Ainu language

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Ainu (Ainu: アイヌ・イタㇰ, Aynu itak; Japanese: アイヌ語 Ainu-go; Cyrillic alphabet: Аину итак) is one of the Ainu languages, spoken by members of the Ainu ethnic group on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaidō.

Until the twentieth century, Ainu languages were also spoken throughout the southern half of the island of Sakhalin and by small numbers of people in the Kuril Islands. All but the Hokkaidō language are extinct, with the last speaker of Sakhalin Ainu having died in 1994; and Hokkaidō Ainu is moribund, though there are ongoing attempts to revive it.

Ainu has no generally accepted genealogical relationship to any other language family. For the most frequent proposals, see Ainu languages.

Contents

Speakers

Ainu is a moribund language, and has been endangered for at least the past few decades. Most of the 25,000 – 200,000 ethnic Ainu in Japan speak only Japanese. In the town of Nibutani (part of Biratori, Hokkaidō) where many of the remaining native speakers live, there are 100 speakers, out of which only 15 used the language every day in the late 1980s.

However, use of the language is on the rise. There is currently an active movement to revitalize the language — mainly in Hokkaidō but also elsewhere — to reverse the centuries-long decline in the number of speakers. This has led to an increasing number of second-language learners, especially in Hokkaidō, in large part due to the pioneering efforts of the late Ainu folklorist, activist and former Diet member Shigeru Kayano, himself a native speaker.

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