Ainu language

Spoken in

Language isolate

  • Ainu




Ainu is the language of today, mainly living in Japan Hokkaido Ainu, the ethnically, culturally and linguistically different from the actual Japanese and long before the Japanese colonized the northern Japanese islands. Today there are still about 15,000 ethnic Ainu in Hokkaido, very few of whom speak their native language. According to A. Vovin 1993, there were in the late 1980s only 15 competent older Ainu speakers, so the language must be regarded as nearly extinct. However, there are tendencies towards a revitalization.

The name of Ainu is a self-designation and means human.

The Ainu is a language isolate, so demonstrably related to any other language. However, it is summarized by some researchers with other Siberian languages ​​to the group of Paleo-Siberian languages. The Paleo-Siberian languages ​​do not form a genetic unit, but are a group altsibirischer and East Asian Languages ​​rest that were spoken before the penetration Uralic, Turkic, Tungus, Korean, and Japanese ethnicities there.

  • 7.1 Overview
  • 7.2 grammars
  • 7.3 Dictionary
  • 7.4 Genetic relationships

Distribution of the Ainu

The Ainu is a language isolate, which only has a handful of elderly speakers. However, there are a number of measures, Ainu in Japan to revitalize (see the next section). The ethnic group of the Ainu, which anthropologically significantly from the Mongoloid type of their neighbors - Japanese Niwchen ( Gilyaks ), Tungus - lifts, including on Russian territory still 1,500 people on Sakhalin and the Kurile Islands, in Japan about 15,000 to Hokkaidō, where she represent the rest of the präjapanischen aborigines.

Previously Ainu was more widespread, so it was - proven many local and river names, which are derived in the Ainu language - including on Kamchatka, Sakhalin, the Kuril Islands and the Japanese island of Hokkaidō speaking, focus of the Ainu culture was, however, the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido. Maybe derives its name for the revered national symbol Mount Fuji - among many other geographical names on Honshu - from the Ainu language.

Language Political Situation in Japan

In the 1990s movement came into the discussion about the position of the Ainu language minority in Japan. From 1994 to 1998 a member of the Ainu people was represented in the Japanese parliament with Kayano Shigeru first time. He put in a parliamentary commission an inquiry to Ainu, to draw attention to the Ainu in Japan. In 1997, the Ainu Law ( Ainu Shimpo ) was adopted, whereby the actual situation of the Ainu but hardly changed.

Since 1997, the Ainu Times is published, and in 1998 was a radio program on Ainu in Hokkaido on the air. Meanwhile, increasing the number of Japanese, learn the Ainu. In some cities Ainu courses are offered, and various dictionaries were published.

The end of 2005 was founded by young Ainu living in Tokyo or ainustämmigen Japanese hip- hop group Ainu Rebels who want to draw attention through their music to the situation of the Ainu. They sing traditional Ainu poems as well as rap on standard Japanese, often accompanied by traditional instruments such as the Mukkuri ( an instrument, usually of bamboo, similar to the European Jew's harp ).

Dialects, high and colloquial language

The approximately 20 dialects of the Ainu are categorized according to their areas of distribution in the three groups Kuril, Sakhalin and Hokkaido dialects. The Taraika dialect on Sakhalin differs from the others and perhaps forms a fourth group; the Hokkaidō dialects exhibit a north-south sub-grouping. At best the Hokkaidō dialects are documented, less well the Sakhalin dialects to the Kuril dialects, there is little recent research. The difference between the classic Ainu, in which the numerous epics ( Yukar ) of the people have been passed down orally, and the colloquial dialects is also grammatically significant, for example, different Verbalaffixe be used, the classic Ainu is a highly Incorporating language, while the colloquial language has changed to a more analytical single-word type.

But genetic relationships?

