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The Okinawan language can be very roughly divided into three groups: Okinawa Island and its vicinity, the Miyako Islands, and the Yaeyama Islands. These dialects are so different that if people spoke fully in their own dialect, they might not be able to communicate with each other at all. For example, let’s take “Thank you.” It’s “nifēdēbiru” in Okinawa, “tandigatandi” in Miyako, and “mīfaiyū” in Yaeyama. They are completely different.

Nifēdēbiru” is sometimes written “二拝でーびる”, meaning “two bows” for the nifē. It shows how grateful they are by bowing not just once but twice. On the other hand, “mīfaiyū” can be written “三拝ゆー”, where the mīfai means “three bows.” This is an even deeper show of gratitude than “nifēdēbiru”, which was the boast of some person from Yaeyama. But I wonder, is it so? And what about “tandigatandi”?

In a certain large Okinawa soba restaurant chain, we hear all the waiters shouting “Mensōrē (welcome)!” when a customer enters and “Nifēdēbiru!” when a customer pays. I feel it is somewhat odd in the back of my mind. In my opinion, they don’t need to say “nifēdēbiru that loud. I rather feel more likable hearing an obaa sitting in the market to sell vegetables, who murmurs “nifēdēbiru” to a customer buying a hundred yen worth bunch of bira (green onion). Why, it might sound closer to saying “Sankyuu beri macchi” in Japan, than “Arigatou gozaimashita.