Ainu languages

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Ethnicity:Ainu, Emishi, other Jomon people
Hokkaidō; formerly southern and central Sakhalin, the Kuril Islands, and possibly northern Honshū
Linguistic classification:One of the world's primary language families
ISO 639-3:ain
Historically attested range of the Ainu (solid red) and suspected former range (pink) based on toponymic evidence (red dots) [Vovin 1993], Matagi villages (purple dots), and Japanese isoglosses

The Ainu languages are a small language family originally spoken on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaidō, the southern half of the island of Sakhalin, the Kuril Islands, and the southern tip of the Kamchatka Peninsula. They are alternately considered a group of closely related languages, or divergent dialects of a single language isolate. The only surviving member is the Hokkaidō Ainu, which is considered critically endangered by UNESCO.

Language information[edit | edit source]

Varieties[edit | edit source]

Shibatani (1990:9) and Piłsudski (1998:2) speak of "Ainu languages" when comparing the varieties of Hokkaidō and Sakhalin. However, Vovin (1993) speaks only of "dialects". Refsing (1986) says Hokkaidō and Sakhalin Ainu were not mutually intelligible. Hattori (1964) considered Ainu data from 19 regions of Hokkaido and Sakhalin, and found the primary division to lie between the two islands.

  • Data on Kuril Ainu is scarce, but it is thought to have been as divergent as Sakhalin and Hokkaidō.
  • In Sakhalin Ainu, an eastern coastal dialect of Taraika (near modern Gastello (Poronaysk)) was quite divergent from the other localities. The Raychishka dialect, on the western coast near modern Uglegorsk, is the best documented, and has a dedicated grammatical description. Take Asai, the last speaker of Sakhalin Ainu, died in 1994.[2] The Sakhalin Ainu dialects had long vowels and a final -h phoneme, which they pronounced as /x/.
  • Hokkaidō Ainu clustered into several dialects with substantial differences between them: the 'neck' of the island (Oshima County, data from Oshamambe and Yakumo); the "Classical" Ainu of central Hokkaidō around Sapporo and the southern coast (Iburi and Hidaka counties, data from Horobetsu, Biratori, Nukkibetsu, and Niikappu; historical records from Ishikari County and Sapporo show that these were similar); Samani (on the southeastern cape in Hidaka, but perhaps closest to the northeastern dialect); the northeast (data from Obihiro, Kushiro, and Bihoro); the north-central dialect (Kamikawa County, data from Asahikawa and Nayoro); and Sōya (on the northwestern cape), which was closest of all Hokkaidō varieties to Sakhalin Ainu. Most texts and grammatical descriptions we have of Ainu cover the Central Hokkaidō dialect.

Scanty data from Western voyages at the turn of the 19th–20th century (Tamura 2000) suggest there was also great diversity in northern Sakhalin, which was not sampled by Hattori.

Ainu on mainland Japan[edit | edit source]

It is often reported that Ainu was the language of the indigenous Emishi people of the northern part of the main Japanese island of Honshu.[3] The main evidence for this is the presence of placenames that appear to be of Ainu origin in both locations. For example, the -betsu common to many northern Japanese place names is known to derive from the Ainu word pet "river" in Hokkaidō, and the same is suspected of similar names ending in -be in northern Honshū and Chūbu, such as the Kurobe and Oyabe rivers in Toyama Prefecture (Miller 1967:239, Shibatani 1990:3, Vovien 2008). Other place names in Kantō and Chūbu, such as Mount Ashigara (Kanagawa–Shizuoka), Musashi (modern Tokyo), Keta Shrine (Toyama), and the Noto Peninsula, have no explanation in Japanese, but do in Ainu. The traditional Matagi hunters of the mountain forests of Tōhoku retain Ainu words in their hunting vocabulary.[4][5]

Under pressure from the Japanese conquest, some Emishi migrated north to Tohoku and Hokkaido. The historical Ainu of (southern) Hokkaido appear to be a fusion of this culture, known archeologically as Satsumon, and the very different Nivkh- and Itelmen-like Okhotsk culture of (northern) Hokkaido, with Satsumon being dominant.[6] The Ainu of Sakhalin and the Kurils appear to have been a relatively recent expansion from Hokkaido, displacing the indigenous Okhotsk culture (in the case of Sakhalin, Ainu oral history records their displacement of an indigenous people they called the Tonchi who, based on toponymic evidence, were evidently the Nivkh),[7] and indeed a mixed Kamchadal–Kuril Ainu population is attested from southern Kamchatka.

Classification[edit | edit source]

Vovin (1993) splits Ainu "dialects" as follows (Vovin 1993:157).

