https://www.duolingo.com/Xefjord

Okinawan and Ainu language preservation

My primary goal after college is to move to Japan and live there. Naturally being interested in languages I also want to study the languages spoken by its neighbors (Korean, Mandarin, ect) so I can get some good use out of them. But I also wondered what languages there was to study IN Japan outside of just, Japanese. It seems as though Japan is only host to Two other language families (Other than the standard Japanese). That is Languages within the Ainu language family (Of which I think only one still survives and has only like 10 or so native speakers) and languages within the Ryukyu language family (Okinawa and its surrounding Islands) and it has a sizeable community of speakers.

Both languages seem interesting to me (And of course I would love a Duolingo course for them) but I wonder if it is not already too late to save Ainu? Or if there is enough resources or second language learners of Ainu that a basic course could still be made. Okinawan seems like it could easily be made (Although it would encounter the same technical difficulties as Japanese) but the people don't seem to be making large efforts to preserve the language.

What do you all think of these two languages? There are plenty of endangered languages in the world, but these are the ONLY real other two language groups in Japan, making them kind of contrast against the Japanese homogeneous society. Would you learn either of these languages? Do you feel that they would be important enough for a Duolingo course?

12/23/2015, 7:20:34 AM

25 Comments


https://www.duolingo.com/ReraCikap
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I am happy to hear that foreign people like you have a great interest with Ainu language. I have always been concerned about the issue and happened to just write about it here in Japanese. I hope Duolingo will support to preserve critically endangered languages.

12/23/2015, 11:59:59 AM

https://www.duolingo.com/Xefjord

It is awesome to see Japanese who want to support Ainu! A person contacted the Cherokee nation before in order to get their support to make a Cherokee course. Might it be possible to contact someone in Japan about Ainu to get their support for an Ainu course? Seeing how it is such a small language I doubt they will speak English, but you could email them/call them because you speak Japanese and be understood. ww

12/23/2015, 6:05:07 PM

https://www.duolingo.com/ReraCikap
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I have read the discussion about a Cherokee course and understand the different status between Cherokee and Ainu languages. At the morment, to make a standard course for Ainu language might be almost impossible. But I think it is still too early to give up it. Yesterday I asked Duolingo staff whether it is possible or not. I will contact someone who is familiar with this issue soon.

12/24/2015, 1:35:13 AM

https://www.duolingo.com/Xefjord

I sent an email to the Hokkaido University Center for Ainu and Indigenous studies in English and Japanese asking for their help/support in making an Ainu course on Duolingo. I will tell you if I get a message back from them.

12/24/2015, 2:09:07 AM

https://www.duolingo.com/ReraCikap
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It's great! I'm looking forward to hearing a good news from you :)

12/24/2015, 2:16:30 AM

https://www.duolingo.com/jimnicholson
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Duolingo is not the right tool to preserve languages that are on the verge of extinction.

I am not saying that they should not be preserved, just that a language learning game is not the right way to go about it.

Suggestion: You could add a Memrise course instead, since that could be just simple vocabulary.


Edit: Just to clarify the above - I was only referring to Ainu when I wrote 'on the verge of extinction'.

12/23/2015, 10:36:54 AM

https://www.duolingo.com/Tvistnek

points at Irish

12/23/2015, 11:20:55 AM

https://www.duolingo.com/HappyEvilSlosh

Duolingo is not the right tool to preserve languages that are on the verge of extinction.

points at Irish

Although Irish isn't doing fantastically well it's not on the verge of extinction.

  • Native Irish speakers: ~140,000
  • Native Ainu speakers: ~10, all older than 80.
12/23/2015, 11:30:10 AM

https://www.duolingo.com/Xefjord

Native Okinawan speakers is predicted to be somewhere around ~980,000 so it would be pretty living compared to Irish

12/23/2015, 6:01:58 PM

https://www.duolingo.com/HappyEvilSlosh

Native Okinawan speakers is predicted to be somewhere around ~980,000 so it would be pretty living compared to Irish

Which is why I didn't include it. It's not a language on the verge of extinction. :P

Of course I don't know if the comment that started this was including that language, you'll have to ask them.

12/23/2015, 6:05:38 PM

https://www.duolingo.com/jimnicholson
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Hi, yes, I was only referring to Ainu as 'facing extinction'. Sorry, I should have been clearer.

12/23/2015, 7:52:24 PM

https://www.duolingo.com/CosmoKaiza
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Irish was on the verge of extinction with only 90'000 speakers. Just read the description of the course :

Irish is the national language of Ireland with over 94,000 people using Irish in their day to day lives. Learn the language of your ancestors and speak with the many knowledgeable Irish speakers you’ll find dispersed across the globe. With Duolingo you’ll gain the skills necessary to keep this language alive!

