Monday, December 5, 2011


The Ainu has such potential in revitalizing their language, to have young speakers use the language as their mother-tongue rather than a second language after Japanese. It would be such a waste to see such an amazing and unique culture go to waste.  Without the Ainu language, the indigenous peoples would lose not only their culture, but a piece of their heritage will have gone with it as well.  With 20,000 people left (the number is  probably a lot higher), as long as there is hope, perseverance, and faith, I believe the Ainu can get back on their feet and teach not only the younger generations their oral language, but the adults who have either lost their knowledge on how to speak Ainu or were never taught the language because their parents did not want them to speak it.  

The Ainu Civilization

Here's a neat video I found on YouTube about the Ainu people and their traditional ritual of killing a bear cub in order to release its spirit into the world.

The Ainu Civilization

Real Ainu Promoters

While I was still in the process of creating this blog and editing the posts I had up, someone found my blog and commented on the content of it.

This person turned out to be a real promoter of the Ainu peoples in general, from their language to their culture, history, and art.

Their blog and their website.

I didn't know there were groups out there like the Ainu Pride Productions, but it makes me happy that there are people out there who care for the Ainu and would like to revitalize their language and culture too.  As an undergrad from Canada, it can sometimes feel like our efforts aren't even worth it since we are so far away.  But this group of people have done an enormously good job at promoting awareness of the Ainu.

Their blog is worth a look at and they update it quite frequently with interesting information about the Ainu.

Purpose of this Blog

I should have mentioned this before I even began posting stuff about the Ainu peoples, but this blog was set up to accompany my term paper as part of a project.  My goal for the paper was to write about why endangered languages should be revitalized, why scholars and the general public should be aware of such things going on around them.

I specifically chose to write about the Ainu peoples because in high school I went through a phase where I was just fascinated by the Japanese culture, specifically the pop culture.  This was also in part because as a Chinese, I grew up with family and relatives constantly putting down the Japanese. My grandparents were driven out of China when the Japanese invaded the Guangdong area, so it's understandable why they have so much hatred towards the Japanese.  But it's not fair to generalize that especially nowadays when the Japanese are so peaceful.

So, the first time I heard that Japan had aboriginal peoples just like Canada, I was pretty shocked.  My interest in Japan faded since high school and my focus has been on Canada instead, but I really wanted to learn more about these Asian aboriginees.  I wanted to talk about why their language, of the many other endangered languages out there, should be saved and documented.  My paper talks about how language gives a certain identity to people, not just for the use of communication.  Culture can only be transmitted, created, and learnt through the use of language, and without culture there can be no people.  Everyone holds at least one culture, like me for example.  I'm probably more Westernized and have a greater Canadian culture than I do my Chinese culture, and on top of Cantonese being my first language, this gives me a sense of identity and who I am in this multicultural mosaic nation.  Once you lose a culture, you lose part of your heritage with it.  Because I would never want to lose my Chinese culture, I don't want to see the same thing happen to the Ainu people, especially the younger generation.

My paper will also discuss, but won't be mentioned in the blog, the ways in which the Ainu communities can revitalize and document their languages in ways that the community themselves would see best.  Since I am neither a Japanese nor an Ainu, I can only use my common sense and knowledge when I suggest certain types of methods that could be put in use (if they are not already, I don't know since all the sources I have found are extremely outdated).

Another thing is, I am completely aware that the content of this blog is very outdated.  But the library only had these resources available and so I had to make do!

I hope you have fun reading through this blog and perhaps learn a little bit about the Ainu and spread the word to your friends and family, and maybe even do some research of your own if you're interested :)

Ta ta for now!

The Ainu Now (but not recently...)

It is said that the number of Ainu speakers is considerably greater than what research shows and what is commonly believed by scholars. Codeswitching and code-mixing is part of an Ainu person’s everyday life as it is found that the older community members and shopkeepers communicate through the use of switching between Ainu and Japanese (Noguchi and Fotos, 2001).

Noguchi, Mary Goebel and Fotos, Sandra
        2001    Studies in Japanese Bilingualism: Bilingual Education and Bilingualism. North York, ON: Multilingual Matters.

Bronislaw Pilsudski

A Polish scholar named Bronislaw Pilsudski became a fluent speaker of the Ainu language while developing strong empathy towards these indigenous peoples.  Pilsudski felt such great affection towards the Ainu that he even tried to set up a school for the children:

"... he attempted to organize schools for Ainu children on southern Sakhalin and prepared a thoughtful proposal for the establishment of a more fair Russian administrative system for dealing with the Ainu" (Kan, 2005).
Though there have been great numbers of linguists, anthropologists, and scholars who have gone into the Ainu communities in attempts to help revitalize their language and let their culture flourish, there is still lots of work to be done in order for huge projects like this to happen.