External relationships[edit | edit source]

No genealogical relationship between Ainu and any other language family has been demonstrated, despite numerous attempts. Thus, it is a language isolate. Ainu is sometimes grouped with the Paleosiberian languages, but this is only a geographic blanket term for several unrelated language families that were present in Siberia before the advances of Turkic and Tungusic languages there. A recent suggestion is that Nihali and Kusunda are remnants of a northern division, that once extended to Japan. The most frequent proposals for relatives of Ainu are given below.

Altaic[edit | edit source]

John C. Street (1962) proposed linking Ainu, Korean, and Japanese in one family and Turkic, Mongolic, and Tungusic in another, with the two families linked in a common "North Asiatic" family. Street's grouping was an extension of the Altaic hypothesis, which at the time linked Turkic, Mongolic, and Tungusic, sometimes adding Korean; today Altaic sometimes includes Korean and rarely Japanese but not Ainu (Georg et al. 1999).

From a perspective more centered on Ainu, James Patrie (1982) adopted the same grouping, namely Ainu–Korean–Japanese and Turkic–Mongolic–Tungusic, with these two families linked in a common family, as in Street's "North Asiatic".

Joseph Greenberg (2000–2002) likewise classified Ainu with Korean and Japanese. He regarded "Korean–Japanese-Ainu" as forming a branch of his proposed Eurasiatic language family. He did not hold Korean–Japanese–Ainu to have an especially close relationship with Turkic–Mongolic–Tungusic within this family.

This theory is now seen as discredited.

Japonic, Austroasiatic and Austronesian[edit | edit source]

Shafer (1965) presented evidence suggesting a distant connection with the Austroasiatic languages, which include many of the indigenous languages of Southeast Asia. Vovin (1992) presented his reconstruction of Proto-Ainu with evidence, in the form of proposed sound changes and cognates, of a relationship with Austroasiatic. In Vovin (1993), he still regarded this hypothesis as preliminary.

The eminent Japanese linguist Shichirō Murayama tried to link Ainu to the Austronesian languages, which include the languages of the Philippines, Taiwan, and Indonesia, through both vocabulary and cultural comparisons. Newer theories are the Austro-Tai languages, where Ainu is grouped together with Japanese as para-Austronesian.

A 2015 analysis using the Automated Similarity Judgment Program resulted in the Japonic languages being grouped with the Ainu and then with the Austroasiatic languages.[8]

Language contact[edit | edit source]

The Ainu appear to have experienced intensive contact with the Nivkhs during the course of their history. It is not known to what extent this has affected the language. Linguists believe the vocabulary shared between Ainu and Nivkh (historically spoken in the northern half of Sakhalin and on the Asian mainland facing it) is due to borrowing.

The other group of people the Ainu came with extensive contact were with the Japanese people since the 14th century. Analytic grammatical constructions acquired or transformed in Ainu were properly due to contact with the Japanese and the languages of Japonic that had heavy influence on the Ainu languages with a large number of loanwords borrowed in the Ainu languages and to smaller extend vice versa.[9] There are also a great number of loanwords from the Japanese language in various stages of its development to Hokkaidō Ainu, and a smaller number of loanwords from Ainu into Japanese, particularly animal names such as rakko "sea otter" (Ainu rakko), tonakai "reindeer" (Ainu tunakkay), and shishamo (a fish, Spirinchus lanceolatus) (Ainu susam). Due to the low status of Ainu in Japan, many ancient loanwords may be ignored or undetected, but there is evidence of an older substrate, where older Japanese words with no clear etymology appear related to Ainu words which do. An example is modern Japanese sake or shake meaning “salmon”, probably from Ainu sak ipe or shak embe for "salmon", literally "summer food".

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Ainu". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. 
  2. Piłsudski, Bronisław; Alfred F. Majewicz (2004). The Collected Works of Bronisław Piłsudski. Trends in Linguistics Series. 3. Walter de Gruyter. p. 600. ISBN 9783110176148. Retrieved 2012-05-22. 
  3. Or perhaps one of the peoples called Emishi; it is not known that the Emishi were a single ethnicity.
  4. Kudō Masaki (1989:134). Jōsaku to emishi. Kōkogaku Library #51. New Science Press.
  5. Tanigawa, Ken'ichi (1980:324–325). Collected works, vol. 1.
  6. Hudson Ruins of identity: ethnogenesis in the Japanese Islands
  7. Gruzdeva, "The linguistics situation on Sakhalin Island". in Wurm et al. (1996:1008) Atlas of languages of intercultural communication in the Pacific, Asia and the Americas
  8. Gerhard Jäger, "Support for linguistic macrofamilies from weighted sequence alignment." PNAS vol. 112 no. 41, 12752–12757, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1500331112. Published online before print September 24, 2015.
  9. The Languages of Japan and Korea, edited by Nicolas Tranter [1]

Bibliography[edit | edit source]

Proposed classifications

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