Ainu (アイヌ イタ / Aynu itak)

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).

Ainu pronunciation

Ainu pronunciation

Katakana for Ainu

Katakana for Ainu

Notes

  • 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 all cases.
  • -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)

Katakana version

Sample text in Ainu in katakana

Japanse version

ある日に(川の)水源の方へ(私が)遊ぶに(私が)出かけたら(思いがけなく)(川の)水源に一人の小男が胡桃(くるみ)の木の梁(やな)をたてるため(胡桃の木の)杭を打っていた。 (それに下げた)腰を幾度も上げて立っている。(腰を曲げ曲げしている。)

Translation

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.

Source: http://members.at.infoseek.co.jp/kumanesir/inpaku/inpaku1/ekzemplo-j.html

Links

Information about the Ainu language and people
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ainu_language
http://www0.un.org/french/works/culture/japan_story.html
http://www.lowlands-l.net/anniversary/aynu-info.php

Online Ainu lessons
http://www.stv.ne.jp/radio/ainugo/

Online Ainu wordlists and dictionaries (in Japanese)
http://city.hokkai.or.jp/~ayaedu/udic/udic0.html

Aino Folk-Tales - English translations of Ainu stories
http://www.sacred-texts.com/shi/aft/

The Oral Literature of the Sakhalin Ainu: The Tuytah
http://www.aa.tufs.ac.jp/~mmine/kiki_gen/murasaki/asai01e.html

Story in Ainu (video)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XDWumYMPoDA

アイヌ文化振興・研究推進機構 (The Foundation for Research and Promotion of Ainu Culture)
http://www.frpac.or.jp

北海道立アイヌ民族文化研究センター (Hokkaido Ainu Culture Research Center)
http://www.pref.hokkaido.jp/kseikatu/ks-ambkc/hacrc/hp/index.htm

北海道のアイヌ語地名 (Information about Ainu place names in Hokkaido)
http://www.asahi-net.or.jp/~hi5K-stu/aynu/

アイヌ民族博物館 (The Ainu Museum, Hokkaido)
http://www.ainu-museum.or.jp

List of books and other sources of information about Ainu
http://www.tooyoo.l.u-tokyo.ac.jp/ichel/archive/ainu.html

Language isolates

Ainu, Basque, Burushaski, Eskayan, Haida, Karuk, Korean, Mapuche, Nivkh, Purepecha, Seri, Sumerian, Wardaman



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