Ainu is spoken on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido. It was once spoken in the Kuril 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. In 2008 there were just two native speakers of Ainu. A small number of people are learning it as a second language as well.
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 being made to revive and revitalise Ainu. These include the documentation of oral literature, the production of teaching and learning materials, language classes and training for teachers of Ainu. There are some Ainu programs on the radio, an the magazine the Ainu Times (アイヌタイムズ) is published in Ainu four times a year.
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).
In 2019, the Japanese government officially recognized the Ainu language for the first time.
Download Ainu script charts (Excel)
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.
Information about the Ainu language and people
Online Ainu lessons
Online Ainu wordlists and dictionaries (in Japanese)
Aino Folk-Tales - English translations of Ainu stories
The Oral Literature of the Sakhalin Ainu: The Tuytah
アイヌ文化振興・研究推進機構 (The Foundation for Research and Promotion of Ainu Culture)
北海道立アイヌ民族文化研究センター (Hokkaido Ainu Culture Research Center)
北海道のアイヌ語地名 (Information about Ainu place names in Hokkaido)
アイヌ民族博物館 (The Ainu Museum, Hokkaido)
List of books and other sources of information about Ainu
Adaizan, Ainu, Basque, Burushaski, Candoshi-Shapra, Chitimacha, Eskayan, Hadza, Haida, Karuk, Kawésqar, Keres, Kuot, Kusunda, Kutenai, Natchez, Nihali, Nivkh, Páez, Purepecha, Sandawe, Seri, Sumerian, Ticuna, Tiwi, Tonkawa, Tunica, Urarina, Waorani, Wardaman, Washo, Yaghan, Yuchi/Euchee, Zuni
Page last modified: 20.05.21
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