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Ainu for Beginners

Kane Kumagai
Translated by Yongdeok Cho (Noir)

Translator’s Notes

This is an English rendition of Kane Kumagai’s Ainu language lessons, based on the lecture texts prepared for the Sapporo TV Radio Lessons in 2006. While I have not modified any of the example sentences, I had to change and edit various parts of the explanatory materials in order to make it useful to the English speakers. In terms of the use of the grammatical terms, I have largely followed the example of Kirsten Refsing’s The Ainu Language: The Morphology and Syntax of the Shizunai Dialect when appropriate.

Lesson 1: Simple Sentences -1

Sentences

ウパ ル。
Upas ru.
Snow melts.

アチャポ エ
Acapo ek
Uncle comes.

Pronunciation

Ainu is a sound that does not exist in Japanese, it is simply final consonant -k instead of normal Japanese Katakana pronunciation of -ku. Ainu allows consonant finals while Japanese does not (with the exception of -n) and a set of Katakana extensions have been created to be used to write Ainu. Although they are now in Unicode, it would require a special font to view the Katakana extension properly and hence I just have used the smaller font size.

Those who are not familiar with the Katakana may just stick to the Roman Ainu. Roman Ainu is fairly phonetic, but note that c (as in "acapo") is pronounced similar to ch as in English "church". But it will be helpful to learn Katakana as well as although both Roman and Katakana are used to write Ainu, Katakana is more common.

Japanese loanwords and proper names may remain in Japanese Kanji even in Ainu when it is written in Katakana.

More examples using Ainu Katakana:

 チ  Cis  To cry
 コ  Kosne  To be light
 イル  Iruska  To be angry
 ア  Ak  Younger brother
 ホ  Hok  To buy, purchase
 タ  Takne  To be short

Exercises

Exercises: Translate to Ainu

1) Whale rises
2) Rain falls.

Solutions

1)フンペ ヤン  humpe yan
2)ルヤンペ ア  ruyanpe as

Vocabulary

 アチャポ  Acapo  Uncle
 ウパ  Upas  Snow
 エ  Ek  To come
 ル  Ru  To melt. Road.
 ヤン  Yan  To rise
 フンペ  Humpe  Whale
 ア  As  To fall
 ルヤンペ Ruyanpe  Rain

Lesson 2: Simple Sentences - 2

Sentences

タント レラ ア
Tanto rera as.
The wind blows today.

タネ メアン。
Tane mean.
Now (it is) cold.

Grammar

The basic word order of Ainu is Subject-Object-Verb, similar to Japanese. Ainu verbs do not conjugate according to the time tense, and this led to a certain disagreement in the linguistic analysis. While some linguists (Chiri, Shibatani) maintain that the Ainu basic verb form is best translated as past tense, there are the others (Refsing) who disagree with the idea. In most cases the context is sufficient enough to determine whether the tense is past or present, and the specific words are added to clarify the time phrase when it is necessary.

" as" from the last lesson has many meanings. Rain falls, snow falls, wind blows, and in other natural phenomena in general. When it is used to describe an action of a person, it means "to stand." " as" used in the sentence is translated as "to blow", but in Ainu context it is permissible to translate it simply as "to do."

Pronunciation

Ainu accents are different from Japanese. Ainu pronounced with Japanese (or any other foreign accent for that matter) would still be understood, but it won’t be natural. Ainu stress often falls on the second syllable.

 タ  Tane  Now
 チ  Cise  House
 シ  Sita  Dog
 ポ  Poro  To be big, large
 ヌ  Nukar  To see, look at

Exercises

Exercises: Translate to Ainu

1) Today is cold.
2) Snow falls a lot this year.

Solutions

1) タント メアン tanto mean
2) タント ウパ ポロ tanto upas poro

Vocabulary

 ア  As  To blow
 タネ  Tane  Now
 タント  Tanto  Today (tan "this" + to "day")
 メアン  Mean  To be cold
 レラ  Rera  Wind
 ウパ  Upas  Snow
 ポロ  Poro  To be big, much
 タンパ  Tanpa  This year

Lesson 3: Past

Sentences

ヌマン ルヤンペ ア
Numan ruyanpe as.
Yesterday rain fell.

ラン カムイフ ア
Ukran kamuyhum as.
Last evening thunder stroke.

Grammar

Continuing from lesson 2, Ainu verbs do not change their forms in the past tense. Instead, Ainu simply adds temporal adverbs such as ukran, numan when it is necessary to specify when in the past the event occurred.

Pronunciation

Ainu Katakana is not a full syllable like normal Katakana ム (mu), but only as final consonant -m.

 イサ  Isam  Not to exist, to die
 コマ  Komam  Falling leaf
 リ  Rimse  Dance, to dance

Depending on the region, words like "numan" may be pronounced as "numan" (accent on the first syllable) but "numan" is more natural and widespread.

