It seems to be accepted that questions about Japanese dialects are on-topic here and questions about other languages are off-topic. But let's look at the grey areas:

  • Questions about Kansi, Hiroshima, Yamagata dialects seem to be OK.
  • Okinawan and the other Ryukyuan languages seem to be regarded as languages by linguists but as dialects of Japanese by the Japanese government. (Though I can't find official confirmation of this so far.)
  • Linguists do not regard Ainu to be related to Japanese at all, let alone a dialect. I had believed the Japanese government didn't count it as a Japanese dialect either, but I haven't be able to confirmation either way.)
  • Then there is Hachijo, which is not Ryukyuan, but also not mutually intelligible with standard Japanese.
  • And then there is Kagoshima-ben, which is mutually intelligible to some degree but apparently regarded as the most difficult / most divergent Japanese dialect.

Where should we draw the line, out of the following options?

  1. All language varieties native to Japan are OK? (So obviously not immigrant languages like Chinese and Korean)
  2. All Japonic languages are OK? (so no Ainu either)
  3. Ryukyuan languages are also separate but Hachijo is Japanese.
  4. Only the varieties on the main islands are OK.
  5. Even Kagoshima ben isn't really Japanese.

(Or any other option.)

  • 1
    Shibatani writes in The Languages of Japan: "There are arguably three indigenous languages in Japan: namely, Ainu, Japanese, and Ryūkyuan. However, the genetic relationship between Japanese and Ryūkyuan has been proven and the transparency of the relationship is such that the latter is now considered as a dialect (group) of Japanese by most scholars."
    – user1478
    Mar 12, 2014 at 12:21
  • 1
    We have one question about Ainu. No one started a discussion about it on meta at the time, but there's a small amount of discussion in the comments on that question, and there were a couple close votes, but ultimately the question remained open. (I'm glad we're having the discussion on meta now, though :-)
    – user1478
    Mar 12, 2014 at 12:25
  • 1
    @snailplane: Wow Shibatani's view surprises me then. Perhaps the view has changed in the 24 years since the book was published. I find his reasoning to be a non sequitur though. The transparency of the relationship between French, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese has not resulted in them being considered as a dialect group of some other language. Rather those are a language group called "Romance" and these days I read mostly about the Ryukyuans and Japanese as a language group called "Japonic". But maybe this is a question for linguistics.SE and not here (-: Mar 12, 2014 at 12:47
  • Related reading on the definitions of "dialect" and "language" in the Sino-Platonic Papers: sino-platonic.org/complete/spp179_cantonese.pdf
    – user1478
    Mar 12, 2014 at 12:50
  • Well generally "dialect" and "language" like many other words words, have more than one sense each with its own definition ("set" has dozens!). The usual contrast for these two are the linguistic sense and the political sense. For Sinitic languages in particular the political sense is misinterpreted, even pushed as being the linguistic sense. With the possible exception of Dungan, which is only spoken outside China and is written in Arabic and/or Cyrillic script. For linguists only mutual intelligibility matters, though even that has grey areas such as "dialect continua". Mar 12, 2014 at 13:04
  • In your last sentence I think you're overstepping by speaking for all linguists, some of whom use the term dialect in a broader or different sense. See the paper I linked above for some discussion if you're interested.
    – user1478
    Mar 12, 2014 at 13:09
  • Well even linguists can use the term in the political sense but that's a very large paper and I'm a very slow reader. This seems to be the best question on the topic on linguistics.SE: What's the difference between a form of a language and a dialect of a language?. But often we just opt to use the term "variety" instead (-: Mar 12, 2014 at 13:34
  • 2
    So I've gone ahead and asked the first question about Okinawan grammar to see how it goes: In Okinawan, what is the ン in ウチナーンチュ? Mar 12, 2014 at 13:43
  • 3
    Just to follow up this discussion: hippietrail posted an question about the status of Ryukyuan on Linguistics.SE, and limetom posted an answer saying "Having talked to Shibatani after the book was published, I can pretty safely say that he has since changed his mind."
    – user1478
    Mar 13, 2014 at 17:24
  • 2
    Related question: meta.japanese.stackexchange.com/questions/944/…
    – Golden Cuy
    Mar 14, 2014 at 10:32
  • Thanks @AndrewGrimm, I don't know how I missed that when I looked for similar previous questions. Mar 14, 2014 at 12:29
  • 2
    Another point of consideration regarding Ainu and Ryukyuan is that the writing systems for both are derived from Japanese. As such, it's not unlikely that there'll be people posting "What does this say?" questions with signboards or things like that that they think are in Japanese, but are actually in one of the others.
    – Kaji
    Mar 17, 2014 at 17:18
  • @Kaji: True enough. You see more Okinawan than I expected in Okinawa. Not just めんそれ on signs at tourist attractions. I saw a truck of a party catering or supplies company and their name or slogan was all in Okinawan but I wouldn't've known if I didn't have an Okinawan with me to ask! Mar 18, 2014 at 5:15


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