17 August 2014

Ainu Placenames and Counting System

From Hokkaido, A History of Ethnic Transition and Development on Japan's Northern Island, by Ann B. Irish (McFarland, 2009), pp. 35-36:
Many, many Hokkaido cities and towns, and even some on Honshu, have names derived from Ainu. "Sapporo" comes from an ancient Ainu name for the river there, either from sat poro pet, which would mean "big dry river" or sari poro pet, a reedy area by the river. The name of Wakkanai evolved from the Ainu term "yam wakkanay," meaning cold water river." Some people have thought that even Mt. Fuji's name comes from an Ainu word, fuchi, the Ainu fire goddess, but linguists today generally dismiss this idea.

Shiraoi, a town on the coast between Muroran and Tomakomai, has long included a sizable Ainu community and now features an Ainu village for tourists. In Ainu, the town's name may have meant "place with many horseflies." John Batchelor wrote that it meant "the place where the tide comes out (over the land)," signifying high tides. When place names like this have been adapted into Japanese, they have been given written characters that fit their pronunciation. Shira [白] can mean "white" in Japanese and oi [老い] can mean "old age." The two characters with these meanings and pronunciations are written today to indicate the town name "Shiraoi." Near Shiraoi is the hot springs resort city of Noboribetsu. Nobori means "to ascend" or "to climb" in Japanese, and betsu is "special" or "different." The Ainu name, pronounced in a somewhat similar way, meant merely "turbid river." In this case, both Ainu and Japanese names are appropriate, for there are mountains in this town located along a river. Betsu, by the way, appears in many Hokkaido place names to represent the Ainu word pet, which means "river."

The Ainu counting system differs from the Japanese, the number twenty playing a prominent role. The numbers one to five have their own names, as does ten. Six through nine are expressed as ten minus a number and the teens are expressed by numbers added to ten. Larger numbers are expressed as multiples of twenty, subtracting any amounts needed.

Here are some examples of numbers from The Language, Mythology, and Geographical Nomenclature of Japan Viewed in the Light of Aino Studies, by Basil Hall Chamberlain and John Batchelor (Imperial University of Japan, 1887):

p. 9: wan '10', shine-pe-wan '1 from 10 = 9', tu-pe-wan '2 from 10 = 8'

p. 93: hot ne '20', tu hot ne '2 score = 40',
shine ikashima hot ne '1 excess score = 21'
shine ikashima, wan e, tu hot ne '1 excess, 10 away, 2 score = 31'
tu-pe-san ikashima, wan e, ine hot ne '(2 from 10 =) 8 excess, 10 away, 4 score = 78'
tu-pe-san ikashima, ine hot ne '(2 from 10 =) 8 excess, 4 score = 88'
ashikne hot ne '5 score = 100'
wan e, tu-pe-san hot ne '10 away, (2 from 10 =) 8 score = 150'

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