The integration of the concept of “family” into the pronominal system: the first-person plural exclusive form in Yaeyaman, a Southern Ryukyuan language

Author: Yuko Urabe (Kyushu University/ Japan Society for the Promotion of Science)
Speaker: Yuko Urabe
Topic: Language documentation
The (SCOPUS / ISI) SOAS GLOCAL CALA 2019 General Session


This research discusses the pronominal system of Yaeyaman, a Southern Ryukyuan (SR) language, spoken in Okinawa, Japan. It will be shown that the Funauki dialect of Iriomote Island has an emerging pronominal form which refers to the speaker and his/her family, roughly translated as ‘my family’, and that the form is situated within the pronominal system as a kind of first-person plural exclusive form. The research will also address the issue of how it developed from the perspective of grammaticalization.

As is common in SR languages (Shimoji 2013), the pronominal system of Yaeyaman is characterized by clusivity, i.e. the distinction in first person plural reference (‘we/us/our’) between the reference including the hearer (inclusive) and that excluding it (exclusive). Thus, in Funauki the distinction is made between pankja=nu faa‘our child (when introducing one’s child to a visitor)’ and baha faa‘our child (when addressing a family member)’.

Based on the descriptive data collected through fieldwork by the present author, the present study will show the following facts:

In addition to the existing first-person plural forms, there is an emerging pronominal form bee, which seems to function as a yet another first-person plural exclusive pronoun.

Whereas the existing first-person plural exclusive form pankjasimply groups together the speaker on the one hand and the referents other than the addressee(s), i.e. the third person referents on the other, the new form beerestricts the third person referents to his/her immediate family or relatives. Thus, the pronoun bee means ‘my household; my family’, exhibiting a typologically uncommon pattern of clusivity.

The form bee etymologically consists of the first-person root *ba- and the root *ja, which means ‘house’.

The findings have implications for the typology of clusivity, as it adds to it a new pattern of conceptualization of clusivity and a highly unusual pattern of grammaticalization pathway through which first-person plural exclusive forms may develop.


Shimoji, Michinori. 2013. ‘Ryukyu shogo no daimeishi sosukei [ Dual forms of pronouns in Ryukyuan languages]. In Depertment of Linguistics (ed.), Ryukyu shogo to kodainihongo ni kansuru hikakugengogaku-teki kenkyu [ Studies of Comparative linguistic about Ryukyuan languages and Acient Japanese],17-32. Kyoto: Department of Linguistics, Kyoto University.
Keywords: pronoun, clusivity, family, Ryukyuan Languages