Ainu (Southern Hokkaido)


How to cite the Ainu (Southern Hokkaido) dataset

Anna Bugaeva. 2013. Ainu (Southern Hokkaido).
In: Hartmann, Iren & Haspelmath, Martin & Taylor, Bradley (eds.)
Valency Patterns Leipzig.
Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.
(Available online at, Accessed on 2024-05-24.)


General comment

A genetic isolate, Ainu shows considerable dialectal variation: Hokkaido (Northeastern and Southwestern), Sakhalin, and Kurile groups. Ainu is agglutinating, polysynthetic and incorporating, with SV/AOV constituent order. It is predominantly head-marking. Personal pronouns in the subject (A/S) and object (O) position are often omitted: Ainu is a so-called pro-drop language but verbal cross-referencing markers are obligatory.

Some verbs employ different stems for singular and plural. In the case of intransitive verbs, plurality refers to the number of S referents, while in the case of transitive verbs plurality refers to the number of O or patientive A referents.

Characterization of flagging resources

Arguments do not inflect for case in Ainu: A and O are distinguished by their relative position in clause structure and by verbal cross-referencing markers.

Obliques are marked by postpositions: locative ta , allative un (for inanimatre Goal) and dative e-un <head-ALL> (for animate Goal), ablative wa , instrumental ani, comitative tura/turano, traversal peka (‘over’), mutative ne (‘as’; <ne COP). Most case postpositions not only clearly originate in verbs but are still in a very early stage of the grammaticalization as they can often occur without respective nouns, as in (a).

a. itanki huraye hine (itanki) ani i=ko-i-puni
bowl wash and bowl INST INDF.O=to.APPL-APASS-raise
‘She washed a bowl and with (that bowl) he served me food.’ Ani (INST) ( < ani 'hold sth') may also be interpreted as lit. ‘holding (that bowl)' - zero-anaphora. However, if ani were still a verb here we would need a coordinating conjunction after ani, so it really has an intermediate status between a verb and postposition.

Characterization of indexing resources

The system of grammatical relations in Ainu shows mixed alignment. There is a tripartite alignment (distinct marking for S, A, and O) in 1PL pronominal verbal marking, viz. the prefix ci= marks A, the suffix =as S, and un= O for the first person exclusive, and a= A, =an S, and i= O for indefinite person. Indefinite is not only used to refer to the indefinite speaker or addressee, but also as the first person plural inclusive, second person singular/plural honorific, and logophoric (person of the protagonist). The latter is common in folktales because they have the structure of reported discourse with the whole story being a quote; for convenience the logophoric is translated as ‘I’ but is glossed as IND. There are elements of a neutral system in the second and third person pronominal verbal marking, viz. A, S, and O are marked by e= in 2SG and by eci= in 2PL, and the third person is always zero-marked; independent personal pronouns are the same for A, S, and O in all persons. There is also one feature of a nominative/accusative system: A=S, and O are distinct in the 1SG pronominal verbal marking, viz. 1SG ku= marks A, S, and en= O

In pronominal verbal marking of transitive verbs, A affixes are, in most cases, placed before O markers. However, when it comes to the interaction of first and second person participants, person marking on verbs is not always analyzable as ARGa-ARGo-VERB, and it is, indeed, subject to considerable dialectal variation.

The A set of prefixes is also employed in the inalienable possessive construction, where they are attached to the head noun (possessee) to mark the person and number of the possessor. The head noun is additionally marked with the allomorphic possessive suffixes -V or -(V)hV which copy a root-final vowel once or twice with the epenthetic /h/ being inserted, viz. -ha/-hu/-ho/-he/-hi for vowel-final roots, as in ku=sapa-ha (1SG.A=head-POSS) ‘my head’, and -a(ha)/-u(hu)/-o(ho)/-e(he)/-i(hi) for consonant-final roots, as in ci=setur-u or ci=setur-uhu (1PL.(EXC).A=back-POSS) ‘our backs’ . Relational nouns as heads differ from common nouns in that they employ the O set of prefixes to mark the person and number of the possessor, viz. en=sam (1SG.O=near) ‘near me’. Possessive suffixes are attached to relational nouns only if the possessor is 3SG/PL (zero-marked), viz. Ø=sam-a (3.O=near-POSS) ‘near him/her/it’.

Alienable possession is encoded by the relative clause-based periphrastic construction with the verb kor ‘have sth/sb’ as the predicate and the possessor as the subject; the head noun (possessee) is left unmarked: ku=Ø=kor kamuy [1SG.А=3.O=have god] ‘my god’ (lit. ‘the god (that) I have’).

Characterization of ordering resources

SV/AOV constituent order.

In double object construction, generally A-R-T-V, but there are also other ordering options, they are pragmatically motivated.

Attributives are prepositive.

Subordinate clauses always precede main clauses.

Source of the data and generalizations/background of the contributor(s)

Is based on previous documentation of Ainu which had been undertaken by the contributor or other researchers of Ainu. Data from existing Ainu dictionaries and published texts have been used extensively, as well as those that are in the process of preparation for a publication (see forthcoming). For most examples, there exist respective audio materials.

The contributor, Anna Bugaeva, has been working on Ainu since 1997 after her graduation from Department of Japanese (St. Petersburg University) in 1996. She was supervised by an Ainu specialist Tomomi Satoo in her PhD (obtained in 2004 from Hokkaido University) and by an Ainu specialist Hiroshi Nakagawa in her two post-docs (Chiba University). Currently, she works as an assistant professor at Waseda Institute for Advanced Study, Waseda University.

Coordinates WGS8443°N, 143°E
43.00, 143.00

Glottocode ainu1240
ISO 639-3 code ain
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