|Native to||Russia, Japan|
|Region||Currently only Hokkaido; formerly also southern and central Sakhalin, the Kuril Islands and possibly northern Honshu|
|Ethnicity||25,000-200,000 ethnic Ainu (estimated)|
|Katakana, Latin (present)|
Map of pre-1945 distribution of Ainu languages and dialects
The varieties of Ainu are alternately considered a group of closely related languages or divergent dialects of a single language isolate. The only surviving variety is the Hokkaido Ainu, which UNESCO lists as critically endangered. Varieties from Sakhalin and the Kuril Islands are now extinct. Placename evidence suggests Ainu was also spoken in northern Honshu in the past. No genealogical relationship between Ainu and any other language family has been demonstrated, despite numerous attempts.
Due to the colonization policy employed by the modern Japanese government in the Hokkaido area through history, the number of Ainu language speakers has gradually decreased and very few people can speak the language fluently in daily life.
Shibatani (1990:9) and Pi?sudski (1998:2) speak of "Ainu languages" when comparing the varieties of Hokkaid? and Sakhalin. However, Vovin (1993) speaks only of "dialects". Refsing (1986) says Hokkaid? and Sakhalin Ainu were not mutually intelligible. Hattori (1964) considered Ainu data from 19 regions of Hokkaido and Sakhalin and found the primary division to lie between the two islands.
Scanty data from Western voyages at the turn of the 19th-20th century (Tamura 2000) suggest there was also great diversity in northern Sakhalin, which was not sampled by Hattori.
Vovin (1993) splits Ainu "dialects" as follows (Vovin 1993:157):
There are five vowels in Ainu:
Plosives /p t ts k/ may be voiced [b d dz ?] between vowels and after nasals. Both /ti/ and /tsi/ are realized as [ti], and /s/ becomes [?] before /i/ and at the end of syllables. There is some variation among dialects; in the Sakhalin dialect, syllable-final /p, t, k, r/ lenited and merged into /x/. After an /i/, this /x/ is pronounced [ç]. A glottal stop [?] is often inserted at the beginning of words, before an accented vowel, but is non-phonemic.
There is a pitch accent system. The accentuation of specific words varies somewhat from dialect to dialect. Generally, words including affixes have a high pitch on the stem, or on the first syllable if it is closed or has a diphthong, while other words have the high pitch on the second syllable, although there are exceptions to this generalization.
Ainu has a canonical word order of subject, object, verb, and it uses postpositions rather than prepositions. Nouns can cluster to modify one another; the head comes at the end. Verbs, which are inherently either transitive or intransitive, accept various derivational affixes. Ainu does not have grammatical gender. Plurals are indicated by a suffix.
Applicatives may be used in Ainu to place nouns in the dative, instrumental, comitative, locative, allative, or ablative roles. Besides freestanding nouns, these roles may be assigned to incorporated nouns, and such use of applicatives is in fact mandatory for incorporating oblique nouns. Like incorporation, applicatives have grown less common in the modern language.
The Ainu language is written in a modified version of the Japanese katakana syllabary. There is also a Latin-based alphabet in use. The Ainu Times publishes in both. In the Latin orthography, /ts/ is spelled c and /j/ is spelled y; the glottal stop, [?], which only occurs initially before accented vowels, is not written. Other phonemes use the same character as the IPA transcription given above. An equals sign (=) is used to mark morpheme boundaries, such as after a prefix. Its pitch accent is denoted by acute accent in Latin script (e.g., á). This is usually not denoted in katakana.
Rev. John Batchelor was an English missionary who lived among the Ainu, studied them and published many works on the Ainu language. Batchelor wrote extensively, both works about the Ainu language and works in Ainu itself. He was the first to write in Ainu and use a writing system for it.Batchelor's translations of various books of the Bible were published from 1887, and his New Testament translation was published in Yokohama in 1897 by a joint committee of the British and Foreign Bible Society, the American Bible Society, and the National Bible Society of Scotland. Other books written in Ainu include dictionaries, a grammar, and books on Ainu culture and language.
A Unicode standard exists for a set of extended katakana (Katakana Phonetic Extensions) for transliterating the Ainu language and other languages written with katakana. These characters are used to write final consonants and sounds that cannot be expressed using conventional katakana. The extended katakana are based on regular katakana and either are smaller in size or have a handakuten. As few fonts yet support these extensions, workarounds exist for many of the characters, such as using a smaller font with the regular katakana ? ku to produce ? to represent the separate small katakana glyph ? ku used as in (Aynu itak).
