Whither アイヌ・イタㇰ (Ainu)?

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2011/06/07 08:01 -04:00, original URI: http://blogs.msdn.com/b/michkap/archive/2011/06/07/10171819.aspx

The message I received the other day via the Contact link was:

Dear Mr. Michael S. Kaplan,

We see Microsoft created Language Interface Packs for near extinct languages like Irish and locales for endangered langages like Sami. We would like Microsoft to consider creating a locale for Ainu, a language of the island of Hokkaidō. Most of us from Hokkaidō only can read and write Japanese due to policies that discriminated for many years, but we see that Meiryo, Meiryo UI, MS UI Gothic,  MS ゴシック, MS Pゴシック, MS 明朝, and MS P明朝 fonts all support extended Katakana used for Ainu. Can Microsoft take the additional steps to support Ainu?

I am Ainu. Our language is dying, but this does not have to be. A new life in Windows can save us.

Thank you for reading this communication and sorry for the poor English.

I'll admit I feel a little bit under-equipped to respond to this message - my knowledge of Ainu, and of the Ainu, is not terribly extensive.

Though for the record I have no complaints about the English in the request, I only wish my Japanese could be good enough to have understood a message written in it!

The information in blogs like Why one LIP and not another? and One Uyghur walked into a Blog, and... help explain many of the complex factors that are involved in the language and locale lists of Windows.

I will communicate the request on, but of course asking me is not what makes the decision happen.

In the case of Ainu, efforts of the Japanese government, the Microsoft subsidiary in Japan, and the MS Public Sector folks in country would likely be important (just as efforts of the analogous people in Canada were important for the Inuqtitut LIP and the Mohawk locale).

To be honest, I would hate to think of Microsoft, and Windows, being the only hope here. At best we can be a passive tool that can help an active effort to revitalize a language (on the whole it seems like proofing tools do more for that than anything Windows can do when it comes to supporting a language!).

The BCP-47 tag for Ainu in this case would likely be ain-JP, and a custom locale could be created for it quite easily. Collation may already work (Kana works in all locales -- and the Katakana Phonetic Extensions are covered with the rest of the Kana. A dedicated keyboard via MSKLC would also help (a full IME wouldn't be needed, just a better Katakana coverage). As the person asking noted, the characters are already in the fonts....

In fact, I would do it myself right here if I had a source from which to get the data like month and day names. I found many references to the work of Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney in regard to the concepts of time among the Ainu and they clearly have both months and days. But neither days nor months were named, and I had no luck finding this information elsewhere in quick web searches -- perhaps if anyone knows of any they could point the info out?

Languages in trouble are deinitely a matter of concern, always. But in cases like this we shouldn't even wait for a locale or a LIP that may or may not arrive -- there is work that can be done today....

Chris Haas on 7 Jun 2011 9:11 AM:

The months are listed in section Chapter 2, Section 6 bullet #52 here (search for January): www.bbc.co.uk/.../A17278257

John Cowan on 7 Jun 2011 9:23 AM:

Essentially all Ainu-speakers are native speakers of Japanese who have learned Ainu as a second language, so it seems reasonable to embed Japanese names in the locale when Ainu names are not available.

It's important that fonts support the combinations of katakana small fu, se, to, and to with the semi-voiced sound mark, as quality Ainu typography depends on these combinations.

Note that there are two orthographies, so some Latin script support is needed: Basic Latin plus the five vowels with either circumflex or macron (they mean the same thing).

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