12/23/2015, 4:39:13 PM

https://www.duolingo.com/HappyEvilSlosh

90,000 speakers is probably endangered, it's not verge of extinction. That's 9000 speakers per 80 year old speaker of Ainu! As I said not healthy but not likely to have zero native speakers within 20 years (and depending on the heath of those 80 year olds possibly a lot fewer).

12/23/2015, 6:12:55 PM

https://www.duolingo.com/aokoye
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DuoLingo is also not, by far, the only thing nor the most revolutionary thing that has been developed and that is being used to preserve Irish though. HappyEvilSlosh also didn't say anything about Irish not having a history of being near extinction.

Never mind that I really don't think that an Ainu for English speakers course would be a good way to attempt to revive Ainu.

12/23/2015, 7:26:49 PM

https://www.duolingo.com/HappyEvilSlosh

Never mind that I really don't think that an Ainu for English speakers course would be a good way to attempt to revive Ainu.

I'd kind of hope they'd start with Ainu for Japanese, but I agree in that I also don't know I think it's a good approach to revival given its current status.

12/23/2015, 7:35:38 PM

https://www.duolingo.com/Tvistnek

You know, there are technically more Polish speakers than Irish speakers in Ireland by that statistic, which is pretty sad and unfortunate.

12/23/2015, 8:38:36 PM

https://www.duolingo.com/Tvistnek

It isn't, but it might as well be, considering the biggest reason it's alive today is because of nationalism. Were it not for the Potato Blight it might actually be a widely-spoken language today.

12/23/2015, 11:44:41 AM

https://www.duolingo.com/jimnicholson
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I think you are mixing up 'endangered' and 'facing extinction'.

Creating a Duolingo course is a lot of work including creating multiple translations to the other language (for the exercises) and web site text translations. And lots of testing. That really would not be a good use of the remaining time these 10 individuals have. If they are even online.

And we don't even have a Japanese course yet.

12/23/2015, 12:40:33 PM

https://www.duolingo.com/Xefjord

Something to keep in mind, is that this is a course For Japanese speakers. English for Mandarin speakers is not out of beta and it has a Spanish and French course being worked on. Another thing to keep in mind is Ainu only uses Katakana as its alphabet. Meaning it would be significantly easier to teach on Duolingo. It would not suffer the difficulties normally encountered with making a Japanese course. (Okinawan would though) I also think just because there is only ten native speakers remaining does not mean that a language has only TEN people who speak it. There are schools in Hokkaido that teach the language and lots of semi native speakers, the language could still be brought back (Even if it isn't entirely the same)

12/23/2015, 6:08:27 PM

https://www.duolingo.com/jimnicholson
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I was going by this.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hokkaido_Ainu_language

"Most of the approximately 15,000 ethnic Ainu in Japan speak only Japanese."

"Today, there are only around ten native speakers remaining, all of whom are at least 80 years old. There are also some semi-speakers who are at least 60 years old."

If, however, it is being taught in schools then this Is a different matter. I suspect that the interest Duolingo has in endangered languages is driven by schools wanting to teach those languages. It bring the schools in that government region to the platform.

So if schools are teaching this language then I take back what I said earlier. This is a very different situation. It probably also means there is an organisation interested in providing resource/staff to the incubator.

I just had a look at Ethnologue and it backs up your point: http://www.ethnologue.com/language/ain

"Small numbers of young people are learning Ainu in classes; revival efforts underway"

I have no idea how many learners are enough to make Duolingo interested. Remembering that they need a fairly large number to make their statistics gathering productive.

PS: regarding Memrise ... there are four courses already there: http://www.memrise.com/courses/english/?q=Ainu

12/23/2015, 7:28:45 PM

https://www.duolingo.com/HappyEvilSlosh

It seems you influenced another user to make this post.

12/23/2015, 11:54:24 AM

https://www.duolingo.com/ReraCikap
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Thank you for introducing my post!

12/23/2015, 12:01:40 PM

https://www.duolingo.com/HappyEvilSlosh

No worries. :)

12/23/2015, 12:04:12 PM

https://www.duolingo.com/Andrew-Macdonald

As other commenters have said, Memrise has a section on Ainu, but there's only 3-4 courses on it. It's better than nothing.

12/23/2015, 3:55:02 PM

https://www.duolingo.com/AtlantaBravesBoy

That is so cool my family used to live on Okinawa!!!

12/23/2015, 4:28:02 PM
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