Ainu: アイヌ イタク/Aynu itak

First post of my A-Z of Endangered Languages challenge and for A, we have the Ainu language.

Currently, only around ten people on the Japanese island of Hokkaido speak Ainu as a native language, meaning that this language is classified by UNESCO as being critically endangered. Ainu is the only survivor of a group of languages known as the Ainu languages; the last speaker of Sakhalin Ainu died in 1992, though this variant was considered extinct in Sakhalin from the 1970s. The Hokkaidan variant of Ainu is written with either a form of the Japanese katakana syllabary or with a Latin-based alphabet.

The Ainu language is spoken by members of the Ainu ethnic group, whose numbers range between official estimates of 25,000 to unofficial estimates of 200,000. The differences in these estimates are due to the fact that for many years – but mostly since the 1899 Hokkaido Former Natives Protection Act – the Ainu have denied and downplayed their heritage so as to avoid discrimination. This has led to significant losses in terms of their culture, including their language.

However, in 2008 the Japanese government recognised the Ainu as the indigenous people of Japan and there seems to have been an upsurge in the number of people celebrating this ethnic identity – though there are still very few who choose to learn the language. There are some classes and small schools set up to teach the language and also attempts to collect original folklore and stories, but with only a handful of native speakers remaining, it seems likely that without a serious return to the language or extensive revitalisation efforts, the Hokkaidan variant of Ainu will also die out some time this century.

Resources for learning Ainu

Unilang: Ainu for beginners
So You Want To Learn a Language: Ainu resources
Ainu museum: word list
The Language Community: Ainu resources

Sources/Further Reading

Ethnologue: Ainu
Omniglot: Ainu
Panorama: Will the Ainu Language Die?
YIRA Japan Trip 2013: Ainu Itak – An introduction to the Ainu language and its current state
Tofugu: The Ainu – Reviving the Indigenous Spirit of Japan
Martin, Kylie: Aynu itak – on the road to Ainu language revitalization

Also, I said yesterday that I’d give a full list of the languages I’ll be looking at this month… but instead, I’m going to give a list up until next Friday – so a whole week!

Saturday 2nd August: B – Busuu
Monday 4th August: C – Cornish
Tuesday 5th August: D – Dahalo
Wednesday 6th August: E – Euchee
Thursday 7th August: F – Foau
Friday 8th August: G – Guguyimidjir


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