This is a list of special katakana used in transcribing the Ainu language. Most of the characters are of the extended set of katakana, though a few have been used historically in Japanese, and thus are part of the main set of katakana. A number of previously proposed characters have not been added to Unicode as they can be represented as a sequence of two existing codepoints.
|?||31F0||Katakana Letter Small Ku||Final k||/k/|
|?||31F1||Katakana Letter Small Shi||Final s [?]||/s/ or /?/|
|?||31F2||Katakana Letter Small Su||Final s, used to emphasize its pronunciation as [s] rather than [?]. [s] and [?] are allophones in Ainu.||/s/|
|?||31F3||Katakana Letter Small To||Final t||/t/|
|?||31F4||Katakana Letter Small Nu||Final n||/n/|
|?||31F5||Katakana Letter Small Ha||Final h [x], succeeding the vowel a. (e.g. ah) Sakhalin dialect only.||/h/ or /x/|
|?||31F6||Katakana Letter Small Hi||Final h [ç], succeeding the vowel i. (e.g. ih) Sakhalin dialect only.||/h/ or /ç/|
|?||31F7||Katakana Letter Small Fu||Final h [x], succeeding the vowel u. (e.g. uh) Sakhalin dialect only.||/h/ or /x/|
|?||31F8||Katakana Letter Small He||Final h [x], succeeding the vowel e. (e.g. eh) Sakhalin dialect only.||/h/ or /x/|
|?||31F9||Katakana Letter Small Ho||Final h [x], succeeding the vowel o. (e.g. oh) Sakhalin dialect only.||/h/ or /x/|
|?||31FA||Katakana Letter Small Mu||Final m||/m/ Voiced bilabial nasal|
|?||31FB||Katakana Letter Small Ra||Final r [?], succeeding the vowel a. (e.g. ar)||/?/ Voiced alveolar tap|
|?||31FC||Katakana Letter Small Ri||Final r [?], succeeding the vowel i. (e.g. ir)||/?/ Voiced alveolar tap|
|?||31FD||Katakana Letter Small Ru||Final r [?], succeeding the vowel u. (e.g. ur)||/?/ Voiced alveolar tap|
|?||31FE||Katakana Letter Small Re||Final r [?], succeeding the vowel e. (e.g. er)||/?/ Voiced alveolar tap|
|?||31FF||Katakana Letter Small Ro||Final r [?], succeeding the vowel o. (e.g. or)||/?/ Voiced alveolar tap|
|Characters represented using combining characters|
|31F7 + 309A||Katakana Letter Small Pu||Final p||/p/|
|30BB + 309A||Katakana Letter Se With Semi-Voiced Sound Mark||ce [tse]||/ts/ + /e/|
|30C4 + 309A||Katakana Letter Tu With Semi-Voiced Sound Mark||tu. and are interchangeable.||/t/ + /u/|
|30C8 + 309A||Katakana Letter To With Semi-Voiced Sound Mark||/t/ + /u/|
[s] ~ [?]
|sa / ?[note 2]
[sa] ~ [?a]
|su / ?[note 2]
[su?] ~ [?u?]
|se / ?[note 2]
[se] ~ [?e]
|so / ?[note 2]|
[so] ~ [?o]
|-s ? / ?[note 2]|
|tu / [note 2]
|-t ? / ?[note 3]|
[ts] ~ [t?][note 1]
[tsa] ~ [t?a]
|cu ? / [note 2]
[tsu?] ~ [t?u?]
|ce / [note 2]
[tse] ~ [t?e]
[tso] ~ [t?o]
|-n ? / ?[note 4]|
[-n, -m-, -?-][note 5]
|wi / ?[note 2]
|we / ?[note 2]
|wo / ?[note 2]|
Final [?] is spelled y in Latin, small ? in katakana. Final [?] is spelled w in Latin, small ? in katakana. Large ? and ? are used if there is a morpheme boundary with ? and ? at the morpheme head. [ae] is spelled ae, , or .
Example with initial k:
Since the above rule is used systematically, some katakana combinations have different sounds from conventional Japanese.
The Ainu have a rich oral tradition of hero-sagas called yukar, which retain a number of grammatical and lexical archaisms. Yukar was memorized and told at get-togethers and ceremonies that often lasted hours or even days. The Ainu also have another form of narrative often used called "Uepeker", which was used in the same contexts.
It is often reported that Ainu was the language of the indigenous Emishi people of the northern part of the main Japanese island of Honshu. The main evidence for this is the presence of placenames that appear to be of Ainu origin in both locations. For example, the -betsu common to many northern Japanese place names is known to derive from the Ainu word pet "river" in Hokkaid?, and the same is suspected of similar names ending in -be in northern Honsh? and Ch?bu, such as the Kurobe and Oyabe rivers in Toyama Prefecture (Miller 1967:239, Shibatani 1990:3, Vovien 2008). Other place names in Kant? and Ch?bu, such as Mount Ashigara (Kanagawa-Shizuoka), Musashi (modern Tokyo), Keta Shrine (Toyama), and the Noto Peninsula, have no explanation in Japanese, but do in Ainu. The traditional Matagi hunters of the mountain forests of T?hoku retain Ainu words in their hunting vocabulary.
