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Ainu language facts for kids

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アイヌ・イタㇰ Aynu=itak
Multilingual sign at Ainu Museum (Shiraoi).JPG
Multilingual sign in Japanese, Ainu, English, Korean and Chinese. Ainu is the second language from the top on the right side of the sign.
Native to Japan
Region Hokkaido
Ethnicity 15,000 Ainu people in Japan (no date)
Native speakers 10  (2007)
Language family
Writing system Katakana, Latin
Historical expanse of Ainu.png
The historically-attested range of the Ainu (solid red) and the suspected former range (pink) based on toponymic evidence (red dots) [Vovin 1993], Matagi villages (purple dots), and Japanese isoglosses

The Ainu language is the language of the Ainu people in northern Japan. It was not written until the 19th century. Since then, it has been written in katakana or the Latin alphabet.

In the 19th century, Ainu was spoken in Ezo (including Hokkaidō Island and the southern part of Chishima Islands), the southern part of Karapto (Sakhalin) and the northern part of Chishima Islands (Kuril Islands). Now it is only spoken in Hokkaidō.

Ainu had many dialects, including Chitose, Saru, and Karapto. Now only the Hokkaidō dialect survives. The dialects were so different from one another that a speaker of one dialect could not understand a speaker of another dialect.

Historically, speakers of Ainu lived near speakers of Japanese and Itelmen (from Kamchatka). The Nivkh, which was spoken in the northern part of Sakhalin, is another isolated language.


Ainu has subject-object-verb word order, like Japanese. Ainu phrases have left-branching structures: the word for a property is before the word for a person or thing.

Sample words

The word ainu means "human being" and is the name used by the Ainu to refer to themselves. In contrast, kamuy means "god". The Ainu think that all existence that has mind and plays a role in this world are kamuy. Sparrows or standing trees are kamuy. In the Ainu perspective of the world, all goes well and human being can also be happy if ainu and kamuy help each other.

Most linguists think that the Ainu numeral system is based on twenty.

number Ainu (in Saru dialect) Nivkh Japanese
1 siné ñaqř hi
2 tu meqř hu
3 re ţaqř mi
4 íne nəkř yo
5 asíkne t‘oqř itsu
6 iwán mu
7 árwan na
8 tupésan ya
9 sinépesan ko
10 wan mxoqř
  • Ape - fire.
  • Iyomante - A festival to send a bear's soul to heaven.
  • Kunnechupu - The moon.
  • Kotan - village.
  • Konru - ice.
  • Sumari - (pronounced as in "Shumari") - fox.
  • Seta - dog.
  • Tonoto - sake.
  • Nonno- flower.
  • Huci - (pronounced as in "Hoochi") - grandmother, Old women.
  • Pone - bone.
  • Pirka - Beauty, cute.
  • wakka - "drinkable" water.

Relations with other language families

The Ainu language is classificated as language isolate, althought there exist several theories about a genetic relation. Some linguists suggest a relation to Altaic languages while others suggest a link to Indo-European languages. Some similarities also exist with northern native american languages.

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