‘Talking Dictionary’ Transmits Language of Japan’s Indigenous Ainu People

An online “talking dictionary” first launched in 2009 is attempting to preserve and pass on the Ainu language spoken by the indigenous inhabitants of Japan’s northeastern island of Hokkaido and Russian island territories to the north. According to UNESCO, there are eight languages in Japan that are critically endangered, and the Ainu language tops the list with the highest degree of endangerment.

The project involves collaboration between Ainu speakers, the Endangered Languages Documentation Programme (ELDP) of School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), the Arcadia Trust, and Anna Bugaeva, a linguistics researcher at the Waseda Institute for Advanced Study (WIAS) in Japan. The purpose of the online project, completed in 2009, is not only to help preserve and transmit the Ainu language, but also to provide a safe long-term repository of language materials, to enable people to see what documentation has been created for a language, to encourage international co-operation between researchers, and to provide advice and collaboration for similar projects with other endangered languages around the world.

The Ainu Talking Dictionary preserves and presents conversational Ainu in an online, searchable format. There is also an interface for linguists, and detailed notes about how to use the online resource.

Read more: Global Voices

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