Under pressure from the Japanese conquest, some Emishi migrated north to Tohoku and Hokkaido. The historical Ainu of (southern) Hokkaido appear to be a fusion of this culture, known archeologically as Satsumon, and the very different Nivkh- and Itelmen-like Okhotsk culture of (northern) Hokkaido, with Satsumon being dominant. The Ainu of Sakhalin and the Kurils appear to have been a relatively recent expansion from Hokkaido, displacing the indigenous Okhotsk culture (in the case of Sakhalin, Ainu oral history records their displacement of an indigenous people they called the Tonchi who, based on toponymic evidence, were evidently the Nivkh), and indeed a mixed Kamchadal-Kuril Ainu population is attested from southern Kamchatka.
Many of the speakers of Ainu lost the language with the advent of Japanese colonization. During a time when food production methods were changing across Japan, there was less reason to trade with the Ainu, who mainly fished and foraged the land. Japan was becoming more industrialized and globalization created a threat to Japanese land. The Japanese government, in an attempt to unify their country to keep out invasion, created policy for the assimilation of the Ainu diversity, culture, and subsistence. The assimilation included exploitation of land, commodification of culture, and placing Ainu children in schools where they only learned Japanese.
More recently, the Japanese government has acknowledged the Ainu people as an indigenous population. As of 1997 they were given indigenous rights under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) to their culture, heritage, and language.
The Ainu Cultural Promotion Act in 1997 appointed the Foundation for Research and Promotion of Ainu Culture (FRPAC). This foundation is tasked with language education, where they promote Ainu language learning through training instructors, advanced language classes, and creation and development of language materials.
In general, Ainu people are hard to find because they tend to hide their identity as Ainu, especially in the young generation. Two thirds of Ainu youth do not know that they are Ainu. In addition, because of Ainu students being strongly discouraged from speaking their language at school, it has been challenging for the Ainu language to be revitalized.
Despite this, there is an active movement to revitalize the language, mainly in Hokkaido but also elsewhere such as Kanto. Ainu oral literature has been documented both in hopes of safeguarding it for future generations, as well as using it as a teaching tool for language learners. Beginning in 1987, the Ainu Association of Hokkaido with approximately 500 members began hosting 14 Ainu language classes, Ainu language instructors training courses and Family Ainu Learning Initiative and have released instructional materials on the language, including a textbook. Also, Wajin linguists teach Ainu and train students to become Ainu instructor in university. In spite of these efforts, as of 2011 the Ainu language is not yet taught as a subject in any secondary school in Japan.
Due to the Ainu Cultural Promotion Act of 1997, Ainu dictionaries transformed and became tools for improving communication and preserving records of the Ainu language in order to revitalize the language and promote the culture. As of 2011, there has been an increasing number of second-language learners, especially in Hokkaido, in large part due to the pioneering efforts of the late Ainu folklorist, activist and former Diet member Shigeru Kayano, himself a native speaker, who first opened an Ainu language school in 1987 funded by Ainu Kyokai. The Ainu Association of Hokkaido is the main supporter of Ainu culture in Hokkaido. Ainu language classes have been conducted in some areas in Japan and small numbers of young people are learning Ainu. Efforts have also been made to produce web-accessible materials for conversational Ainu because most documentation of the Ainu language focused on the recording of folktales. The Ainu language has been in media as well; the first Ainu radio program was called FM Pipaushi, which has run since 2001 along with 15-minute radio Ainu language lessons funded by FRPAC, and newspaper The Ainu Times has been established since 1997. In addition, the Ainu language has been seen in public domains such as the outlet shopping complex's name, "Rera", which means "wind" in the Minami Chitose area and the name "Pewre" meaning "young" at a shopping centre in the Chitose area. There is also a basketball team in Sapporo named "Pera Kamuy" which means "God of Wind". The well-known Japanese fashion magazine's name Non-no is also in the Ainu language, which means "flower".
Another Ainu language revitalization program is Urespa, a university program to educate high-level persons on the language of the Ainu. The effort is a collaborative and cooperative program for individuals wishing to learn about Ainu languages. This includes performances which focus on the Ainu and their language, instead of using the dominant Japanese language.
Another form of Ainu language revitalization is an annual national competition, which is Ainu language-themed. People of many differing demographics are often encouraged to take part in the contest. Since 2017, the popularity of the contest has increased.
No genealogical relationship between Ainu and any other language family has been demonstrated, despite numerous attempts. Thus, it is a language isolate. Ainu is sometimes grouped with the Paleosiberian languages, but this is only a geographic blanket term for several unrelated language families that were present in Siberia before the advances of Turkic and Tungusic languages there. The most frequent proposals for relatives of Ainu are given below.
