Ainu is spoken on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido by maybe 15
families. It was once spoken in the Kurile Islands, the northern part of
Honshu and the southern half of Sakhalin. The last Ainu speaker on Sakhalin
died in 1994. Ainu is a language isolate, unrelated to any other language.
The vast majority of the 150,000 people who claim to be ethnically Ainu
speak only Japanese. The actual number of people of Ainu descent is thought
to be higher, however many are unaware of their ethnicity or deny it through
fear of discrimiation.
Efforts are currently being made to revive and revitalise Ainu, particularly
by Shigeru Kayano, a native speaker of the Tsishima dialect of Ainu (the only
surviving dialect). He has set up a school to teach the language and has started
collecting traditional Ainu stories.
Ainu is officially written with a version of the Japanese katakana syllabary.
A Latin-based alphabet is also used. The Ainu also have a rich oral tradition,
including Yukar (sagas of heros), Kamui Yukar (stories of the gods)
and Uwepeker (old stories).
Katakana for Ainu
When the final r's are used, the character is the one with the same
vowel as the syllable. e.g. ka + ra - kar, ki+ ri - kir, ku + ru - kur,
ke + re - ker, ko + ro - kor. However, sometimes the ru final is used in
-m is sometimes written as -n before p
イ and ウ are always y and w respectively when they follow a vowel.
Doubled consonants are written using the "final" character,
e.g. イㇰカ - ikka, but the Japanese small tsu is sometimes used,
e.g. イッカ - ikka.
Doubled/long vowels are written with the vowel, not with the Japanese-style
ー, e.g. アア = aa, エエ = ee, オオ = oo.
However, イイ = iy, ウウ = uw.
Sample text in Ainu
Sinean to ta petetok un sinotas kusu payeas awa, petetokta sine ponrupnekur
nesko urai kar kusu uraikik neap kosanikkeukan punas=punas. (from the Kamui Yukar)
One day, as I was setting out traveling toward the source of the (river’s) water,
the walnut wood post was struck as at the water’s source a little man all by himself
was erecting a walnut wood plank. He was standing there now bent over at the waist and
now standing up straight over and over again.