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Ainu language (アイヌ・イタㇰ Aynu=itak) or Ainu, also referred to as Hokkaido Ainu, is a language spoken by members of the Ainu people on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido.

アイヌ・イタㇰ Aynu=itak
Multilingual sign at Ainu Museum (Shiraoi).JPG
Multilingual sign in Japanese, Ainu, English, Korean and Chinese. The Ainu text, in katakana, is second down from the top on the right side of the sign. It reads イヤイライケㇾ iyairaiker.
Pronunciation[ˈainu iˈtak]
Native toJapan
Ethnicity30,000 Ainu people in Japan (no date)[1]
Native speakers
15 to 340 (2007)[2]
  • Ainu
Early form
Katakana (current), Latin (current)
Language codes
ISO 639-3
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Until the 20th century, Ainuic languages were also spoken throughout the southern half of the island of Sakhalin and by small numbers of people in the Kuril Islands. Only the Hokkaido variant survives, in three main dialects,[4] the last speaker of Sakhalin Ainu having died in 1994. Hokkaido Ainu is moribund, though attempts are being made to revive it. The Japanese government made a decision to recognize Ainu as indigenous in June 2008.[4] As of 2017, the Japanese government is constructing a facility dedicated to preserving Ainu culture, including the language.[5]



Pirka Kotan Museum, an Ainu language and cultural center in Sapporo (Jozankei area)

According to UNESCO, Ainu is an endangered language.[4] As of 2016, Ethnologue lists Ainu as class 8b: "nearly extinct".[6] It has been endangered since before the 1960s. As of 2012 there are approximately 30,000 Ainu people in Japan,[7] though that number is uncertain because not all ethnic Ainu speakers report themselves as such.[8] As of 2011, there are only 15 speakers remaining, along with 304 people understanding the Ainu language to some extent.[8]


  1. ^ Ainu language at Ethnologue (8th ed., 1974). Note: Data may come from an earlier edition.
  2. ^ D. Bradley, "Languages of Mainland South-East Asia," in O. Miyaoka, O. Sakiyama, and M. E. Krauss (eds), The vanishing languages of the Pacific Rim, Oxford: Oxford University Press (2007), pp. 301–336.
  3. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Hokkaido". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  4. ^ a b c Martin, K. (2011). Aynu itak. On the Road to Ainu Language Revitalization. Media and Communication Studies. 60: 57-93
  5. ^ Lam, May-Ying (27 July 2017). "Perspective | 'Land of the Human Beings': The world of the Ainu, little-known indigenous people of Japan". Washington Post. Retrieved 2017-10-07.
  6. ^ Lewis, M. Paul, Gary F. Simons, and Charles D. Fennig (eds.). 2016. Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Nineteenth edition. Dallas, Texas: SIL International.
  7. ^ Gayman, J. (2012). Ainu Right to Education and Ainu Practice of “Education “: Current Situation and imminent Issues in Light of Indigenous Education Rights and Theory. Intercultural Education. Vol. 22.
  8. ^ a b Okazaki, T & Teeter, J. (2011). Ainu as a Heritage Language of Japan: History, Current State and Future of Ainu Language Policy and Education. Heritage Language Journal. 8 (2)


  • Bugaeva, Anna (2010). "Internet applications for endangered languages: A talking dictionary of Ainu". Waseda Institute for Advanced Study Research Bulletin. 3: 73–81.
  • Hattori, Shirō, ed. (1964). Bunrui Ainugo hōgen jiten [An Ainu dialect dictionary with Ainu, Japanese, and English indexes]. Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten.
  • Miller, Roy Andrew (1967). The Japanese Language. Tokyo: Charles E. Tuttle.
  • Refsing, Kirsten (1986). The Ainu Language: The Morphology and Syntax of the Shizunai Dialect. Aarhus: Aarhus University Press. ISBN 978-87-7288-020-4.
  • Refsing, Kirsten (1996). Early European Writings on the Ainu Language. London: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-7007-0400-2.
  • Shibatani, Masayoshi (1990). The Languages of Japan. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-36918-3.
  • Tamura, Suzuko (2000). The Ainu Language. Tokyo: Sanseido. ISBN 978-4-385-35976-2.
  • Vovin, Alexander (2008). "Man'yōshū to Fudoki ni Mirareru Fushigina Kotoba to Jōdai Nihon Retto ni Okeru Ainugo no Bunpu" [Strange Words in the Man'yoshū and the Fudoki and the Distribution of the Ainu Language in the Japanese Islands in Prehistory] (PDF). Kokusai Nihon Bunka Kenkyū Sentā.

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