John C. Street (1962) proposed linking Ainu, Korean, and Japanese in one family and Turkic, Mongolic, and Tungusic in another, with the two families linked in a common "North Asiatic" family. Street's grouping was an extension of the Altaic hypothesis, which at the time linked Turkic, Mongolic, and Tungusic, sometimes adding Korean; today Altaic sometimes includes Korean and rarely Japanese but not Ainu (Georg et al. 1999).
From a perspective more centered on Ainu, James Patrie (1982) adopted the same grouping, namely Ainu-Korean-Japanese and Turkic-Mongolic-Tungusic, with these two families linked in a common family, as in Street's "North Asiatic".
Joseph Greenberg (2000-2002) likewise classified Ainu with Korean and Japanese. He regarded "Korean-Japanese-Ainu" as forming a branch of his proposed Eurasiatic language family. Greenberg did not hold Korean-Japanese-Ainu to have an especially close relationship with Turkic-Mongolic-Tungusic within this family.
Shafer (1965) presented evidence suggesting a distant connection with the Austroasiatic languages, which include many of the indigenous languages of Southeast Asia. Vovin (1992) presented his reconstruction of Proto-Ainu with evidence, in the form of proposed sound changes and cognates, of a relationship with Austroasiatic. In Vovin (1993), he still regarded this hypothesis as preliminary.
A 2015 analysis using the Automated Similarity Judgment Program resulted in the Japonic languages being grouped with the Ainu and then with the Austroasiatic languages. Note however that ASJP is not widely accepted among historical linguists as an adequate method to establish or evaluate relationships between language families.
The Ainu appear to have experienced intensive contact with the Nivkhs during the course of their history. It is not known to what extent this has affected the language. Linguists believe the vocabulary shared between Ainu and Nivkh (historically spoken in the northern half of Sakhalin and on the Asian mainland facing it) is due to borrowing.
The Ainu came into extensive contact with the Japanese in 14th century. Analytic grammatical constructions acquired or transformed in Ainu were probably due to contact with the Japanese language. A large number of Japanese loanwords were borrowed into Ainu and to a smaller extent vice versa. There are also a great number of loanwords from the Japanese language in various stages of its development to Hokkaid? Ainu, and a smaller number of loanwords from Ainu into Japanese, particularly animal names such as rakko "sea otter" (Ainu rakko), tonakai "reindeer" (Ainu tunakkay), and shishamo (a fish, Spirinchus lanceolatus) (Ainu susam). Due to the low status of Ainu in Japan, many ancient loanwords may be ignored or undetected, but there is evidence of an older substrate, where older Japanese words which have no clear etymology appear related to Ainu words which do. An example is modern Japanese sake or shake meaning "salmon", probably from Ainu sak ipe or shak embe for "salmon", literally "summer food".
Several linguists suggest a relation between Ainu and Indo-European languages, based on shared vocabulary, proposed cognates and grammatical similarities. The theory of an Indo-European--Ainu relation was popular until 1960, later linguists did not follow the theory anymore and concentrated on more local language families.
Tambotsev (2008) proposes that Ainu is typologically most similar to Native American languages and suggests that further research is needed to establish a genetic relationship between these languages.
Until the 20th century, Ainu language was also spoken throughout the southern half of the island of Sakhalin and by small numbers of people in the Kuril Islands. Only the Hokkaido variant survives, in three main dialects, the last speaker of Sakhalin Ainu having died in 1994. Hokkaido Ainu is moribund, though attempts are being made to revive it. The Japanese government made a decision to recognize Ainu as indigenous in June 2008. As of 2017, the Japanese government is constructing a facility dedicated to preserving Ainu culture, including the language.
According to UNESCO, Ainu is an endangered language. As of 2016, Ethnologue lists Ainu as class 8b: "nearly extinct". It has been endangered since before the 1960s. As of 2012 there are approximately 30,000 Ainu people in Japan, though that number is uncertain because not all ethnic Ainu speakers report themselves as such. As of 2011, there are only 15 speakers remaining, along with 304 people understanding the Ainu language to some extent.
In 1877 a young and industrious theologian went to visit the Ainu. His name was John Batchelor, and he was a scientist and missionary. He got to know the Ainu well, studied their language and customs, won their affection, and remained their staunch friend until the end of his days. It is to Batchelor that we owe our deepest insight into the[Original from the University of California Digitized Jan 27, 2009 Length 444 pages]
John Batchelor set about to learn the Ainu language, which the Japanese had not troubled ever to learn. He laboriously compiled an Ainu dictionary. He singlehandedly turned this hitherto but spoken tongue into a written language, and himself wrote books in it.[Original from the University of California Digitized Oct 16, 2007 Length 313 pages]