Kan, Sergei
          2005 Bronislaw Pilsudski's Scholarly Legacy Rediscovered: Review Essay.  Arctic Anthropology (42)2: 95-98.

Hair as Status!

In Howell's article, it was found that an Ainu's status was marked by the length and style of their hair - or rather their lack of status - and it acted as a symbol of a specific ethnic identity (Howell, 1994).

Howell, David L.
1994 Ainu Ethnicity and the Boundaries of Early Modern Japanese State.  Oxford University Press (142): 69-93.


"... the Ainu territory, which comprised almost 95 per cent of the island's land area, was not part of Japan and its Ainu inhabitants were not Japanese. Japanese could make seasonal trading or fishing forays into the Ainu territory, but they could not settle there permanently. Ainu were similarly prohibited from travelling outside their own area ..." (Howell, 1994).

 The Japanese 'invaded' the land of the Ainu in much the same way that Canada's aboriginal peoples were invaded by the Europeans.  What's ironic is that the Japanese prohibited the Ainu from going wherever they want despite the fact that they had their land taken over that originally belong to the Ainu.

Howell, David L.
1994 Ainu Ethnicity and the Boundaries of Early Modern Japanese State.  Oxford University Press (142): 69-93.


"Both the Hokkaido and Sakhalin Ainu had been using metal goods traded from the Japanese and Chinese so long that they had completely forgotten that their ancestors once used pottery.
The Sakhalin Ainu, too, practiced seasonal migration and their winter houses were pit houses as were those of the Kurile Ainu" (Ohnuki-Tierney, 1974).

I found it funny that the Ainu had forgotten that their ancestors used pottery at one point.

Ohnuki-Tierney, Emiko
          1974 Another Look at the Ainu – A Preliminary Report.  The University of Wisconsin Press (11): 189-195.

John Batchelor

A British Missionary by the name of John Batchelor (1854-1944) translated the Bible into the Ainu language during his sixty years spent with them (Refsing, 2000).

John Batchelor was convinced that the Ainu were of Aryan descent and through this his views have influenced many generations of Western linguists (Refsing, 2000).

Refsing, Kirsten
         2000 Lost Aryans? John Batchelor and the Colonization of the Ainu Language.  Taylor   and Francis LTD (2)1: 21-34.


The Ainu have their own culture, language, and religion that have been fostered in harmony with nature (Tsunemoto, 2001).

In the past, they survived through hunting, gathering, and fishing (Tsunemoto, 2001).

Prosperous trade with Japan, Sakhalin, and Asian Continent further enriched the Ainu culture (Tsunemoto, 2001).

Tsunemoto, Teruki
2001 Rights and Identities of Ethnic Minorities in Japan: Indigenous Ainu and Resident Koreans.  Asia-Pacific Journal on Human Rights and the Law (2)1: 119-141.

Ainu Ethnicity: Debates

What exactly are the Ainu?  There have been a lot of debacle between their genetic relations between certain European groups.

Sutherland claims that the Ainu's appearance resemble that of Caucasoid type.  The Japanese frequently refer to their indigenous neighbours as "hairy Ainu" because of the amount of hair the Ainu grow on their body (in comparison to Asians who don't have much body hair) (Sutherland, 1948).

Now, the widely accepted hypothesis about the Ainu is that they are proto-Caucasians (Sutherland, 1948).

Again, this book was written way back when (1948 is quite a looong time ago) and is not up-to-date by any means.  This view is no longer in use.

Sutherland, I.L.G.
1948 The Ainu of Northern Japan.  The Polynesian Society (57)3: 203-226.


"Unfortunately, since Hokkaido Ainu is moribund and thus "different speech styles" do not now exist, this latter advantage of fused units cannot be exploited. However, as the linguistic affinities of Ainu have not yet been determined, a comparison of the fused units of Ainu with those of languages with which a connection is possible would add another piece of evidence to the Ainu enigma and be of benefit to comparativists and ethnologists alike" (Simeon, 1969).

Simeon, George
         1969 Hokkaido Ainu Phonemics.  American Oriental Society (89)4: 751-757.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Learn Ainu #3

"The copula ne also takes the same personal affixes as do transitive verbs" (Shibatani, 1990).

