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Recording history, reporting the truth & recognizing excellence.


Recording history, reporting the truth & recognizing excellence.


Grandma’s Okinawan word captures a world of meaning

We need to value, preserve cultures through language
Na Hoku Staff
Maya Miyasato

One of the most interesting aspects of language is the concept of untranslatable words: words that cannot be directly translated into another language without losing some of their meaning and cultural significance. Untranslatable words are a reflection of the unique experiences and values of a particular culture, often encapsulating complex emotions, ideas, or experiences.

When I think of an untranslatable word, a word that my Okinawan grandma used comes to mind. The word is “akisamiyo.”

Hearing this word a lot growing up with my grandma has helped me figure out how to use it and what it means, but if someone were to ask me what it meant, I wouldn’t be able to give them a simple definition. It is an Okinawan slang word that is used as a reaction to something surprising or unbelievable but depending on what tone is used, it can be interpreted in different ways. Okinawans use it as another way of saying “oh wow” or “that’s cool” or “oh my goodness”.

My grandma who was born in Okinawa taught me this untranslatable word. By being around my grandma a lot growing up, I picked up on a lot of the Okinawan culture, values, traditions, and food, but the language was something she hardly spoke. I noticed that she never spoke fluently in Okinawan, despite being full Okinawan. She only spoke in Japanese and English, so there are very few words that I know.

An Okinawan word that my grandma and mother used a lot was “akisamiyo.”  They would also add a “na” sound at the end of it so it always ended up sounding like “akisamiyona.” This word was often said when my grandma heard surprising news or something disappointing. She would use this word as a reaction to many different things, either positive or negative.

For example, she would use it in a negative way if she was watching the news and saw something sad, or saw our dog pee on the carpet. But, it was also used in a positive way if she said it after she saw my brother or myself do something that she thought was funny. In sum, “akisamiyo” is a word used as a reaction to something funny, unbelievable, crazy, sad, surprising, or upsetting.

This word is an interesting word to learn about because “akisamiyo” isn’t a word that is commonly used anywhere especially since not many people know any words from the Okinawan language. Besides my grandma and mother, I have not heard the word from anyone else and there is not a lot of information on the word if you google search it.

I believe that the reason why it is not spoken as much is because the language is not learned anymore and is not preserved well. This is another reason why despite its rich history and unique characteristics, the Okinawan language is facing the threat of extinction. In recent years, there has been a decline in the number of people who speak the language, especially among the younger generation.

The preservation of the Okinawan language, like the untranslatable word “akisamiyo,” is crucial for the preservation of Okinawan culture and identity. The language is an integral part of the cultural heritage of the Okinawan people, and its loss would mean the loss of a valuable piece of their history and identity. Efforts to revitalize and promote the use of the language are essential in ensuring that the Okinawan language continues to thrive and flourish for future generations.

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