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.