Ainu language shift

Authored by: Takayuki Okazaki

Routledge Handbook of Japanese Sociolinguistics

Print publication date:  June  2019
Online publication date:  June  2019

Print ISBN: 9780415790277
eBook ISBN: 9781315213378
Adobe ISBN:


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This chapter provides an overview of Ainu language research as well as preservation and revitalization initiatives from the past to the present. First, it reviews pertinent research on Ainu language shift in English, Japanese and more importantly in Ainu. It also discusses the political nature surrounding determining a concrete number of Ainu speakers, and the political implications of identifying as an Ainu speaker at present. Understanding Ainu socio-political and socioeconomic history is central to analyzing the current state of the Ainu language. Thus, the chapter then provides a historiographical overview of the relationship between Ainu and other peoples, in particular, focusing on Japanese interactions with Ainu from as early as Japan’s Edo Period which impacted Ainu language acquisition and resulted in language shift in the Ainu communities. Education provided in Japanese in Japan’s Meiji Period served as a powerful force that accelerated cultural and linguistic assimilation. This chapter also highlights achievements and challenges of Ainu revitalization movements, outlining early efforts by Ainu to publish in Ainu as early as 1913. While it appears highly likely that Ainu language revitalization will not be made a priority for the Japanese government, concerted efforts at grassroots levels are gaining in vigor and are serving to unite those interested in speaking and studying the Ainu language. The chapter ends with the discussion of roles that sociolinguistic researchers play, safe spaces that Ainu language can be used and be learned, and a more multilingual Japanese society accepting of diversity.

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