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185 12 From Collecting Words to Writing Grammars A Brief History of Ainu Linguistics Kirsten Refsing The Ainu Language A few centuries ago, Ainu was spoken widely in the northwestern regions of the Pacific Rim with Hokkaido as the center. Toponymic research in the Tōhoku area has revealed Ainu etymologies for a large number of place names there (Yamada 1982–1983). From Russian explorers we have sporadic references to Ainu residents on the southern tip of the Kamchatka Peninsula (Majewicz 1981), and the Kuril archipelago had a small number of Ainu inhabitants until the end of the Second World War (Murasaki 1963). Late in the nineteenth century the Japanese had deported most of the Kuril Ainu to the southern islands, where their numbers were drastically reduced by deplorable living conditions, poverty, and disease. Their dialect has been recorded and described to some extent by Russian, Polish, and Japanese explorers and scholars. Southern Sakhalin had a relatively large Ainu population, but after the Second World War almost all were repatriated to Hokkaido together with the Japanese, who had been living in Sakhalin. They settled mainly along the northern coast of Hokkaido, and thus by the late 1940s, all remaining speakers of Ainu were concentrated on the island of Hokkaido. 186     Kirsten Refsing First Word Lists The world knew next to nothing about the Ainu language before the seventeenth century. The earliest extant source is actually from European hands, namely a manuscript by Father Jeronymo de Angelis (1568–1623), a Jesuit priest who visited Hokkaido in 1618 and 1621. He wrote a brief description of Yezo (or Ezo, the old name for Hokkaido), which included 54 Ainu words, 36 of which were numerals (Angelis 1621). The first known word list collected by a Japanese was Words of the Ezo Language (Ezo kotoba no koto), which contained 117 Ainu words and appeared around 1630 (Dettmer 1967, 239–240). When Japan prohibited Christianity and expelled the foreigners in the early decades of the seventeenth century, only a few Dutch merchants and Europeans in Dutch employ were permitted to stay on a small artificial island (Dejima) in Nagasaki harbor from where they could trade with Japan. They were kept under surveillance and had very limited access to the rest of the country, but until 1854 they became the only source of information about Japan as well as the only channel into Japan for information about the West. In reality, however, it was impossible to guard effectively the remote coastal areas of Japan, and both the southern islands of Okinawa and the northern territories of Hokkaido, Sakhalin, and the Kuril archipelago were occasionally visited by foreign ships. These areas were not yet formally considered as parts of the Japanese state, and the intensity of Japanese efforts to make them so varied during this period. From the eighteenth century we have an abundance of glossaries of varying quality, created by Japanese as well as European explorers. Some of the Japanese glossaries reached the West through the efforts of the Europeans stationed on Dejima. The most comprehensive of these was Various Notes on the Ezo Dialect (Ezo hōgen moshiogusa), co-authored by Uehara Kumajirō and Abe Chōzaburō (1804). This glossary first appeared around 1792, but was not widely circulated until after its second publication in 1804. The Ezo hōgen moshiogusa contains a glossary divided into six parts thematically and a part containing phrases and longer texts. Regional origins are sometimes noted, and the syllabic alphabet, katakana, is used to transcribe the Ainu language. The book’s authors, however, introduced some modifications of the katakana script in order to make it possible to reproduce non-Japanese sounds. This is not done consistently, but it still represents the breaking of important new ground. Using katakana to write Ainu is a very inaccurate method, since Ainu phonology differs considerably from Japanese, for example in having final consonants that the syllabic signs obscure. From Collecting Words to Writing Grammars     187 First Attempts at Description With the work of August Pfizmaier (1808–1887) Ainu-language studies in Europe also began to transcend mere glossaries. Pfizmaier was a typical armchair scholar who, in spite of his lifelong interest in exotic languages, never traveled far from his own study. A copy of the Moshiogusa had been acquired by the Viennese Court Library in 1835, and it was this volume that prompted Pfizmaier to take up the study of Ainu. He was a productive scholar, and the study of Ainu only occupied...


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