Series entitled, “Hachijōjima: The Language Isle.” We were very fortunate to collaborate with linguist Dr. David Iannucci, who introduced attendees to the small island of Hachijōjima and the severely endangered Hachijō language that is spoken there.

Dr. David Iannucci with language consultants Mrs. Eiko Fukuda and Mr. Tōichi Okiyama

Dr. Iannucci received his PhD in Linguistics from the University of Hawai`i at Mānoa in 2019. He briefly visited Hachijōjima twice for linguistic fieldwork, consulting community members and collecting information for his dissertation, “The Hachijō Language of Japan: Phonology and Historical Development.” Drawing from his own experiences and research, Dr. Iannucci gave attendees a virtual tour of Hachijōjima by using Google Maps and sharing photos from his fieldwork trips.

Examples of basic words in Japanese versus the Nakanogo dialect of Hachijō

In his presentation, Dr. Iannucci also compared basic vocabulary items in Japanese versus the Nakanogo variety of Hachijō. The Hachijō language systematically differs from Standard Japanese, Dr. Iannucci explained, which is one of the reasons why linguists can determine they are genetically related and share a common language ancestor. However, due to factors such as geographical distance, Hachijō has diverged so much from Japanese that they are barely mutually intelligible. That is, if a speaker of standard, current-day Japanese tried to talk with someone who only spoke Hachijō, they would not be able to communicate! Unfortunately, due to social, political, and economic factors, most of the younger generations no longer know Hachijō. As transmission of the language from parent to child has halted over several generations, the language is now considered to be severely endangered as the community has instead shifted to using the Japanese language. There have been small grassroots efforts to revitalize Hachijō, and Dr. Iannucci hopes that his and his fellow researchers’ work will help these projects receive attention and support to grow and continue.

As a linguist, Dr. Iannucci primarily focuses on the grammar and history of Japanese and of the Japonic language family, which includes Modern Japanese, Hachijō, and the various Ryukyuan languages. When not geeking out over language, he works as the lead software developer at the UH Economic Research Organization. JASH would like to express our sincere appreciation to Dr. Iannucci for hosting this insightful and educational webinar for JASH and our members. If you missed viewing this program live, you may watch a recorded version of it by Clicking HERE.

Images courtesy of Dr. David Iannucci.

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