The genetic relationship of the Ainu are not clarified until today, the majority of researchers is of an isolated language. Nevertheless, there are numerous attempts to establish the relationship of the Ainu with other languages ​​and language groups. Here you can see the "Aryan relationship " by J. Batchelor 1889 - otherwise a good judge of Ainusprache, author of a dictionary Ainu - English- Japanese - certainly pass today; the more recent attempts to compare the Ainu with Southeast Asian and Pacific languages ​​( Bengtson: Austronesian, Vovin 1993: Austro- Asian) did not find any more attention.

More interest certainly belongs the experiments which compare the Ainu with the geographically neighboring languages ​​Japanese, Korean and the Altaic or some Paleo-Siberian languages. Hattori (1964 ) ranked the Ainu an Altaic in a broader sense to that, apart from Turkic, Mongolian and Tungusic also Japanese, Korean and just contains the Ainu. The following diagram shows the structure of this hypothetical macro -Altaic language family. At first, after which the Ainu split off, the rest fell into the Korean - Japanese and the actual Altaic language groups ( Turkic, Mongolian and Tungusic ):

Macro - Altaic by Hattori 1964

  • Macro - Altaic Ainu
  • Altai - Korean - Japanese Korean - Japanese Korean
  • Japanese Ryukyu
  • Mongol- Tungusic Tungusisch
  • Mongolian

A highly regarded especially lexically -founded work on this topic is J. Patrie (1982 ), after which the Ainu along with the Japanese and Korean one - but split a long time ago - is fourth equal subset of the macro -Altaic (next to the Turkic, Mongolian and Tungusic ).

Macro - Altaic after Patrie 1982

  • Macro - Altaic Japanese - Korean - Ainu Ainu
  • Japanese Ryukyu
  • Korean

J. Greenberg (2000) on behalf of its macro family Eurasia table - based on Patrie - the genetic unit Ainu -Japanese- Korean, but does not consider it as a subgroup of the Altaic, but as a separate branch of his Eurasian macro family. ( His arguments are a critical selection of the word equations of Patrie, in all three languages ​​common sentence -ending interrogative / ka / and / ya /, the Kausativsuffix / - ke / or / ki /, the Lokativpostposition / ta /, pronominal object / i / or / e /, for embedding into the Eurasian pulls Greenberg especially the vocal harmony of the Ainu up who he dealt with in detail in his presentation ).

Despite all the efforts in this area, there are still no truly compelling " evidence" of a relationship of Ainu with another language or language group, the Japanese- Korean- Altaic hypothesis and Greenberg's Eurasian genetic approach - similar to the way already Koppelmann (1933 ) - seem the greatest potential for further research to offer. In the present state of research, the Ainu must be regarded as an isolated language.

Linguistic characteristics

A current overview of the Ainusprache offers Shibatani (1990 ), whereupon this brief presentation is based.


The Ainu has an average phoneme inventory. The vowels are / a, i, u, e, o /. There is no phonemic contrast between long and short vowels. As diphthongs / ai /, / ui /, etc. are transcribed to / aj /, / uj / and here as [ ay ] and [ uy ]. Introductory syllable vowels are pronounced with a glottal Okklusivlaut preceded by a [ ʔ ], eg aynu as ʔajnu "person."

The consonants are shown in the following scheme:

Here are a few observations: There are in the closure sounds ( plosives ) no contrast " voiceless - voiced ", so no difference for example between [t ] and [d ], is written in the Latin transcription / t /. The combination / ti / is not found, a Finalkonsonant front of a with / i / incipient suffix changed to / tʃ /. The semi-vowels / w / and / y / can not / connected with / u / and / i, / wu / and / y / are therefore not possible. In the Latin transcription of the glottal Okklusivlaut / ʔ / - similar to the Germans - not written.

The pronunciation of the affricate / c / varies between [ tʃ ], [ ts ], [ dʒ ] and [ dz ]. The fricatives / s / is realized as [s ] or [ ʃ ], where [ ʃ ] will generally be spoken before / i / and the end of a syllable. The nasal / n / is before / k / to [ ŋ ]. According to / k / and / p / are / r / and / t / voiceless / t / often easily frikativisiert (ie [ ts ] ).

