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UNESCO: 8 Languages in Japan Could Disappear

Asahi Shimbun
Sunday February 22, 2009
Ainu Man

With only 15 speakers left, the Ainu language is “critically endangered” while seven other languages in Japan are also at risk of disappearing, according to a UNESCO report.

These eight languages in Japan are among about 2,500 around the world that have become or could become extinct, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s report said.

UNESCO’s Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger listed eight languages in Japan, such as the Ainu language, as independent tongues under international standards rather than indigenous dialects, an official with Paris-based UNESCO said.

In addition to Hokkaido, the Ainu language used to be widely spoken in Russia’s Sakhalin as well as the Chishima island chain off the coast of Hokkaido, including the Northern Territories. But the speakers there have died out.

“Few people speak Ainu in everyday life,” said the Sapporo-based Foundation for Research and Promotion of Ainu Culture.

The seven other endangered languages in Japan are Yaeyama, Yonaguni, Okinawa, Kunigami, Miyako in Okinawa Prefecture, Amami in Kagoshima Prefecture, and Hachijo in Tokyo. The first six languages are spoken on the Nansei island chain, which stretches from north of Taiwan and south of Kyushu, and Hachijo in Tokyo’s Hachijojima island and nearby islets.

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