The National Museum of Ethnology (Minpaku) is a research center for ethnology and cultural anthropology.

An Analysis of the Audio Materials of Aynu (Ainu) and Other Northern Languages in the National Museum of Ethnology

Joint Research Coordinator NAKAGAWA Hiroshi

Reserch Theme List


The objective of this research project is to survey stored audio materials in the Ainu, Nivkh and other minority languages of peoples living on the northern periphery of Japan, and to arrange in order, listen to selected language materials, especially texts of orally transmitted arts, etc. to put them down in written material form. At that time, we plan to include grammatical glosses with the original texts, along with side-by-side translations and cultural information, so that they can be used as linguistic materials, as well as study materials for learning the Ainu language. When these materials are converted into written form, we plan to convene regular meetings of study committees, so that while the transcripts are being checked against the audio materials by several individuals, we can hold discussions concerning listening comprehension, the transcriptions, grammatical analysis, content, and other aspects, and we can create language materials in a more objective, unified form. We will discuss the compiled grammatical and other information from the standpoint of language classification theory to provide basic data for research into the northern languages.

Research Results

The bulk of the Ainu-language materials held by Minpaku consists of 204 open-reel tapes made by Sapporo Television Broadcasting Company (STV) between 1970 and 1978, and cards inscribing the contents of each tape made on three occasions (1978, 1980 and 1981), which were purchased together by the Museum. These recordings were transferred to digital form on 128 CDs in 2004. We also transferred the contents of the cards to an Excel database. This card data represents only a fraction of the recorded materials. Since there were no links between the digitized recordings and the database, the difficulty is searching for the recorded materials in the database to understand the contents of the materials.

To address this problem, project members Okuda Osami, Tamura Masashi, Shiga Setsuko and Kitahara Jirota undertook analysis of materials in the Kushiro, Shiranuka, Shizunai and Ishikari dialects, respectively. They collated the database records with the corresponding CD tracks, while at the same time listening to the content. In addition, we learned that among the materials acquired from STV are some tapes recorded by the Hokkaido Broadcasting Company in 1957. Thus, we were able to shed light on some of the particulars regarding the contents and parts of the STV materials.

For materials in the Minpaku Ainu collection besides the audio data, we analyzed five volumes of notes recorded in Ainu by Nabesawa Motozo of the Hidaka District from 1928 to 1959. We were able to confirm that in addition to containing a different version of an already published epic poem, the other contents of the five volumes contain completely new materials. For non-Ainu linguistic materials in the collection, surveys of the state of materials in Minpaku’s collection were undertaken by Shiraishi Hidetoshi and Tangiku Itsuji for the Nivkh language, Ono Chikako for the Itelmen language and Nagasaki Iku for the Yukaghir language. Especially, in connection with the Nivkh language, Minpaku staff confirmed that even with the AV materials, a number of difficulties are involved in their use, including copyright considerations.