Ainu language

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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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.

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]

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