  1. kuani Aynu ku-ne
    I am an Ainu
  2. eani sisame-ne
    You are a Japanese
  3. tan-kur poro nispa ne
    This person is a great chief
  4. orwa ku-kor kotanta oray-as
    And then, we were in my village

Shibatani, Masayoshi
1990    The Languages of Japan. New York, USA: Cambridge University Press for New York.

Learn Ainu #2

  1. a-e-koyki
    I kill you
  2. kindaichi tono nispa ku-nukar
    I met Mr. Kindaichi
  3. kamuy umma rayke
    A bear killed a horse
  4. kuani pon turesi ku-kay
    I carried the little sister on my back
  5. tampe huci ku-kore
    I gave this to Grandmother
  6. ahci mahpooho kosonto miire
    Grandmother put the Sunday best on the girl

Shibatani, Masayoshi
1990    The Languages of Japan. New York, USA: Cambridge University Press for New York.

Learn Ainu #1

  1. ku-ita
    I spoke
  2. e-itak
    You (sg) spoke
  3. itak
    He spoke
These 'lessons' were taken straight out of the textbook!  It didn't come in IPA form so I have no idea how to pronounce these words properly :(

Shibatani, Masayoshi
1990    The Languages of Japan. New York, USA: Cambridge University Press for New York.

Lesson Book

Want to learn about the structure of the language of the Ainu?  The book "The languages of Japan" is a very useful one because it includes everything from grammatical structures to phonology to lexicons and more!

I learnt, from this book, that the Ainu language structured in an SOV format.

Shibatani, Masayoshi
       1990    The Languages of Japan. New York, USA: Cambridge University Press for New York. 


In 1998 it was said that the population of the Ainu consisted of roughly 20,000 peoples (Bugaeva, 2010).

This may not be a significant number, but with the help of scholars and funding from the government, the Ainu langugage can definitely get back on its feet and hopefully obtain more people who speak Ainu as a first language.

Bugaeva, Anna
       2010 Ainu applicatives in typological perspective.  John Benjamin’s Publishing Company (34)4: 491-801.

What Does Ainu Mean?

The word Ainu means ‘human’ in the language but the actual definition of it has been a mystery until very recently! (Fukasawa, 1998).

Note: 'recently' was used when the book was published back in 1998 and because I have not been able to get a hold of more updated books, this is the term I will have to use. (Shucks).

Fukasawa, Yuriko
       1998    Ainu Archaeology as Ethnohistory: Iron technology among the Saru Ainu of Hokkaido, Japan, in the 17th Century. Oxford, England: British Archaeology Reports.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Lingustic Confusion

Certain areas of Japan that are inhabited by the Ainu show studies of distribution of places names in the Ainu language.  This is said to be the case because there are phonological studies in linguistics which strongly indicate that:
"... some similarity between the Ainu and the Celtic language in respect of places names: 'petsu' in the Ainu language and 'perth' or 'firth' in the Gaelic language are phonetically similar."
Though it has been speculated, it is highly unlikely that the Celtic culture is related to the Ainu culture (Fukasawa, 1998).

Fukasawa, Yuriko
        1998    Ainu Archaeology as Ethnohistory: Iron technology among the Saru Ainu of Hokkaido, Japan, in the 17th Century. Oxford, England: British Archaeology Reports.


Japan considered themselves to be a homogeneous nation - meaning that their country is made up of ONE nation, language, history, and culture.  This was characterized in the Meiji period (1868-1913) (Hanami in Maher and Macdonald, 1995).

What is so very wrong with this national characterization is that the Japanese government failed to recognize the Ainu peoples that have resided in Japan for many centuries.  Is Japan really a homogeneous country when the Ainu are so different from the Japanese?

The government is trying to change their direction in accepting more diversity for Japan  (Hanami in Maher and Macdonald, 1995).  Just because the Ainu are an ethnic minority, doesn't mean they should be excluded, right?  Right.

Hanami, Makiko
          1995    Minority Dynamics in Japan: Towards a Society of Sharing. In John C. Maher and Gaynor    Macdonald, eds.  Diversity in Japanese Culture and Language. London, England: Kegan Paul International. 121. 

Who are the Ainu?

The Ainu are indigenous peoples of Japan residing in the northern island of Hokkaido  (Shibatani, 1990).

The Ainu and Japanese are physically and culturally distinct from each other (Shibatani, 1990).

It is said that the Ainu language was traditionally an oral one, thus no written history or records were ever produced.  Linguists and linguistic anthropologists alike are now starting to move into the Ainu communities in attempts to revitalize their dying language and to help gain public awareness of these unique indigenous peoples.


Shibatani, Masayoshi
1990    The Languages of Japan. New York, USA: Cambridge University Press for New York.