An Ainu–English–Japanese Dictionary/Chapter II



In writing the Ainu language with the Roman alphabet, the following system has been adopted:—

letters pronunciation and remarks
a has the sound of a in the word “father”
e has the sound of e in the word “benefit”
i has the sound of i in the word “ravine”
o has the sound of o in the word “mote”
u has the sound of u in the word “rule”
ai has the sound of ai in the word “aisle” or i in ice. However, there are some few cases in which both vowls must be distinctly pronounced; as: aikka, “it was stolen.”
ei has the sound of e in the word “they.” In some cases, however, both vowels must be distinctly pronounced. As for example, eikka, “he stole it.”
In these combinations each vowel must be always clearly pronounced.
ch has the sound of ch in the word “church.” In some districts ch would always be pronounced like k.
sh has the sound of sh in the word “ship.”
b is pronounced like b in any English word. No sentence now properly commences with this letter, but preceded by another word, the letter p is often changed into b.
c is never written excepting in the combination ch, and it is then always soft like ch in “church.” Many persons, however, upon hearing ch as in Chup, “the sun,” or Chisei (compare page 73), “a house,” for example, would write tchup and tchise or tshey; and they would be quite correct in doing so for the Yezo Ainu are not at all uniform in their pronunciation, And again, some might very well write either machi, matchi, or maji; nay, even matzi or mazi where I write machi, “wife”; and no one would grumble and all would understand.
d like b is never heard at the beginning of a sentence, but t often becomes d in composition. In some places, however, when a word commencing with t or p stands alone or at the head of a sentence a sort of compromise is made; thus t is pronounced neither like t nor d in English but something between the two. The same may be said of p and b.
f resembles the true labial in sound, it being softer than the English labiodental f. It never occurs excepting followed by the vowel u and is often found in words which appear to be of Japanese origin.
g has the sound of g in the word “good.” No initial sentence commences with this letter, but k often becomes g in composition. It should be noted however, that g is often aspirated as though is was gh or kh.
h has the sound of h in the word “house;” that is to say, it is always aspirated.
j Some words have something like the sound of j in them, e.g. machi, “wife”; unchi, “fire”; but these have always been written with ch because the tendency in Yezo is rather in the direction of ch than j.
k has the sound of k in the word “keep.” Sometimes, however, it is pronounced with a kind of aspirate as though it was kh.

These letters are all pronounced as in English.
These letters are not needed in speaking or writing Ainu.
z something like the sound of z is heard in the word penzai, “a junk.” Compare also c.

None of the consonants b, c, d, f, g, h, r, w, or y, ever properly end a word, but k, m, n, p, s, t, and sh often do.

  1. As regards the letter s, however, it should be observed that in many cases it is difficult to know whether the Ainu say s or sh; thus shui would be sui by some and sa, sha; or so, sho and so on or vice versa.