Also in words like ルヤンペ ruyanpe・クラン ukran・カムイフ kamuyhum the first syllables are not accented.

Exercises

Exercises: Translate to Ainu

1) Yesterday the wind was strong.
2) Two days ago snow fell.

Solutions

1) ヌマン レラ ルイ  numan rera ruy
2) カヌマン ウパ ア hoskanuman upas as

Vocabulary

 ヌマン  Numan  Yesterday
 レラ  Rera  Wind
 ルイ  Ruy  To be strong
 ウパ  Upas  Snow
 ホカヌマン  Hoskanuman  Two days ago
 ア  As  (rain, snow) falls, (wind) blows, (something) rings/sounds, (something) is heard.
 ウラン  Ukran  Last evening, last night.
 カムイフ  Kamuyhum  Thunder. (kamuy "bear, god" + hum "sound")
 ルヤンペ  Ruyanpe  Rain. (apt in some dialects)

Lesson 4: Objects

Sentences

ヘカチ イタンキ エヤ
Hekaci itaki eyapkir.
Boy throws a dish.

ウナペ スマ オテケ。
Unarpe suma oterke.
Aunt steps on a stone.

Grammar

Basic Ainu word order is Subject + Object + Verb. Unlike Japanese, Ainu does not use the case particles to mark the subject or the object of the sentence. (But it uses particles for other things.) "The dog bites the man" and "the man bites the dog" differ in the word order in English, and it is also the case in Ainu.

Notes on Pronunciation

Small is pronounced as -p. (Unlike full Katakana プ, pu)

 チェ  Cep  Fish
 チカ  Cikap  Bird
 シネ  Sinep  One

Small is pronounced as -ri but much softer than usual Japanese ri. One may drop -i sound as well.

 ピ  Pirka  Good, beautiful
 チキ  Cikir  Foot
 キキ  Kikir  Worm

Small is pronounced as –r as well.

 ケ  Ker  Shoe
 エト  Etor  Nasal mucus
 テ  Terke  Jump

This is largely a spelling convention, and one may see , , , and used interchangeably. Kar "to make" may be either or , ermun "mouse" ムン or ムン, and korkoni "butterbur" コニ or コニ. How one may choose to spell something is largely the choice of the writer. Roman Ainu remains the same.

Exercises

Exercises: Translate to Ainu

1) Uncle buys drink.
2) Dog eats bone.

Solutions

1) アチャポ トノト ホ  acapo tonoto hok.
2) シタ ポネ エ      sita pone e

Vocabulary

 トノト  Tonoto  Alcoholic drink
 ホ  Hok  To buy, purchase
 アチャポ  Acapo  Uncle, middle-aged man
 ポネ  Pone  Bone
 シタ  Sita  Dog
 エ  E  To eat
 イタンキ  Itanki  Dish
 ウナ  Unarpe  Aunt, middle-aged woman
 エヤ  Eyapkir  To throw
 オテ  Oterke  To step on
 スマ  Suma  Stone
 ヘカチ  Hekaci  Boy

Lesson 5: "My.." - 1

Sentences

クパケ アカ。
Ku=pake arka.
My head hurts. (I have a headache.)

クチキ タンネ。
Ku=cikir Tanne.
My leg is long.

Grammar

There are two ways of saying possession in Ainu, and we introduce the first one in this lesson. It depends on whether the item is considered to be inalienable from the possessor (such as body parts) or alienable (most other things). The inalienable possessions are expressed by using the pronominal prefixes, first of which is ku. Ku is the first person singular pronominal prefix.

 クナヌ  Ku=namu  My face
 クエトゥ  Ku=etu  My nose
 クテケ  Ku=teke  My hand
 クホニ  Ku=honi  My stomach

Pronunciation

カ arka, "to hurt" may be pronounced and written as アラカ araka as well. And note that クチキ ku=cikir is pronounced as one word, don't break between ku and cikiri. The use of equal sign (=) in Roman Ainu is to make the morphology more easily understood, and some writers do not use this sign at all.

And pay attention to the accent. The stress falls on the second syllable.

パケ ku=pake
テケ ku=teke

Exercises

Exercises: Translate to Ainu

1) My leg hurts.
2) My stomach is full.

Solutions

1) クチキ アカ ku=cikir arka
2) クホニ シ ku=honi sik

Vocabulary

 ク  Ku=  I, my
 ア  Arka  Hurt
 チキ  Cikir  Leg
 ホニ  Honi  Stomach
 シ  Sik  Full
 タンネ  Tanne  Long
 パケ  Pake  Head

End Of Part One

This is the end of part one. You can continue with part II of this course.

Continue to part II

Thanks for your interest in this course! If you discovered any mistakes or you just want to say something then please let us know . We do need feedback!

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