All consonants can occur syllable in the introduction, at the end of a syllable is / c /, / h /, and / ʔ / not possible. In the Sakhalin Ainu, the final Occlusive / p /, / t /, / k / to / h / and final / r / to / h / or syllabic become / rV / (V stands for any vowel).

Assimilation and dissimilation play an important role. Here are some examples:

  • Akor nispa > akon nispa "our chief "
  • Akor tures > Akot tures " our sister "
  • Kukor rusuy > kukon rusuy " I want ( some) have "

Word order

The word order is SOV ( subject-object - verb) and is quite strictly adhered to, as there is no case in the proper sense:

  • Kamuy aynu rayke " the bear kills the man "
  • Aynu kamuy rayke " the man kills the bear "

Noun Phrase

The rules of noun phrases formation are considered rigid, eg:

  • Attribute noun; eg Pirka kewtun " good heart "
  • Genitive attribute noun; eg aynu cise " the man's house "

In addition to the positioning in the sentence also help some post positions to make the (mostly local ) function of certain parts of sentences clearly, for example, / ta / for the locative / orun / for the dative adessive / orwa / for the ablative among others

  • Huci matkaci - orun upaskuma
  • Poro - cise ta horari

Verbal Education

The conjugation of the verb has no tenses. Pronominal subjects and objects are marked by affixes. Here, the affixes of the classic Ainu differ mainly in the first person considerably from the colloquial forms. The following affixes ( prefixes and suffixes ) are taken from the classic Ainu:

Subject and object markers of the verb in the classic Ainu

Thus the following forms with subject- marker result:

  • " I speak / we speak" ITAK to
  • A- kore " I give / we give "
  • E - ITAK " you speak "
  • Eci - ITAK " you speak "
  • ITAK " he - she speaks / speak "

The subject and object markers in transitive verb prefixes are, the subject prefix stands before the object prefix. Because of Nullmorphems in the 3rd person and the identical subject-object marker in the second person gives rise to many ambiguous forms:

  • A-e - kore " I give / we will give you"
  • A- Ø - kore " I give him / her / them" ( pl)
  • E -i - kore "you give me / us "
  • E - Ø - kore "you give him / her / them" ( pl)
  • Ø -e- kore " he / she is ( they give ) you"
  • Ø -i - kore " he / she is ( they give ) me / us "
  • Ø - Ø - kore " he / she is ( they give ) him / her "


As already mentioned, the incorporation (integration of nouns into verbs ) especially in the traditional Ainu plays a major role in the vernacular non- Incorporating designs are often used in parallel:

  • Asir cise ci -kar
  • Ney ta cise -kar -as
  • Mukcaraha a- tuye
  • A- mukcar - tuye

In the versions incorporated is the direct objects were cise and mukcar involved in the verbal form. Also nouns with other functions can be inkorpiert, eg intransitive subjects, attributive and adverbial provisions:

  • Kane Rakko o- tumi - Ottoman
  • Nea cep a- pone -ko - kuykuy


Ainu until recently had no writing, but, in recent years, trying to verschriftlichen the language with the Japanese katakana syllabary and the Latin alphabet. The only published in Japan ainu - language newspaper Ainu Times uses both writings.

In the case with the Latin alphabet accents are marked with an acute, but this is sometimes omitted.

In contrast to the Japanese Ainu has also closed syllables, why such syllables are written to clarify with small katakana in the way of writing with Katakana. In Unicode is since version 3.2 (March 2002 ) with the Unicode block Katakana Phonetic Extensions is a font with this little Katakana available.

The auslautende [ ɪ ] is written in Latin characters as y and in Katakana as a smallィ; the auslautende [ ʊ ] as w or smallゥand [ ae ] as ae orアエorアェ.

Example initial k:

Since this rule is applied systematically are some katakana combinations for other sounds than in the Japanese language:

The Sakhalin dialect knows long vowels. These are indicated in the Latin inscription with a circumflex or macron and in katakana with a choon.