Ainu language

An article I came across today talks about the Ainu language in which the author, a Russian linguist, talks of his quest to find Ainu speakers in Hokkaido. He met plenty of Ainu but found only two people able to speak the language.

He does find quite a few people who know a few words or Ainu and can recite poems and sing songs, even though they don’t understand them, but as he defines ’speak’ as the ability “to produce spontaneous utterances”, he doesn’t classify these people as speakers. Everywhere he goes, he hears the Ainu speaking Japanese, even in an Ainu language class.

He tentatively concludes that the number of Ainu speakers might be as many as 600, or 2% of the 30,000 people who identify themselves as Ainu. This figure is a lot higher than that reported in Ethnologue (15), or by Murasaki Kyoko, a Japanese anthropologist who said there were 5 or 6 speakers in 2003.

A correspondent has asked me whether I know of any resources (in English) for learning Ainu. Can you suggest any?

One thought on “Ainu language

  1. As a language geek, I’ve really enjoyed your Omniglot site. I’ve only just discovered this blog.
    Anyway, Shibatani Masayoshi’s The Languages of Japan (Cambridge University Press, 1990) has an Ainu-English word list but I’m hard pressed to think of other sources. I’ve visited the Ainu Cultural Centre in Tokyo and they do have some limited materials in English as well. More importantly, they offer classes in Ainu language (undoubtedly taught in Japanese) and sponsor speech contests and so forth.
    I hope that helps.

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