The Origin and History of the Extinct Contact-Induced Language, Matagi

The Origin and History of the Extinct Contact-Induced Language, Matagi

Yoshizo Itabashi
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-2959-1.ch011
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This chapter attempts to find how the Matagi hunters of Tohoku region in Japan contacted the Ainu hunters and how the Matagi language absorbed the Ainu vocabulary. The Ainu hunters contacted the Japanese hunters there on a routine basis because the Ainu people settled down in Tohoku region before the Old Japanese period and have lived there since. The Japanese hunters borrowed some Ainu words necessary for living, hunting, and rituals in the mountains after the Middle Japanese period. The term Matagi, however, might have been employed long before the Middle Japanese period. During the Middle Japanese period the Yamato state came to dominate the entire Tohoku area. Although some Ainu adjusted to the Japanese living environment there, the rest probably escaped up toward Hokkaido. Hence, the Ainu people became less and less in Tohoku region. Eventually the Ainu words remained mainly in the Matagi language, although they are never spoken again.
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The Matagi people and the Matagi language will be explained in detail in Chapter1, but the succinct definition of these terms is briefly mentioned in this section. The Matagi people are a hunter group with their very advanced and skillful techniques to hunt wild animals, especially bears in the winter time. The number of those hunters has not been known because their number varies from period to period in history and the size of any Matagi group also varies from place to place in northern Japan.

It is extremely difficult to tell how many Matagi hunters in the past or at present, but as of 2007 the number of Matagi hunters with far advanced hunting skills in northern Japan, Yamagata, Akita, Aomori, and Iwate would probably be extremely low, much less than 50 altogether. Their occupations for a living after World War II, vary from Matagi to Matagi, but their occupations in the Edo or even Meiji, Taisho, and early Showa periods were basically self-supporting agriculture, especially miscellaneous minor grain-farming and hunting during the winter time.

The Matagi language is their own language, which is a both social, regional, and contact-induced Japanese dialect of northern Japan, with a mixture of some Ainu vocabulary.

The author briefly mentions the basics of the Ainu language for general readers to be better able to understand the content of this chapter. The Ainu language was a very active language during the Edo period(1603-1867) and the Ainu people gradually diminished in the Meiji(1868-1912), Taisho(1912-1926) and early Showa period(1926-1989) when the Ainu people were compelled by the Japanese Government’s assimilation policy to become Japanese citizens, so that the language became also less and less used in daily life because of the Ainu people themselves were compelled to think less of the language and did not use the language with younger generations . It is now almost extinct and is not employed for the Ainu people to lead a daily life.

The Ainu language is quite different from the Japanese language in that the Ainu language has the vowels [I,e,a,o,u] and the consonants [p,t,k,h,s,r,ʧ,m,n,w,y,’] with no voice distinctions, and is basically a single syllable language like Chinese. It has no inflections in any parts of speech like Chinese, and there is a distinction in person and number. It is also a SOV, AN language like Japanese. It also has no distinction between adjectives and verbs.

The Author was very much concerned with the Matagi language, especially lexicons of some Matagi dialects in northern Japan because there was quite different characteristics in some lexicons. Then, he applied to the JSPS (Japan Society for the Promotion of Science) for the funding and was accepted for four years beginning from 2004, which was entitled with A Study of the Matagi Lexicons in Tohoku region and the Compilation of A Matagi Dictionary. This was the starting point of his research on the Matagi lexicons, more specifically, the research on the common lexicon(s) between Matagi and Ainu, found in the Matagi language.

The outcome of the research was described in the Matagi dictionary that he compiled as a part of the research results. This article shows some different results from those in the dictionary because some further research has been conducted on the common lexicons in the Matagi language, which will show the new results after the twelve years since then.

The abbreviations will be listed in the following to easily recognize the words.


List Of Abbreviations

  • SOV: subject-object-verb

  • AN: adjective-noun

  • NPostp: noun-postposition

  • N: noun,

  • V: verb,

  • Adj: adjective, A

  • dv: adverb,

  • S: sentence,

  • Postp=postposition case clitic


List Of The Regional Matagi Groups

  • [A]=Ani Matagi,

  • [S]=Senboku Matagi,

  • [I]=Iwate Matagi,

  • [C]=Chokai Matagi,

  • [O]=Okachi Matagi,

  • [H]=Hiraka Matagi,

  • [Ob]=obsolete term

Key Terms in this Chapter

Menashi-Kunashir Rebellion/Battle: It was a battle in 1789 between Ainu and Japanese on the Shiretoko Peninsula in northeastern Hokkaido. It began in May 1789 when Ainu attacked Japanese on Kunashir Island and parts of the Menashi District and at sea. Reasons for the battle are not clear, but they are thought to be the poisoned sake given to the Ainu at a loyalty ceremony, and other suspicious behavior by Japanese traders.

Language Typology: The classification of languages on the basis of their structural characteristics such as phonology, morphology, or syntax, not on the basis of their genealogy.

Emishi People: They lived in northern Tohoku region of Japan even before the time of Old Japanese, who were said to be distinct from the Japanese people. Their language was more likely to be the Ainu language than the Japanese language and the area was mostly Emishi’s land, which the Yamato state did not control. The northern part of Tohoku region of Japan has many Ainu place-names, which endorse the strong historical presence of an Ainu type people, the Emishi people.

Proto-Language: a proto-language is the oldest language we can go back to on the theoretical basis by means of comparative method. Each language has its own proto-language, if it is generated from language contact. For instance, Japanese is assumed to have the Proto-Japanese.

Contact-Induced Language: Any language variety which arises from intense language contact: normally two languages meet each other for some various reasons such as historical, economical, or political reasons and affect each other’s various levels of linguistic structures. There are three distinctive types: pidgins, creoles, and mixed languages.

Nihonshoki: ????, the Chronicles of Japan, it is also known as Nihongi, ???. This is the second-oldest official book of classical Japanese history compiled in 720AD under the editorial supervision of Prince Toneri and with the assistance of Ono Yasumaro dedicated to Empress Gensho by order of the imperial court to give the newly Sinicized court. It covers the period from its mythical origins to 697AD. It is written in Chinese and reflects the influence of Chinese civilization on Japan.

Northern Japanese Dialect: Any dialect spoken in the northern Japan, which is very distinctive mainly in vocabulary and grammar, and in vocalized stops which are derived from the combination of a nasal with a voiceless stop.

Shakushain’s Revolt: It was an Ainu rebellion against Japanese authority on Hokkaido between 1669 and 1672. It was led by the Ainu charismatic leader Shakushain against the Matsumae clan, who represented Japanese trading and state interests in the region of Hokkaido then occupied and controlled by the Japanese (Yamato) state.

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