Professor, East Asian Studies, University of Alberta
Trying to learn a new language with no textbook and dictionary was an eye opening experience, which really helped me grow both as a researcher and as a language teacher. It forced me to start looking at Ikema as well as Japanese, my other language, in a manner which is much less constrained by conventional ideas.
Professor Ono was a two-time recipient of the Japan Foundation fellowship, once in 2008 and again in 2012. He was on Miyako Island, in Okinawa, for both of his stays. His research led to the creation of the first Okinawa-focused course offered in Canada.
The two extended stays on Miyako Island, Okinawa, Japan in 2008 and 2012, generously supported by the Japan Foundation, allowed me to work on Ikema, a dialect of Miyako, one of the several endangered minority languages spoken in Japan. With the help of Ikema speakers, I was able to record, transcribe, and analyze, and translate data represented by a variety of textual types including traditional tales, personal accounts/narratives, historical narratives, procedural discourse, interviews, etc. This constitutes an indispensable database to find out what Ikema is like linguistically and how it is used in actual context.
The database is used in various projects including those by my collaborators and students. When I started working on Ikema in 2006, there was very little information available on Miyako in general and Ikema in particular, especially in English and outside of Japan. Trying to learn a new language with no textbook and dictionary was an eye opening experience, which really helped me grow both as a researcher and as a language teacher. It forced me to start looking at Ikema as well as Japanese, my other language, in a manner which is much less constrained by conventional ideas. I do hope that this change can be found in my recent and upcoming publications.
In the area of training future researchers, my Ikema work led me to create a new course ‘Languages and Cultures of the Ryukyus’ at the University of Alberta, which, as far as we know, is the only Okinawa-focused course offered in Canada. It was also instrumental in the foundation of the annual language documentation workshop in 2014 held on Miyako and sponsored by Tokyo University of Foreign Studies (most recent one held in December 2019) and the hosting of a month long Miyako language workshop in the Institute on Collaborative Language Research (CoLang), held at the University of Alaska Fairbanks in 2016. These events have attracted participants from Asia, Australia, Europe, and North and South Americas, and many of them are currently doing graduate work at the top research institutions around the globe.