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Japanese language subjected to ‘Welsh Not’-style punishment takes inspiration from Cymraeg

16 May 2022 2 minutes Read
Left, the Hogen Fuda. Picture by TeresaPikler (Public Domain). Right, a printer reads the Asahi Shimbun Newspaper. Picture by the International Labour Organisation (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

One of Japan’s best-selling newspapers has urged one of the country’s languages to take inspiration from Welsh in its efforts to revive its fortunes.

The Okinawan language, spoken on one of the islands of the nation’s southern tip, has been the subject of a warning by UNESCO that it is in danger of disappearing.

In its front-page editorial column, the Asahi Shimbun, one of the four largest newspapers in Japan which a circulation of some 5m copies, said that those seeking to revitalise the language could take inspiration from the Welsh language.

It notes that children who spoke Okinawan in classrooms in the 19th century were punished by being forced to wear a ‘hogen fuda’ (dialect tag) – similar to the Welsh Not in some schools in Wales.

The kingdom within which the language was spoken was also forcefully annexed from without, and from then on “offered no benefits with regard to receiving a higher education or seeking employment”.

The column says that the story of Okinawan was a “reminder of how the Welsh language was rehabilitated”.

“In the 16th century, Wales was incorporated into the Kingdom of England. Its language, overpowered by English, was banned,” it said in its editorial.

“It was not until the 20th century that the Welsh language started being used again in education. TV channels that broadcast in Welsh were launched, and it acquired the official language status 11 years ago.

“It was an achievement made possible by Welsh people placing pride in, and passion for, their homeland.

“Let us hope that such a rich language will continue flourishing forever.”

The Okinawan has an estimated 2,000 speakers remaining today. Like Welsh, it has also gained an unexpected foothold in South America, where it is spoken by communities of Okinawan immigrants in Brazil, where there was no historical prohibition on its use.


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